This weekend marks the first repeat track visit of the 2022 season for the NASCAR Cup Series with the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on US Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron won the first race at Atlanta’s newly reconfigured 1.54-mile oval in March, a race that featured track records for the number of race leaders (20), lead changes (46 ) and green flag passes for the lead (141). Kurt Busch is the defending winner of the race, and he took the win from him last year before the track was remodeled.
And with eight races remaining to establish the 16-driver playoff field, the intensity of building is palpable.
Last week, Tyler Reddick became the fifth first-time NASCAR Cup Series winner of the season, tying the record for new winners in a season in the modern era (1972-2022), taking the win about road course master and series driver standings leader Chase Elliott. on Wisconsin’s Road America.
This week, the competition returns to Elliott’s “home track” outside of Atlanta and the question quickly becomes “how many winners will the 2022 season have?” The number is currently 13 race winners with only 16 drivers advancing to the playoffs in September. And, in particular, there are still a handful of former champions and perennial winners still looking for an opportunity to earn the automatic playoff nod.
Interestingly, there are eight race winners from 2021 – Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Bubba Wallace – who are still looking for their first win of 2022.
Three former series champions — Truex, Keselowski and Kevin Harvick — are among those who haven’t won, as is Blaney, who currently sits second in the drivers’ standings with a cushion of 112 points inside the top 16. .
Truex has a 61-point lead over the postseason cutoff, but Harvick actually fell out of playoff eligibility in the standings after Reddick’s win last week. Harvick is 20 points behind Bell for that final playoff transfer spot in case he doesn’t earn an automatic berth with a win.
Kurt Busch is the winningest active driver at Atlanta with four wins. Harvick is next with three: He scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory at Atlanta in 2001. It was an emotional triumph in the weeks after he took over the car from Richard Childress Racing for the NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, who died in the season opener. Dayton 500.
Keselowski and Kyle Busch have two wins apiece at Atlanta, and Byron, Blaney and Denny Hamlin have also won a trophy.
Harvick, who was the best in multiple statistical categories at Atlanta before the recent track modifications, said he’s still trying to figure out the new design that includes higher banks, a narrower track surface and new asphalt.
“Now it’s just superspeed on a mile-and-a-half speedway,” said Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. “Things just happen much faster, so decisions have to happen faster, cars move much more, corners are taken much faster. Much more in the seat of your pants, just ‘go here, go there, do this and do that’. I think the way the lines formed and moved, and it all happened, you just had to get used to a different style of racing than we had before.
This week there will be no practice. Busch Light Pole qualifying, two rounds of single-car racing, is scheduled for Saturday at 11:35 am ET. Qualifying will air live on the NBC Sports app at 11:30 am and then on the USA Network at noon ET.
Xfinity Series Prepares for High-Speed Action in Atlanta
The NASCAR Xfinity Series goes from road course to the heart of the schedule with the Alsco Uniforms 250 on Saturday afternoon (5 pm ET US, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the high-speed 1.5-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway miles.
And thanks to Ty Gibbs’ dramatic overtime pass for victory last week at Wisconsin’s Road America, he becomes the youngest driver (19 years, eight months, four weeks) to score eight career Series wins. Xfinity and their work certainly brings the regular season championship standings closer. never
Just nine points now separate four-race 2022 winner Gibbs from current driver standings leader and veteran AJ Allmendinger, winner of two races.
Both drivers played prominent roles the last time the series ran in Atlanta this spring. Gibbs led just one lap on the day, the final lap, in a multiple-overtime finish to claim his second win of the year. Allmendinger led the best 41-lap race and finished third.
Three of Atlanta’s last four race winners are full-time Xfinity Series drivers: Allmendinger (2020), Allgaier (2021) and Gibbs (2022), the only exception at that time being defending race winner Kyle Busch, who is not entered this weekend.
Ten regular season races is still plenty of time to shape and reshape championship contention. The top three drivers: Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Gibbs and JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier (-34) are still in the hunt for the regular season title.
Allgaier’s JRM teammate Noah Gragson was just 39 points off the leader of the drivers’ standings before he was handed a 30-point, $35,000 penalty Wednesday afternoon for “behavior” infractions at Road America.
At the other end of the standings, Ryan Sieg sits in the 12th and final transfer position with a solid 82-point lead over 13th-place Anthony Alfredo.
The wild card in all of this may be the good chance of new winners.
Certainly, former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champions Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed, along with former Xfinity Series race winner Myatt Snider, are easily favorites to win a trophy in 2022 and jump into contention for the playoffs. Seven of the 12 current playoff contenders have wins.
However, both Moffitt and Creed currently have as many DNFs as they have top-10 finishes: four for Moffitt and six for Creed. Snider has one top-five finish, four top-10 finishes and three DNFs.
There are no practices scheduled for this trip back to Atlanta Motor Speedway. A two-round qualifying session is scheduled for 10:05 a.m. Saturday morning and will be broadcast on the NBC Sports app.