Feb 25, 2018; Hampton, GA, USA; Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) reacts to a question while talking with media after winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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NASCAR Honor QuikTrip 500 preview

”The Last Lap with Seth Dunlap”
February 21, 2019 - 5:50 pm
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By: Tim Zimmer, WWL NASCAR columnist

America’s most popular demolition derby took place last Sunday with the 61st running of the Daytona 500. 37 of the 40 drivers were involved in some kind of incident which included the “Big One” on lap 190 that took out 21 drivers. The 2016 Daytona winner Denny Hamlin earned another trophy winning the race for the second time with his Toyota teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones finishing 2nd and 3rd place.

NASCAR moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend with a new car package to start off a new season. The new aerodynamic package includes lowering the engine horsepower and a few other minor changes to the spoiler and splitter. The goal of these 2019 rule changes is to level the competition field and make for better racing.

When you think of Atlanta Motor Speedway the first thing that should come to mind is tire wear. A new set of tires at this race track is extremely important as the dropout from new to worn tires are significant. Teams will only have 12 sets to choose from so pit stop strategy will play an important role especially early on in the race.

Last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 champion, Kevin Harvick, dominated the field leading most of the race with a combined 181 total laps. Harvick has been a contender at this track for the last eight years finishing in the top 10 seven times.  The #4 car was even better in 2017 when he led 292 total laps of the 325, but ended up finishing a disappointing 9th place.

Harvick isn’t the only Ford that has been a contender in Atlanta. The Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have been two of the best five drivers recently. The #2 car of Keselowski won that 2017 race, in which Harvick dominated, and also finished 2nd place in last year’s race. He’s finished in the top 10 the past four races. His teammate Joey Logano is still looking for his first win here, but has shown he can finish strong. The #22 has three top 6 finishes in the last four races.

While those are your contenders, here are some drivers that could end up in victory lane if luck is on their side. We’ll start off with the Hendrick cars with the #9 Chase Elliott and #24 William Byron. Elliott returns to his home state where he’s only raced here three times, but each one has been a top 10 result. His Rookie of the Year teammate William Byron is coming an impressive Daytona 500 weekend. Not only did the #24 car win the pole, but it had a strong run before it was ended because of an accident. I expect those Hendrick cars plus Jimmie Johnson to have good results and maybe even a checkered flag.

Other drivers who have fared well here include Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr and Clint Bowyer. Like Truex, Larson is about as good of a driver at 1.5-mile long intermediate tracks. If there isn’t any issues with the new car package, I expect both drivers to be in the top ten throughout the race. Bowyer benefited the most last season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. Using the knowledge from his team, which includes Kevin Harvick, has resulted in two top 15 finishes. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking a winner come Sunday.

-Kevin Harvick has lead 915 total laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the last five races.

-Toyota has only won this race twice. The last winner was Kyle Busch in 2013.

-The last four races the pole sitter has average a 6th place finish. The best result was 4th place by Joey Logano and Kurt Busch.

-Per @ifantasyrace on Twitter: “Every odd year at Atlanta since 2013 Denny Hamlin (2018 Daytona 500 Winner) has finished 38th!”

Fantasy Drivers and “Best Bets”

5) Chase Elliott: Last week my #5 went on to win the 500, so let’s see if it happens again with the hometown hero. Elliott, who lives just outside of Atlanta, will likely have Chevrolets’ best chance at seeing the checkered flag on Sunday. The #9 car went to victory lane in Kansas last season which is a similar track to Atlanta. This should be the start to a career year for the son of Bill Elliott. (Vegas Odds: 9/1)

4) Joey Logano: Last season’s Monster Energy NASCAR champion left off where he started having a strong start to the 2019 season. The #22 was the best car in Daytona finishing 4th and I think that momentum will help him head into this year. Logano may not get the win Sunday, but he’ll be in the final five on the last restart. (Vegas Odds: 6/1)

3) Brad Keselowski: The start to the 2019 season was pretty quiet for the #2 car last week. Now we move off the restrictor plate to the first intermediate track of the season and that’s where Keselowski has shined. Keselowski has led laps in five of the last six races in Atlanta and I expect him to contend race. The #2 team likes to think outside the box, so don’t be surprised if they take an unorthodox way of getting up front in Stage 3. (Vegas Odds: 15/2)

4) Kevin Harvick: He’s the clear-cut favorite this week coming in with the best odds according to books in Las Vegas. The only reason I don’t have Harvick as my #1 driver this week is because I have a hard time believing we’ll see the same winner in back-to-back years. Jimmie Johnson did win both races in 2015 & 2016, but with a new package and uncertainty of the cars handling, I’ll make the #4 my second best driver this week. (Vegas Odds: 7/2)

1) Kyle Busch: Who could be my #1 driver this week? Someone who I haven’t mentioned yet, and I expect him to handle the changes to his car smoothly. Busch does have a win in Atlanta in 2013, but since then, only one top 5 & two top 10 finishes. Joe Gibbs racing is just coming off a 1-2-3 finish at Daytona and I’ll go with the team that’s trending upward right now and take its best driver. Best Bet (Vegas Odds: 11/2)

You can catch the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway this Sunday on FOX at 1:00pm Central Time. You can follow Tim on Twitter for more NASCAR updates at @timzim1613

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