New-and-improved Atlanta Motor Speedway hosts the fifth race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season on Sunday with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. It’s the first Cup race held at the speedway since a facelift resulted in fresh pavement and a different design for one of the sport’s most competitive 1.5-mile ovals.
Along with new asphalt for the first time in nearly 25 years, this track had its banking reconfigured from 28 to 24 degrees. The width of the turns shrank, too, from 55 to 40 feet which will squeeze drivers here at a place known for multiple grooves and your ability to run virtually anywhere, from the bottom to the top. A wider frontstretch should help even things out and keep cars capable of exiting side-by-side with faster speeds.
Just how fast they’ll get? And how much drafting will come into play here? We got some answers after rain washed out qualifying. Drivers topped average speeds over 186 miles an hour in the long practice session Saturday, drafting in large packs where it was difficult to break away from each other.
“I didn’t think the speeds were going to be as fast as they were,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. “One mistake and you’re going to wipe out just about the entire field, if it’s at the front.”
NASCAR is concerned enough that they’ve added a don’t go below the yellow line rule similar to the large, pack-racing superspeedways out in Daytona and Talladega. Any driver that ducks below that line and advances their position will be hit with a black-flag penalty. The handling package being used here also includes reduced horsepower and a seven-inch spoiler similar to what was run at the Daytona 500 one month ago.
Since there were no practice speeds to fall back on before the rainout, NASCAR used a performance metrics formula to set the starting grid. It’s similar to the one utilized during COVID-19 restrictions when teams showed up without any practice or qualifying.
- 50% of the metric is based on finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
- 35% of the metric is the team’s current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
- 15% of the metric is the driver’s fastest lap during the previous race.
The formula meant last week’s winner, Chase Briscoe, wound up on the pole for this event. In all, 37 cars showed up to run the 500-miler, meaning everyone made the race; the field is actually three short of a full 40-car grid. All 36 teams with a guaranteed spot will compete along with the open team of NY Racing (No. 44).
1. Chase Briscoe
2. Ryan Blaney
3. Joey Logano
4. Kyle Busch
5. Tyler Reddick
6. Chase Elliott
7. Ross Chastain
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Kurt Busch
10. Aric Almirola
11. Alex Bowman
12. William Byron
13. Daniel Suarez
14. Chris Buescher
15. Denny Hamlin
16. Austin Cindric (R)
17. Austin Dillon
18. Ty Dillon
19. Bubba Wallace
20. Cole Custer
21. Kyle Larson
22. Justin Haley
23. Erik Jones
24. Brad Keselowski
25. Todd Gilliland (R)
26. Martin Truex Jr.
27. Christopher Bell
28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
29. Michael McDowell
30. Noah Gragson (i)
31. Harrison Burton (R)
32. Cody Ware
33. Corey LaJoie
34. BJ McLeod
35. David Ragan
36. Josh Bilicki (i)
37. Greg Biffle
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Chase Briscoe (1st) starts up front for the first time in his Cup Series career. Briscoe won last Sunday at Phoenix, just his second ever top-5 finish on an oval track.
- Ryan Blaney (2nd) is this race’s defending winner.
- Kyle Busch (4th) has the best starting spot among the six Toyota drivers.
- Tyler Reddick (5th) has the best starting spot among Chevrolet drivers.
- Kurt Busch (9th) has the most Atlanta wins among active drivers (four).
- Austin Cindric (16th) has the best starting spot of any rookie on the grid.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (28th) was the fastest in Saturday’s lone practice session.
- Noah Gragson (30th) makes his debut in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet, replacing Daniel Hemric. Gragson’s running a limited schedule with the team this season along with his part-time Beard Motorsports ride (No. 62) and full-time job running the No. 9 for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
- David Ragan (35th) replaces Garrett Smithley in the Rick Ware Racing Ford at his hometown track. Ragan is running a limited schedule for the team this season.
- Josh Bilicki (36th) is back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet this week, replacing Landon Cassill. The two are sharing the ride this season.
- Greg Biffle (37th) returns to make his third start of the year with the No. 44 NY Racing Chevrolet. Sponsorship this weekend is being provided by Stillman College.
NASCAR Race Breakdown
Race: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday, March 20
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 325 laps (500.5 miles)
Stage 1: 105 Laps
Stage 2: 105 Laps
Final Stage: 115 Laps
Austin Hill stops by the Frontstretch Podcast to chat about his NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Daytona and what it’s been like transitioning to a new ride with Richard Childress Racing. Then, host Davey Segal and company turn their attention to all the changes at Atlanta and what we might expect out of the racing there this weekend.
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