NASCAR Cup Series gears up for second stop of 2021 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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Slipping and sliding will be what the NASCAR Cup Series drivers will be preparing for as they get set to take on the NASCAR Cup Series’ oldest surface (last repave was in 1997) this Sunday, July 11 at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio at 3:30 p.m. ET.

This weekend’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart will be the 115th running of a NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the second this season. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a 1.54-mile paved oval located in Hampton, Georgia just south of Atlanta.Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts from the pole position. The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970, and it was renamed to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990. The track layout was reversed, and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.

The previous 114 NASCAR Cup Series races at Atlanta Motor Speedway have produced 52 different pole winners and 45 different race winners. NASCAR Hall of Famer Buddy Baker and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman lead the series in poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway with seven each.

This weekend’s race had the starting lineups determined by Metric Qualifying and as a result the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion and most recent winner (at Road America last weekend) Chase Elliott will start from the pole and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch will join him on the front row.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with nine victories (1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000). Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick (2001, 2018, 2020) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch (2002, 2009, 2010) lead all active series winners at Atlanta with three victories each. 

Six active former NASCAR Cup Series winners are entered this weekend; including Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney who grabbed his first Atlanta Motor Speedway win of his career earlier this season. Three of the six active Atlanta Cup race winners this weekend, are looking for their first win of the 2021 season – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Active Atlanta WinnersWinsSeasons
Kevin Harvick32020, 2018, 2001
Kurt Busch32010, 2009, 2002
Brad Keselowski22019, 2017
Kyle Busch22013, 2008
Ryan Blaney12021
Denny Hamlin12012

Clinch Scenarios: Time is running out to secure a Playoff spot

With just six races remaining in the regular season in the NASCAR Cup Series time is running out for drivers to secure their spot in the Playoffs. Looking ahead to Atlanta Motor Speedway, five drivers have clinched a spot on wins and points with several others having the opportunity to do the same this weekend. 

Already Clinched

The following five drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman.

Can clinch via previous wins

The following drivers could clinch if they build up enough points to ensure they will not be left out of the playoffs due to not all winning drivers having a slot available: William Byron: Could only clinch with help. Joey Logano: Could only clinch with help.

Can clinch via win

The following drivers would clinch on a win alone this weekend: William Byron, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Denny Hamlin. 

Impossible to Clinch this weekend

Even with a win, Kevin Harvick would not clinch a Playoff spot on wins since there still exists the possibility of all winners failing to make the Playoffs. If they can’t clinch with a win, no winless driver below them in the standings could clinch either.

Regular Season Championship battle tightens with six races to go

Following the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway back on May 16, driver standings leader Denny Hamlin had grown his points cushion to a stout 101 points over second place, but since then Kyle Larson has rallied and has closed that points deficit to just three points, tightening up the race for the Regular Season Championship with just six races to go. 

Winning the NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship not only garners the prestige of the accomplishment, but it also pays 15 Playoff points. That’s the equivalent to three race wins or 15 stage wins worth of Playoff points, quite the haul. 

The NASCAR Cup Series started awarding the Regular Season Championship in 2017. Since then, three different drivers have accomplished the feat – Kevin Harvick (2020), Kyle Busch (2019, 2018) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).  In two of the past four seasons, the regular-season champ has gone on to win the Playoff title — Truex in 2017 and Busch in 2019.

Gazing to this weekend at Atlanta, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will be working to build on the slim points lead he has left. Hamlin has made 22 series starts at the 1.54-mile track posting one pole, one win (2012), six top fives, nine top 10s and has led 418 laps. He finished fourth at Atlanta earlier this season.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson returns to Atlanta not only hunting for the points lead but also looking for redemption from earlier this season, when he dominated the event leading 269 of the 325 scheduled laps (82.7%) only to finish runner-up to Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney by 2.083-seconds. With a pass for the lead with eight laps left in the Atlanta race back in March, Blaney took the air out of an otherwise dominating performance by Kyle Larson. It was Larson’s second top five and fourth top 10 of his seven career starts at the 1.54-mile track. And ironically, Larson has led the exact same number of laps at Atlanta as Hamlin has at 418.

Kevin Harvick is hungry for a win in 2021

After putting up a career best nine-win NASCAR Cup Series season in 2020, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the 21st race of the 2021 season still winless and looking to secure a spot in the Playoffs. Last season’s regular season champion, Harvick, hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Bristol Motor Speedway in September of 2020 – 27 races ago – his longest winless streak since coming to SHR in 2014.

On a positive note, Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of Harvick’s best tracks statically. He is tied with Kurt Busch for the most wins among active drivers with three each. In total he has put up three wins (2001, 2018, 2020), nine top fives, 16 top 10s and two poles. His average finish in 31 series starts at Atlanta is 12.783, third-best. Plus, he is ranked in the top-10 of several key pre-race Loop Data categories with an Average Running Position of 11.728 (seventh-best), a Driver Rating of 101.4 (series-best), 606 Fastest Laps Run (series-best), and 5,085 Laps in the Top 15 (third-most).  

Keep an eye on Harvick this weekend, in four of his last six starts this season he has posted top-10 finishes. 

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Atlanta Motor Speedway to undergo reprofile before 2022 – Following the July 11 Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart, Atlanta Motor Speedway will break ground on a historic project to create the next generation of Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2022.

Following 10 months of confidential research, development, testing and simulation with engineers and iRacing, the reprofile will increase the current 24-degree banking in Atlanta’s turns to 28-degrees—higher than any other intermediate track on the current NASCAR circuit. Straightaway banking will remain five degrees. In addition to the new high banks, the racing surface will become narrower with an overall decrease in width from 55 feet to 40 feet. New widths will be 52 feet on the front stretch, 42 feet on the back stretch and 40 feet in the turns.

“As Atlanta’s racing surface has aged, we’ve challenged ourselves to reimagine what NASCAR racing at an intermediate track can be,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith. “With high banks in the turns, narrower width and new pavement technology, Atlanta will be unlike any other mile-and-a-half track on the circuit. It’s all new for ’22 and this will be specifically designed for close, competitive racing.”

Construction is slated to begin the week following the July 11 Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, with the next generation Atlanta Motor Speedway making its debut in 2022 in conjunction with NASCAR’s Next Gen car.

Honorary dignitaries for this weekend at Atlanta – This weekend will be packed full of great entertainment and racing action and Atlanta Motor Speedway has invited several great dignitaries to join in on the festivities.

As previously announced, breakout star BRELAND will get race fans revved up for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart with a live concert on the pre-race stage at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 11. 

Employees of the College Park, Ga., Walmart store will serve as Grand Marshals for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart on Sunday, July 11. The team earned the opportunity through a contest between Walmart locations to say the most famous words in motorsports and kick off 400 miles of racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s national anthem will be performed by country singer and songwriter Corbette Jackson. Jackson grew up in Newnan, Ga., before moving to Nashville to pursue a career as a country music artist. Currently one of the most played independent artists on country radio, Jackson is currently preparing for the release of a new fundraiser single “Small Town Kid”, with profits from the song going to the Coweta Community Foundation tornado relief fund.

Atlanta Operatic Tenor Timothy Miller will perform “God Bless America” during pre-race festivities for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart. Miller is well known for his performances before Atlanta Braves home games and brings his powerful and legendary voice to NASCAR for the first time on Sunday.

And streaking across the sky above Atlanta Motor Speedway during the national anthem on Sunday will be a C-130 and two HH60 gunner helicopters piloted from Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga.

Ford is looking to keep the wins streak alive – The longest consecutive wins streak by a manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway is five victories by Ford (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021) and this weekend the manufacturer is looking to keep the streak alive and make it six. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney is the most recent Ford winner at Atlanta taking home the trophy earlier this season.

In total, nine different manufacturers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta; led by Chevrolet with 40 victories; followed by Ford (34), Pontiac (11), Dodge (nine), Mercury (eight), Buick (four), Plymouth (four), Toyota (three) and Oldsmobile (one).