Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Back in mid-March, NASCAR found itself heading into Atlanta for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 when the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold across the sports world and the race weekend was postponed.

Fast forward to this weekend and the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the epicenter of where it all began for another shot at the 1.5-mile quad-oval.

With a track surface that is old and worn, having not been repaved since its reconfiguration in 1997, Atlanta always gets rave reviews from drivers who enjoy slipping and sliding around on the worn-out asphalt. Tire management will play a big role in the final outcome of the race with the abrasiveness that the track offers over the course of a run.

As a result of the current race weekend schedules without practice or qualifying, the starting lineup was set by a random draw. Hometown hero Chase Elliott will be starting on pole with Aric Almirola starting alongside.

By the Numbers

What: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 10 of 36

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, Georgia (Opened: 1960; Reconfigured: 1997)

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.54-mile quad-oval

Banking: 24 degrees in turns; 5 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 325 laps, 500.5 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 105 laps each, Final stage – 115 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

2019 Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started 19th, 33 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds – 11/15/1997)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 100.5
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 100.5
  3. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 97.5
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 96.9
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.6
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.2
  7. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 94.2
  8. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 92.7
  9. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 89.2
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 83.2

From the Driver’s Seat

“I love Atlanta,” said Clint Bowyer. “I think everybody likes Atlanta. If you are a racecar driver, you get up on the wheel and are slipping and sliding around. You work your rear end off there. That is what you look for in a racetrack. Coming from a dirt background, the harder you drive her, the faster she goes. The harder you work, the faster it goes. With that thing and the speed you are going and the aero platform you have, it is very easy to overdrive the car and blow through the grip in the tires.

Last Time at Atlanta

As Brad Keselowski held the lead in last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, he had a war on two fronts to deal with. Still battling the effects of a stomach flu that had sidelined him for most of the weekend, the 2012 series champion had his hands full dealing with a hard charging Martin Truex, Jr. over the closing laps.

Holding onto a decent lead following the final restart with 43 laps to go, Keselowski looked to be well on his way to his first win of the season, but an overheating engine and concerns over tire wear started to become an issue.

Keselowski did his best to nurse his Ford Mustang to the finish, but the issues he was dealing with gave Truex an opportunity to close in fast on the lead and a potential win. However, lapped traffic became a problem for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and he ran short of time to get past Keselowski to steal the victory.

With two laps remaining, Truex had a shot at the lead and the win, but Keselowski blocked his line off of Turn 4 and was able to hold serve the remainder of the race, crossing the finish line 0.218 seconds ahead of Truex.

“Good enough to get the job done,” Keselowski said of his condition. “I think first off, I’ve got to give a lot to credit to one, my wife, who’s standing in the back.  She was sick just like I was, and she took great care of me along with everybody in the care center.  I couldn’t be here today without them.  So thank you.

“And Doug Yates, we ran over a piece of debris with, I don’t know, probably 50 laps to go and overheated really bad, and I thought there was no way this engine would make it to the end, but Doug Yates and his team, they do a great job.  I’m pretty sure it’s all used up, Doug, but it’s in Victory Lane, so that’s okay, right?

“And then my sponsor Autotrader; they let me put for my foundation all the names of some veterans on the car to honor them.  Just a lot of really cool things that came together this weekend, and this is one of them I’m not going to forget for a very long time.”

Starting Lineup

  1. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  2. Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  3. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  5. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  6. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford
  8. Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  9. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  10. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  11. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  12. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  13. Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  14. Erik Jones – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  15. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  16. Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  17. Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  18. John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  19. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  20. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  21. Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
  22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  23. Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
  24. Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  25. Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford
  26. Joey Gase – No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Chevrolet
  27. Christopher Bell – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota
  28. Ty Dillon – No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet
  29. Ryan Preece – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  30. JJ Yeley – No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
  31. Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  32. Josh Bilicki – No. 27 Rick Ware Racing Ford
  33. Brennan Poole – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet
  34. Garrett Smithley – No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
  35. Quin Houff – No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet
  36. Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  37. Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
  38. Timmy Hill – No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota
  39. J. McLeod – No. 78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Ford
  40. Reed Sorenson – No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.