What to watch: Full guide to Atlanta spring 2021 Cup race

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Pat DeCola
·8 min read
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Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta (⏰ 3 p.m. ET | 📺 FOX | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the sixth points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54-mile oval located in Hampton, Georgia
Green flag: 3:19 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 61, according to NOAA.gov
National anthem: Breland
Grand marshal: Erin Andrews
Race Distance: 325 laps, 500.5 miles
Stages: 105 | 210 | 325
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 55 mph
Atlanta 101: Tire info, fast facts
Starting lineup: Denny Hamlin on Busch Pole
Cars to the rear: Chase Elliott among those to start from back
Pit stall assignments:
See where cars line up | Atlanta can expose pit road weaknesses
Pre-race inspection: Watch Sunday, 8 a.m. ET

Gettyimages 1248003924
Gettyimages 1248003924

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following.

1. Kevin Harvick by no means has been a slouch in 2021, but after what we saw out of him a year ago it’s a bit surprising to see the No. 4 seem on even ground with so many teams. That could all change this weekend, however. Atlanta has been his new Phoenix in terms of domination, leading 49% of laps over the last seven races at the track, winning two of the last three. He’s been a stage-points machine, finishing in the top six of every stage run at Atlanta and is riding a series-best six-race top-10 streak there. If he’s unable to put it all together and at least lead laps and emerge with a top five — if not an outright win — the questions will start to crop up.

2. Similarly to Harvick, it’s a bit surprising that 2020 stalwart Denny Hamlin has yet to win this season — but he’s still been 2021’s best driver. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver leads all competitors in points per race, average running position and average finish to sit 39 points in the standings above second-place Brad Keselowski. Hamlin finished in the top five in two of the last three Atlanta races, but there’s still some concern he can keep it rolling this weekend. In addition to no Toyota victories at the track since 2013, Hamlin himself has only led one of the last five Atlanta races and his 17.3 average finish there is lowest of all oval tracks for him.

RELATED: Drivers to earn first Cup win at Atlanta

3. The 2021 season continues to entertain, with our fifth different winner last weekend in five races. The parity is noticeable, and five drivers are currently in playoff position who missed last year’s postseason. Two of the season’s five winners have never made the playoffs, and three drivers who made the 2020 16-driver field are still looking for their first top-10 finish this season. None of the season’s winners has ever won at Atlanta previously, and it’s likely that we’re going to see another first-time ’21 winner on Sunday, further complicating the playoff picture … in March.

4. It feels like Joey Logano has been in the mix for the win late in just about every race so far this year, a trend that feels like it should continue this weekend. Logano also hasn’t capitalized on any of these chances yet this season — a trend that is also likely to continue this weekend, as the No. 22 Team Penske driver was passed for the win with 55 laps or fewer remaining in each of the last three Atlanta races (one of which was at the hands of his teammate). Ford has won the last four races at Atlanta, however, so perhaps it’ll be his turn on Sunday.

5. One thing you’re going to hear a lot this weekend — tire wear. And with heavy tire wear comes four-tire stops, maybe even for every stop of the race. Though his finishes haven’t been there yet this season, Alex Bowman‘s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports crew has the best average four-tire pit stop in 2021. He could use all the help he could get at the moment, as Hendrick’s resurgence hasn’t quite hit the 48 group just yet, and his Atlanta history is checkered at best. Sitting behind both JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolets in the standings, Bowman will need to figure out how to turn things around at the Georgia track, where he’s yet to land a top 10 or earn a stage point in his career.

Race-day staples

Blaney Com Powerrankings Hero
Blaney Com Powerrankings Hero

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.
Power Rankings: Blaney riding pair of top 10s into Atlanta | See the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: 2021 Atlanta spring weekend | See the schemes
Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
• Betting odds for today’s race | See the odds
Who’s a dark horse bet to consider?
| BetMGM’s preview
Harvick set to break slump at Atlanta? | Full betting preview
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Track history

Gettyimages 512867704
Gettyimages 512867704

Every track has a story to tell. Here’s what we’ve seen go down at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the past.
Memorable moments at Atlanta | See the moments
All-time track winners | See the list
Top 10 lap leaders at Atlanta | See the list
Throwback: Harvick reflects on 2001 Atlanta win | Watch the video
Relive Morgan Shepherd’s fourth and final Cup win in 1993 | Watch the race

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is the only intermediate track at which Austin Dillon does not have a top-10 finish.
Though he’s been close, Atlanta is one of just two intermediate tracks that Martin Truex Jr. has not won on (Texas is the other).
• William Byron is currently riding a three-race top-10 streak — the longest of his career.
Atlanta is one of three active race tracks where Byron’s teammate, Alex Bowman, does not have a top-10 finish.
• Daniel Suarez is searching for his first top 10 with his new Trackhouse Racing team — and his first since Texas in November 2019.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

Backseat Drivers: Is Kyle Busch or Alex Bowman’s start worse? | Hear the debate
COVID-detecting dogs to get trial run in screening for Cup Series race at Atlanta | Read more
Chase Elliott explains key to Hendrick Motorsports resurgence | Read more
Penalty report: Crew chiefs for Nos. 2, 99 teams suspended after Phoenix | Read more
Streak of new winners to open 2021 likely to continue at Atlanta | Read more

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

“Atlanta has always been a track that I‘ve enjoyed. I feel like — we haven‘t won there yet — but we‘ve been very successful there and led a lot of laps and always seem to be around the front. Very, very fun race track, being able to run all over the track, the tire wear and all of those things are things that I enjoy behind the wheel and been fortunate to have some really good cars there as well. Going there with some momentum this time, and hopefully we can take advantage of that.” — Martin Truex Jr.

“Atlanta is tough. It‘s an old surface, for sure, which I think makes it fun for the drivers. I feel like a lot of people enjoy going there because of that. But, overall for us, it‘s been super hit or miss and I really don‘t know why. We‘ve gone there and we‘ve had some really good runs; a couple of days that I thought we were capable of winning. And then we‘ve been there and just been way out to lunch. So, I‘m not exactly sure what that is all the time.” — Chase Elliott

Jones 625x340
Jones 625x340

“I feel like we‘ve made some pretty big gains for us on the 550 (horsepower) package. I think our 750 package needs a lot of work, based off of what I experienced in Phoenix and then a little bit of a combination of the road courses, so what I was fighting with my race car in Phoenix is very similar to what I was fighting with it at the road course in Daytona, as well as some races last year.” — Ryan Newman

“Really, (the cars at RPM are) what I thought they would be. I felt pretty confident going in, to be honest with you, about what the equipment is and what they have with the resources we have at RPM. And it‘s been similar to what I thought. Really, the cars are really close. We have opportunities, like I was mentioning a second ago, to really hit it right and have an opportunity to run really well week in and week out.” — Erik Jones