Atlanta Proves to Be the Best NASCAR Cup Race of the Season to Date

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Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, GA — March 20, 2022

If the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway lives up to even half of the pre-race hype it is going to be a fantastic event. QuikTrip, the Tulsa-based convenience store brand, popular throughout the midwest and the southern United States deserves a shout-out for incorporating the charity Folds of Honor into their sponsorship of the Atlanta race. Folds of Honor provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service-members.

Atlanta’s Track Reconfiguration

According to NASCAR, Atlanta’s facelift features a widened front straightaway and a significant increase in banking, moving from 24 degrees to 28 degrees and becoming the steepest-banked intermediate track on the schedule. The widened front stretch, though, is coupled with tighter turns as the width shrinks from 55 feet to 40 feet.

The high banks make for higher speeds, so NASCAR will implement many similar elements from its superspeedway configurations. Cars will be outfitted in the same 510-horsepower, 7-inch spoiler configuration utilized at both Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Additionally, all racing and qualifying must be done within the inside painted line. The boundary will be enforced throughout the weekend, so no passes will be permitted beneath the line. The “choose” rule will also be in effect throughout the race, so look for the lane selection strategy to play out there.

Weekend Weather

All on-track activities scheduled for Friday were washed away as a storm system settled in over the speedway. The practice for the new Cup cars was considered essential as only three drivers participated in the Goodyear Tire testing performed last year at the track.

NASCAR declared there would be no qualifying on Saturday and starting positions would be determined by the NASCAR Rule Book, a return to the process in place for most of 2020-21. Instead, the time allotted for qualifying runs was used for practice. Good thing! Drivers learned a lot from the time spent on track.

Calling Atlanta a superspeedway race is true in terms of speed and expected pack racing. How it differs is the shorter length of the track. According to drivers, the cars close quickly, there will be no need to worry about losing the draft. Things happen fast, there are no long straights to take a brief rest, it will be a taxing 500 miles on drivers.

Expect the “big one” type accidents to, in part, determine the outcome.

Atlanta History

Morgan Shepherd captured Ford’s 400th series victory in 1993 when snow delayed the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 for nearly a week.  The original race date was Sunday, March 14, 1992, but a blizzard that would eventually be called the ‘Storm of the Century’ pounded the Atlanta area with 6-8 inches of snow.

An estimated 82,000 fans came back the following Saturday, where they were greeted by souvenir rigs that sports t-shirts proclaiming ‘I Survived the Atlanta Blizzard 500.’  When the race started, Mark Martin had the dominant car as he led 140 of the first 225 laps, but engine problems put him out of the running and Shepherd took advantage as he stretched his fuel mileage to the finish, leading the final 12 laps and winning by a whopping 23.50 seconds.

The win for Shepherd, who was 51 at the time, was his fourth and final victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Brad Keselowski gave Mustang its first NASCAR Cup Series victory as he held off Martin Truex Jr. at the finish to win the Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2019. Keselowski, who was battling an illness all weekend and had Austin Cindric standing by in case he needed relief, led the final 33 laps to post his 28th career victory. In all, Ford led 177 of the 325 laps and won for the third straight year at the 1.5-mile track.

Ford leads all manufacturers with six drivers currently in the top 10 of the NASCAR Cup Series point standings. Joey Logano leads the overall standings while fellow Blue Oval teammates Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, and Austin Cindric are fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively. Kevin Harvick, on the strengths of his season-best sixth-place run on Sunday, rounds out the top 10 in 10th.

Four Races and Four Different Winners

Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe have become first-time NASCAR Cup Series winners in the season’s first month. Cindric captured the season-opening Daytona 500 while Briscoe won last weekend’s Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

This marks the first time since 2011 that multiple Ford drivers have recorded their first series win in the same season. On that occasion, Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers, David Ragan took the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and Marcos Ambrose captured the road course event at Watkins Glen with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Today’s Race

The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 consists of 325 laps around the 1.5-mile speedway. Stages are 105/105/110 laps. The defending champion is Ryan Blaney. Chase Briscoe sits on the pole today with Blaney beside him on the front row. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the fastest car in Saturday’s practice session with a speed of 186.616.

Austin Cindric / Lasco Press Photo

Brad Keselowski (unapproved adjustments after inspection) and Harrison Burton (twice failing inspection) were sent to the rear for the start of today’s race. A competition caution is scheduled for after Lap 45.

The Start

As expected the cars raced side-by-side from the drop of the green flag. Ryan Blaney(12) led the first lap, Chase Briscoe(14) fought back to lead the next five laps. Until Kyle Busch(18), one of the fastest cars in practice yesterday, drove around and into the top spot.

Atlanta fans went crazy as Chase Elliott(9), their favorite son, raced Busch door handle-to-door handle sticking the nose of his car out in front for three laps. With 20 laps on the scoreboard cars finally began seeking a place in line to ride out the laps to the competition caution.

Chase Elliott / Lasco Press Photo

On Lap 23 Xfinity Series regular Noah Gragson(16), who was making his second Cup start, lost control in Turn Two. Overcorrecting, Gragson turned directly into the outside wall initiating one of the hardest crashes yet in the Next-Gen car. Gragson exited the race car and walked away uninjured.

With crews unable to put fuel in the car until the competition caution, most of the drivers choosing to pit were situated in the back half of the field. Teams struggling took advantage of the yellow flag to come in for tires and chassis adjustments.

On the restart, Ross Chastain(1) jumped into the lead continuing his recent string of impressive runs for the new Trackhouse Racing team. William Byron(24) took a turn at the front as he and Chastain swapped the lead prior to the display of the competition caution.

Stage One 

Blaney and Joey Logano(22) were the first two drivers off of pit road. Unfortunately, Blaney was guilty of a pit road violation for equipment out of the pit box and will have to restart at the rear of the field.

Single file racing developed quicker after the race went back green with Chastain pulling the train in the top spot. Tyler Reddick(8) proved you can race to the front with help as he dropped into the lower grove and picked up a bunch of followers. Within a few laps, he was challenging for the lead, then held by Logano.

Reddick took the top spot away with a good move on Logano trapping the #22 car in the middle groove. It cost Logano a few positions, but he did not drop him to the rear of the pack as often happens at Daytona and Talladega.

Just 75 laps in there were 27 lead changes among eight drivers and with only Gragson out of the race the 36 remaining cars were all on the lead lap. On Lap 94, while leading, Chastain had a right rear tire go down and he slipped to the top of the track scrapping the wall. What could have been the big one never transpired as Chastain maintained control of the car and the entire field avoided the incident.

With the end of the Stage imminent, the top 10 stayed on the track to fight for Stage points. The remainder of the field pitted and will not have to stop at the Stage break. Chastain made it back to pit road and got his tries changed before the pack came around to put him a lap down. However, his crew put fuel in the car while stopping on a closed pit road costing him a two-lap penalty. The car sat on pit road when the green flag waved.

As drivers jockeyed for position Kyle Busch bumped the rear of Austin Dillon(3) and got the #3 car loose. Dillon wiggled and trapped Busch against the outside wall damaging both cars. Ty Dillon(42) got involved and hit his brother causing severe damage to his and Austin’s car. The grandchildren of Richard Childress both had to retire to the garage. With a lot of work in his pit, Kyle Busch was able to continue, how competitive he will be remains to be seen.

Michigan’s Erik Jones(43) was directly behind Busch when the racing accident occurred. Quick reflexes enabled Jones to miss the trouble and allowed the Petty GMS Racing driver to score a fifth-place finish in the Stage. William Byron was the beneficiary of the scramble out front and held the lead when the caution waved, ending the Stage under the yellow flag.

Stage One Results

POSITION CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 24 William Byron 10
2 11 Denny Hamlin 9
3 99 Daniel Suarez 8
4 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 7
5 43 Erik Jones 6
6 45 Kurt Busch 5
7 48 Alex Bowman 4
8 5 Kyle Larson 3
9 8 Tyler Reddick 2
10 2 Austin Cindric* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage Two

It was side-by-side racing again on the restart and the multiple lead changes resumed. With everyone seemingly wanting a shot at the top spot, three-wide racing began. Drivers even went four wide one time through turns three and four with everyone surviving the scramble for position.

Kyle Busch sat at the back of the pack for a few laps making sure his crew had succeeded in making his car race-worthy. Turning lap times close to the leaders, Busch entered the fray and worked himself back into the top 20.

Christopher Bell(20), Kevin Harvick(4), Martin Truex Jr.(19), Kurt Busch(45), Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), and Justin Haley(31) all led the pack for at least a lap at the start-finish lines where official lead changes are recorded.

On Lap 144 the big one occurred. Reddick cut down a right rear tire and spun out at the front of the field. Austin Cindric(2), Kyle Larson(5), Corey LaJoie(7), Denny Hamlin(11), Bell, Logano, and Kurt Busch all got caught up in the melee. Everyone was able to continue, with Logano losing a lap trapped on the tri-oval grass where he came to rest.

Less than halfway through the Stage everyone came to pit road for tires and fuel. Truex was flagged for being too fast entering and Daniel Suarez(99) pitted outside of his box sending both drivers to the rear for the restart. Reddick received a two-lap penalty for too many men over the wall trying to repair the damage to his race car.

Kevin Harvick(4) and Byron led the field back to green, but the race went back under caution after just a couple of laps for debris on the front stretch. The parts could have been from Kyle Busch’s car as he made several pit stops trying to repair damage to the right rear. Busch lost eight laps to the field in the process.

Back to green flag racing, the front of the pack shuffled out in a single line as Byron led the Fords of Harvick, Blaney, and Aric Almirola(10). Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) dropped down to the bottom lane and picked up a bunch group of followers dragging them to the front and it was back to two-wide racing.

After 171 laps Kyle Busch retired his car to the garage ending what had been a promising day for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Upon exiting his car, Busch left his helmet on and walked directly to his trailer unwilling to speak to the media.

When Stenhouse made it to the front of the field on Lap 185 it was the 35th lead change among 16 drivers, by far a new record for Atlanta Motor Speedway. After Byron lost the lead the pack went back to single-file racing. Byron proved you could get a big run off the corner and pass one or two cars, but finding a place back in line proved to be an issue. He dropped to 10th before finding a spot in line.

Another mishap at the front of the field, Stenhouse had a tire go down and spun. Cindric, trying to avoid the spin, got punted in the rear by Suarez and spun into Stenhouse taking both cars out of the race.

Jones had almost avoided the wreck having slowed down until he got hit from behind by Harvick. Damage to both cars brought them to pit road for attention. With just six laps to go in the Stage pit strategy jumbled the field.

The restart with three laps to go in Stage Two featured Blaney and Larson on the front row. Larson led the first lap, Blaney crossed over to lead the next one. Hamlin pushing Larson across the start-finish line got the defending series champion loose and the two cars crashed ending the Stage under the yellow with Blaney taking the top spot ahead of Elliott. The Ford Mustangs of Briscoe, Almirola, and Brad Keselowski(6) rounding out the top five.

POSITION CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 12 Ryan Blaney* 10
2 9 Chase Elliott 9
3 14 Chase Briscoe* 8
4 10 Aric Almirola* 7
5 6 Brad Keselowski* 6
6 99 Daniel Suarez 5
7 19 Martin Truex Jr. 4
8 23 Bubba Wallace 3
9 24 William Byron 2
10 1 Ross Chastain 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Wow, phones must be ringing non-stop in the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office for the race here in July. More action has been seen in this race than all the events in 2022 combined. And there are 110 laps to go in the final stage.

Suarez and Truex make up the front row on this restart as Hamlin and Larson take their cars to the garage and out of the race. Given the attrition so far, no one would blame the drivers if they lined up and logged some laps. At least one more pit stop will be required to complete the remainder of the race.

Nope! Two-wide racing and the lead changes continue at the point. Suarez drives off into Turn One with the advantage on the start. Truex leads briefly, and for the first time since Lap 15, the crowd cheers Elliott back to the front. Eight rows deep the side-by-side racing continues lap after lap. Any one of the cars still on the lead lap could enter victory lane at the end of the race.

Debris on the track forced NASCAR to waive the ninth caution flag of the day on Lap 253. The pits were opened with 70 laps to go, which may be too far to go on a full tank of fuel. Especially considering the high prospect of multiple green-white-checker attempts being needed to get a winner. It took two overtimes to finish the Xfinity Series race here on Saturday.

Almirola and Byron were on the front row when the green waved with 66 laps to go in the race. There are 23 cars on the lead lap at this point in the race and lead changes have grown to 46 with more to come.

The Next-Gen cars are proving to be much more durable than the Cup cars have ever been as several of the machines that were involved in earlier incidents are still in the top 15 and competing for the win.

Questions about tire integrity brought a Goodyear engineer to the media center stating that the on-track incidents have been contributed to excessive camber settings on the rear suspension and not following inflation recommendations.

Whether it is tire concerns or close fuel tolerances drivers seem content to ride out a bunch of laps as the scoreboard clicked down to 30 laps to go with William Byron out front for the last 34 of those. Consider it the calm before the storm.

The Finish

Chase Elliott was the first to make a move from 14th place as he dropped down to the low line and picked up three followers in an attempt to move to the front. With 25 laps to go Todd Gilliland(38) spun and collected Cody Ware(51) bringing out the caution that will eliminate low fuel concerns and allow teams to prep for the final sprint to the checkered flag.

The leaders stayed out, but several teams seeking the advantages from tires or adjustments came to pit road. Byron, Bubba Wallace(23), Blaney, Almirola, and Jones are the top 5 heading to the restart with 19 laps to go. The “choose rule” set Byron and Wallace on the front row with Blaney and Almirola in row two.

Chastain sent Almirola spinning across the start-finish line at the end of the first lap after the restart, so the cars will stack up and go at it again. Byron and Wallace choose, the front row, Jones and Blaney restart behind them with 13 laps to go. The roar from the crowd as they approached the flag stand was incredible

Byron got a big push from Jones and then abandoned him when he slid up in front of Wallace. It proved to be the winning move for the Hendrick Motorsports driver as Byron held on to become the fifth different winner this season. A wreck just behind the leaders saw Chris Buescher(17), Haley, and Wallace slide across the finish line.

William Byron Wins Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway / Lasco Press Photo

Christopher Bell finished second and for the third week in a row, Ross Chastain took home a top-three finish.

NASCAR was quick to announce that Bell had been penalized for passing below the bottom line on the track during the final lap of the race and he was penalized by being relegated to 23rd position the last car on the lead lap.

Chastain now has two second-place finishes in a row and  Trackhouse racing is developing into a serious contender on the Cup circuit.

Wow, 46 lead changes between 20 drivers. Racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway July 10th for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart. Tickets are available by phone at 877-9-AMS-TIX  or online at the AMS website https://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/events/quaker-state-400/. Don’t hesitate if you want to be here for the Cup Series most exciting race of the year order now, the place is sure to sell out.

Playoff Standings

Since the introduction of the new NASCAR playoff format, winning a race during the regular season has always provided a position in the post-season. With five different winners in five races this season that concept is put into doubt. Will we have more than 16 winners in 2022? Maybe! The Next-Gen car is proving to fulfill one of NASCAR’s promises regarding the new race machines. It has evened the playing field. Anyone in the top 20 today could have won the race had the breaks fallen a little differently.

RANK DRIVER POINTS STATUS
1 Chase Briscoe* 156 In Win
2 William Byron 150 In Win
3 Alex Bowman 140 In Win
4 Kyle Larson 135 In Win
5 Austin Cindric* 121 In Win
6 Chase Elliott 171 +49
7 Joey Logano* 164 +42
8 Kurt Busch 148 +26
9 Ryan Blaney* 148 +26
10 Aric Almirola* 144 +22
11 Martin Truex Jr. 142 +22
12 Ross Chastain 137 +15
13 Kyle Busch 136 +14
14 Daniel Suarez 127 +5
15 Kevin Harvick* 127 +5
16 Tyler Reddick 126 +4
NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Cut Line
17 Brad Keselowski* 122 -4
18 Bubba Wallace 120 -6
19 Erik Jones 115 -11
20 Chris Buescher 113 -13
21 Austin Dillon 99 -27
22 Justin Haley 94 -32
23 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 91 -35
24 Corey LaJoie 87 -39
25 Ty Dillon 86 -40

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway

POSITION CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 24 William Byron 325
2 1 Ross Chastain 0.145 325
3 45 Kurt Busch 0.243 325
4 99 Daniel Suarez 0.255 325
5 7 Corey LaJoie 0.538 325
6 9 Chase Elliott 0.572 325
7 17 Chris Buescher 0.659 325
8 19 Martin Truex Jr. 0.749 325
9 22 Joey Logano 0.763 325
10 48 Alex Bowman 0.799 325
11 31 Justin Haley 0.835 325
12 6 Brad Keselowski 0.953 325
13 23 Bubba Wallace 0.976 325
14 43 Erik Jones 1.118 325
15 14 Chase Briscoe 2.165 325
16 77 Josh Bilicki 2.307 325
17 12 Ryan Blaney 11.380 325
18 15 David Ragan 18.054 325
19 78 BJ McLeod 18.477 325
20 44 Greg Biffle 19.630 325
21 4 Kevin Harvick 21.029 325
22 10 Aric Almirola 21.867 325
23 20 Christopher Bell Penalty 325
24 34 Michael McDowell -4 321
25 21 Harrison Burton -4 321
26 51 Cody Ware -25 300
27 38 Todd Gilliland -28 297
28 8 Tyler Reddick -80 245
29 11 Denny Hamlin -113 212
30 5 Kyle Larson -113 212
31 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -125 200
32 2 Austin Cindric -125 200
33 18 Kyle Busch -154 171
34 41 Cole Custer -175 150
35 3 Austin Dillon -224 101
36 42 Ty Dillon -224 101
37 16 Noah Gragson -302 23