Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

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

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After last Sunday’s barn burner of a finish in the Daytona 500, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads to Georgia for this weekend’s running of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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. The track has been unpredictable when it comes to which driver will end the day in victory lane as eight different drivers have found victory lane in the last nine races. The track surface was also scheduled to be repaved prior to this weekend’s race, but after an outcry from the drivers, the plans were put on hold.

Given the age of the surface, tire management will be key this weekend and pit road could play a big part in who wins due to the teams having one less pit crew member and the high number of pit stops that will be taking place.

By the Numbers

What: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 2 of 36

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

When: February 25, 2018

TV/Radio: FOX, 2:00 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 – 85 laps each, Final stage – 155 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

2017 Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started fifth, 21 laps led)

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

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 105.4
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 105.2
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 97.0
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 95.2
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 93.9
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 93.0
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 92.4
  8. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 91.7
  9. Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 85.9
  10. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 83.2

From the Driver’s Seat

“Atlanta is a really fun racetrack,” AJ Allmendinger said. “We all begged them not to repave the racetrack and they didn’t. So, it’s about conserving tires. A car and driver that can be a little easier on their tires is definitely a huge advantage at Atlanta.

The pavement at Atlanta gets rougher and slicker every year. With the slickness and the way it degrades tires, it’s always going to be like that. It always gets a little more rough each year with harsh winters but it’s a challenge and it’s what makes it fun. The cars sliding around puts on some of the best racing. For us drivers, it’s a challenge because you have to find different grooves. You really have to save the tires through the course of a run so you don’t overdo it early. It’s something that, as race teams, we really enjoy doing. It’s a 1.5-mile racetrack, but it’s different than any other place we go to.”

Last Time at Atlanta

Kevin Harvick looked to be in the catbird seat near the end of last year’s race at Atlanta, having led 292 laps and holding steady out front, but when the caution flag flew for Austin Dillon’s slowing car on lap 311, everything changed.

A speeding penalty on pit road dropped Harvick from the lead back to 19th, handing the lead over to Kyle Larson, with Brad Keselowski not too far behind.

On the subsequent restart, Keselowski was able to work his way past Larson for the lead and never looked back, streaking across the line by 0.564 seconds over Larson to take the win. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, and Georgia native Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five.

“We had a lot of adversity today there’s no doubt about that,” said Keselowski. “These races aren’t easy. They’re 500 miles and a lot can happen and when you think you’ve got it they slip away. I know how it goes. This one kind of fell in our lap at the end and my team put it all together when it counted. They gave me a great Autotrader Ford Fusion and we were able to get by Kyle (Larson) there at the end. I knew that he wasn’t going to be easy to pass. His car was great and I was able to make the right moves to get by him.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, February 23

  • MENCS Practice (11:35 am to 12:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, February 24

  • MENCS Final Practice (Noon to 1:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, February 25

  • MENCS Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2:00 pm – 325 laps, 500.5 miles – FOX)

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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.