Feb 23, 2018; Hampton, GA, USA; Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (middle) talks with his crew during qualifying for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Tim's Weekly NASCAR Preview: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Kristian Garic & Seth Dunlap, Double Coverage
February 23, 2018 - 6:27 pm

By Tim Zimmer, @timzim1613, NASCAR writer for WWL.com & producer of "Double Coverage"

Last week, the Daytona 500 saw Austin Dillon claim his spot in history winning the Great American Race on the final lap. While restrictor plate racing is a crap shoot in predicting a winner, it was the Chevrolets finishing 1-2 at the checkered flag.

My pick for Daytona, Ryan Blaney, couldn’t have run any better. The #12 car just didn’t get the result finishing in 7th place. Blaney led the most laps with 118 of the 207 laps. The Fords, which I predicted would dominate, won stages 1 & 2 and led 150 total laps.  All in all, it was a good day for both Chevy and Ford.

Now moving on to this weekend, it’ll be a different storyline as the NASCAR moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will feature a 1.5 mile long oval which drivers will complete 325 total laps. Tires will be key as fall-off happens quickly especially on long runs. So crew chiefs will have some strategizing to do late in the race.

The favorites for this week start with the Toyotas and last year’s NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. Truex won eight races last season and seven of those wins came from 1.5 mile long tracks similar to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Don’t be surprised to see the #78 car win his first stage points of the season and be in contention for the win. He’s averaged a 2.4 place finish on 1.5 mile long tracks throughout the 2017 season.

The other Toyota that should lead laps on Sunday is Kyle Busch in his #18 car. Like Truex, Busch didn’t have any luck in Daytona last week finishing outside the top 15. Busch has two wins in Atlanta, both with JGR in 2013 & 2008. Going back to last season, he was the second most dominating driver on 1.5 mile long tracks. I would be surprised if either Truex or Kyle Busch don’t win at least one of the three stages of the race.

While I think the Toyotas have the best shot at winning on Sunday, the Fords will have their say in that. Last year’s winner Brad Keselowski will lead Team Penske followed by Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. 

Over to Stewart-Haas, it was Kevin Harvick leading the most laps last year in Atlanta with 292 total laps. In the past four races in Atlanta, Harvick has two poles and three top-10 finishes. Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch should have a respectable finish as he’s ended up 7th place or better in 6 of the last 8 races on this track.

Looking at history, Hendrick Motorsports could get back to victory lane if their 7-time champion Jimmy Johnson can brush off the bad luck of late. Johnson, who has won twice in the last three QuikTrip 500s, needs to rebound after just a terrible weekend in Daytona. Johnson’s teammate Chase Elliott has never finished outside the top 10 in Atlanta but has yet to win a race in his career so far. Maybe the luck will continue for the Chevys and they can claim back to back victories to start off the season.

Some other drivers that I like this weekend include Kyle Larson who showed last season he’ll be a contender on intermediate tracks. Larson finished in 2nd place in last year’s QuikTrip 500. Another young upcoming star, like Elliott, still searching for his first win is Erik Jones. Teammate of Kyle Busch, Jones should have his JGR car ready to contend for a win.

Racing gets started on Sunday with coverage starting at 1pm on FOX.


Tim’s Picks To Win:

1) Kyle Busch (#18)

2) Martin Truex Jr. (#78)

3) Kyle Larson (#42)

4) Kevin Harvick (#4)

5) Chase Elliott (#9)

Sleeper: Erik Jones (#20)

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