NASCAR National Series News & Notes — Atlanta

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Folds of Honor QuikTrip500
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Feb. 25
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 500.5 miles (325 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170), Final Stage (Ends on lap 325)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Rinnai 250
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 24
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 251.02 miles (163 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 40),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on lap 163)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Active Pest Control 200 benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 24
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 4:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200.2 miles (130 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 40),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on lap 130)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Dillon Wins 60th Running Of DAYTONA 500, Parks No. 3 In Victory Lane 20 Years After Earnhardt’s Single Triumph In The Great American Race

Austin Dillon passed Aric Almirola on the backstretch of the final lap in NASCAR overtime to win the 60th running of the Daytona 500. Dillon returned the No. 3 Chevrolet to Victory Lane in The Great American Race 20 years to the weekend the man who made the No. 3 car famous – Dale Earnhardt – won his lone Daytona 500.

Dillon’s triumph marked the first for Chevrolet’s new Camaro ZL1 race car. It was the second win for the 27-year-old North Carolina native, who earned his first victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May.

He’ll try to become the first driver since Matt Kenseth in 2009 to open a season with consecutive wins in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX). His best finish at Atlanta was an 11th-place showing in 2016.

With the Daytona 500 win, Dillon earned a berth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Bubba’s Banner Day: Darrell Wallace Finishes Runner-Up In His First Daytona 500

Darrell Wallace started his first full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season with flare – placing runner-up in the Daytona 500. The showing was the best by an African-American driver in the Daytona 500. It also marked the top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series performance by an African-American driver since Wendell Scott’s lone victory in the 1963 Jacksonville 200.

Wallace’s historical weekend at the Daytona 500 was chronicled in the final two episodes of a new Facebook Watch docu-series titled “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace,” with the final two episodes set to premiere tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 22) at noon ET on the platform.

The driver of the No. 43 NASCAR Racing Experience Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports placed sixth at Atlanta in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race last year.

Happy In Hotlanta: Harvick Readies For Top Track

He only has one win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but recent track performance shows that Kevin Harvick will be the driver to beat in Georgia’s capital. Harvick has led more than 100 laps in four of his last five races at the 1.54-mile quad-oval. Last season, he dominated the race, leading 292 laps before succumbing the lead late in the race due to a pit road speeding penalty.

In 27 career Atlanta starts, Harvick claims one win, six top fives and 12 tops 10s. He has produced 10 of those top 10s in his last 13 appearances.

Harvick’s 97.0 Atlanta driver rating ranks third among active competitors.

Harvick’s lone Atlanta win came on March 3, 2001 in his third career start. He drove the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to Victory Lane after replacing Dale Earnhardt, who passed away three weeks earlier following an accident at Daytona.

Keselowski Tries For Atlanta Repeat

Brad Keselowski took advantage of Kevin Harvick’s late pit road speeding penalty by passing Kyle Larson with six laps left to win last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He’ll try to repeat on Sunday, one week after wrecking out of the Daytona 500.

In nine starts at the 1.54-mile track, Keselowski owns, one win, two top fives, five top 10s and an 18.1 average finish. His 11.28 average running position at Atlanta ranks second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Blaney Leads Standings; Readies For Atlanta Following Daytona Heartbreak

Ryan Blaney dazzled fans last week by leading a race-high 118 laps in the Daytona 500.

Although he believed he had the best car, Blaney’s shot at winning ended on Lap 198 when he got together with Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Ford, starting off a 12-car wreck. He finished the race seventh.

Still, Blaney won Stage 2 and leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings entering Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. He holds an eight-point advantage over second-place Joey Logano and an 11-point edge on third-place Austin Dillon.

Blaney hopes for better luck at Atlanta where he’s finished 25th (2016) and 18th (2017) in two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.

Hometown Hero: Elliott Eyes First Victory In Backyard

Seventy-eight races into his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Chase Elliott is still trying to break through with his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win.

Would there be a better place to do it than his home track – Atlanta Motor Speedway?

In two career starts at Atlanta, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native has finished eighth (2016) and fifth (2017). He placed 33rd in the Daytona 500 last week after an accident forced him out of the race after 101 laps.

Elliott has finished runner-up seven times in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

Johnson Strong At Atlanta

Atlanta Motor Speedway has treated Jimmie Johnson well over the years.

Johnson leads active drivers with five wins and a 105.4 driver rating in 26 starts at the 1.54-mile track. He also has 14 top fives, 16 top 10s and an 11.0 average finish.

The No. 48 driver won at Atlanta in consecutive seasons from 2015-16 before Brad Keselowski ended his streak last year.

A checkered flag at Atlanta would tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth all-time with 84 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Etc.

Keenan Thompson To Serve As Grand Marshal: Atlanta native and comedy sketch actor Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live” fame will return to his home city of Atlanta to serve as the grand marshal for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.


NASCAR Xfinity Series

Sunoco Rookie Tyler Reddick’s Already Making A Name For Himself In 2018

JR Motorsport’s latest addition to the organization, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Tyler Reddick, jumped on the NASCAR Xfinity Series scene this past weekend by not only winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, but also by locking himself into the Playoffs and perching himself atop the series driver standings. Now the 22-year old from Corning, California has set his sights on a title, but first must make his series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.

Reddick and the No. 9 Chevrolet team, led by last season’s title-winning crew chief David Elenz, outlasted five overtimes to beat his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler by the narrowest of margins – actually the narrowest in NASCAR national series history – at 0.000 seconds. With the win, Reddick holds the driver standings lead by nine points over Sadler in second, and is 11 points ahead of GMS Racing’s Spencer Gallagher in third.

Though this will be Reddick’s series debut at Atlanta this weekend, it will not be the first time he has run laps on the 1.54-mile speedway. Reddick made two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Atlanta, posting one top five and an average finish of 9.5.

Spencer Gallagher Has GMS Racing A Contender Early in 2018

Spencer Gallagher’s sophomore season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series has started off in the right direction, as the 28-year old from Las Vegas, Nevada posted his best series career finish of sixth at Daytona International Speedway last weekend. The top-10 was the best finish by the GMS Racing organization in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to date.

The solid showing has Gallagher ranked third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings, also his best ranking in the points in his series career, 11 points back from the series lead.

With the recent momentum, Gallagher turns his attention to Atlanta Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Rinnai 250. Gallagher made his series track debut at Atlanta last season; starting 21st and finishing 28th.

JR Motorsport’s Elliott Sadler Is Picking Up Where He Left Off Last Season

After an emotional finish to last season that left Elliott Sadler runner-up in the final standings for the fifth time in his career, the veteran from Virginia returns in 2018 with one thing on his mind – the championship.

Saturday’s race at Daytona looked to be the perfect stepping stone to his goal, but his JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick had other plans, and squeezed out the win over Sadler by the closest margin of victory in NASCAR national series history (an official margin of victory of 0.000).

With another runner-up finish burning fresh in his mind, Elliott Sadler heads to Atlanta not only hungry for championship, but also a win. He hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Kentucky in 2016 (40 races ago).

Sadler has made 12 series start at Atlanta posting two top fives, seven top 10s an average finish of 16.7. He finished fifth in this event last season.

Ryan Truex And Kaulig Racing Are Contenders Out Of the Box

Lots of anticipation and high expectations didn’t phase Kaulig Racing’s Ryan Truex this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway, as he posted his first top-10 finish with his new team in the 2018 season opener.

Ryan Truex, younger brother to 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., joined forces with Kaulig Racing this season to run for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title after a strong performance last season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Hattori Racing Enterprises.

Truex, a Mayetta, New Jersey native, finished seventh at Daytona last weekend, and is now fourth in the series standings heading to Atlanta this weekend; 15 points behind series standings leader Tyler Reddick. Truex has one series career start at Atlanta back in 2011 for Joe Gibbs Racing – he started fourth and finished 11th.

Kaz Grala Kicks Season Off The Right Way

JGL Racing’s Kaz Grala has become just the 36th different driver in series history to post a top-five finish in his NASCAR Xfinity Series career debut; finishing fourth after starting 27th in the season-opener at Daytona.

Of the 36 drivers to finish in the top five in their series debut, only 25 finished fourth or better, and only five have won – Dale Earnhardt (Daytona, 1982), Joe Ruttman (Dover, 1982), Ricky Rudd (Dover, 1983), Terry Labonte (Charlotte, 1985) and Kurt Busch (Texas, 2006).

Grala’s stellar debut has him sixth in the series driver standings, only 17 points behind the series lead.

Though Grala will be making his series track debut this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he made one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start for GMS Racing at Atlanta last season – he started 12th and finished 15th.

Joe Gibbs Racing Returns To Atlanta With A Stable Full Of New Drivers

If you show up to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend thinking you will see the usual cast of drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage, you’d be mistaken.

This season the JGR crew has two new full-time drivers vying for the title – Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota) and Brandon Jones (No. 18 Toyota) – while they also are fielding several part-time drivers who will share the No. 19 car. This weekend, Kevin Benjamin will pilot the No. 19 as he makes his season debut.

Daytona wasn’t kind to rising NASCAR Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell, as the 23-year old was involved in an incident on Lap 11 that took him out of the event and relegated him to a 39th-place finish. The quick outing only let Bell score one point last week towards the championship driver standings.

Bell is focused on rebounding this weekend at Atlanta, though it could be tough, as it will be his NASCAR Xfinity Series track debut. But the Norman, Oklahoma native is confident heading into this weekend because he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway from the pole last season.

Joining Bell’s quest to bring another title to the Joe Gibbs Racing organization this season is Brandon Jones. Jones formerly drove for Richard Childress Racing, but made the jump to JGR in the offseason. Now Jones has a fresh start with a new team and the two have gelled right out of the gate with a top-10 finish at Daytona last weekend.

Bell, Benjamin and Jones will have big shoes to fill this weekend, as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch has won the last two (2016, 2017) NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe To Make Xfinity Series Debut at Atlanta

Two drivers worth noting who will be making their NASCAR Xfinity Series debuts this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway are Chip Ganassi Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek and Roush Fenway Racing’s Chase Briscoe.

John Hunter Nemechek will be piloting the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet with crew chief Mike Shiplett. Nemechek brings a wealth of experience but will only be running part-time schedule this season for CGR after making the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs the past two years with his family-owned NEMCO Motorsports team. Nemechek is paired with Shiplett, who has recently become a whisperer for first-time winners in the series after leading both Tyler Reddick (Kentucky) and Alex Bowman (Charlotte) to their first-ever series wins last season.

Nemechek is no stranger to Atlanta Motor Speedway, he has two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at the famed 1.54-mile speedway, one of which he won (2016).

Joining Nemechek as a driver making his series debut this weekend is Chase Briscoe, who will be driving the historic Roush Fenway Racing No. 60 Ford with two-time series championship winning crew chief Mike Kelley leading the way. Briscoe signed with Roush Fenway Racing during the offseason after learning at the end of 2017 Brad Keselowski Racing would not be returning to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2018.

Now Briscoe finds himself with a solid opportunity to advance his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and it all starts this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Briscoe, a Mitchell, Indiana native, has just one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at AMS. He he started fourth but finished 25th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Etc.

Atlanta Motor Speedway Quick Facts:

Races: 26

Pole Winners: 16

Race Winners: 16

Youngest Pole Winner: Chase Elliott (08/30/2014 – 18 years, 9 months, 2 days)

Oldest Pole Winner: Dick Trickle (11/07/1998 – 57 years, 0 months, 11 days)

Youngest Winner: Jeff Gordon (03/14/1992 – 20 years, 7 months, 10 days)

Oldest Winner: Harry Gant (03/12/1994 – 54 years, 2 months, 2 days)

Races Won from Pole (or 1st Starting Position): 6

Last Race Won from Pole (or 1st Starting Position): Kyle Busch (03/04/2017)

Race Record: Kevin Harvick 149.813 mph (02/28/2015)

Qualifying Record: Greg Biffle 192.300 mph (10/25/2003)

Monster Energy Moonlighters: Just three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will be competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the Rinnai 250, on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: Ty Dillon (No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Joey Logano (No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion), and Kevin Harvick (No 98 Biagi-DenBeste Racing Ford). Kevin Harvick is the only former winner in the field this weekend; he posted his series wins at Atlanta in 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Good Chance We See A First-Time Atlanta Winner This Weekend: The odds of a new NASCAR Xfinity Series Atlanta Motor Speedway winner are pretty high this weekend. How high? 97.4% chance, since only one former series Atlanta winner is entered this weekend – Kevin Harvick (four-time winner: 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015).

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Standings Update: This season’s 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class has 10 members this year. Here are the rookie standings after Daytona: Tyler Reddick (50 pts), Kaz Grala (33), Vinnie Miller (17), Alex Labbe (13), Spencer Boyd (12), Chad Finchum (9), Christopher Bell (1), Austin Cindric (1), Josh Bilicki (0) and Matt Mills (0).


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Three’s Company For Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter knows how to start a season off right.

After last Friday night’s win in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway, he’s now accumulated a series-high three victories in the opening race. His other two trips to Victory Lane came in 2013 (then driving the No. 98 for ThorSport Racing) and 2016.

In 2013, Sauter went from winning on the high banks to short track glory in the second race of the season at Martinsville. He’s the last Truck Series driver to open the season with back-to-back wins and hopes to repeat that feat this weekend at Atlanta, where he has one top five and three top 10s in seven series starts.

In 2016, Sauter went on to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Of note, he’s the lone driver to win the season-opener at Daytona and go on to win the Camping World Truck Series title the same year.

So, the question now is: How will he follow up the 2018 Daytona win?

The win this past weekend at Daytona was an emotional one for the driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet for GMS Racing and crew chief Joe Shear Jr., who was also atop the pit box for Sauter’s first Daytona win in 2013. (Marcus Richmond was Sauter’s crew chief for the opening six races of 2016.) Shear’s wife Chandra passed away unexpectedly in December.

Sauter dedicated the race win to her memory.

Crafton Looking To Return To Victory Lane…On Pavement

2017 was not a typical year for the driver of the No. 88 for ThorSport Racing.

Matt Crafton only visited Victory Lane once…on dirt…at Eldora. And he hasn’t won on a paved surface since May of 2016 when he won at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That’s a streak of 39 races on paved tracks without a win for the two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.

But if there’s a place where Crafton should feel confident he can reverse this fortune and cross the finish line first with his Ford, it’s Atlanta Motor Speedway where he won in 2015 as the series returned to Georgia after a two-year hiatus.

Crafton has one win, five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 16 starts at the 1.54-mile track. Last year, he finished second to eventual series champion Christopher Bell in a tight finish after a two-lap shootout.

And Crafton is historically solid on intermediate tracks such as Atlanta. In a series-leading 144 starts on 1.5-mile tracks, he has nine wins (fourth all-time, most among active title contenders), 46 top fives and 90 top 10s – both series bests.

In 15 starts on 1.5-mile tracks since his last win on pavement at Charlotte, Crafton has posted an impressive average finish of 8.87, with just three results outside of the top 10 (Chicago, 2016 – 27th, Kansas, 2017 – 16th and Chicago, 2017 – 16th).

Subbing In

Todd Gilliland is scheduled to contend for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors this season, but he has to wait a few races to get in the truck. Until he turns 18 in May, the third-generation driver is unable to compete at tracks 1.5 miles or longer.

In the interim, his father, David, filled in at Daytona and now his truck owner, Kyle Busch, will take over the wheel at Atlanta and Kansas. (Spencer Davis is slated to drive the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota at Las Vegas.)

Busch has quite the history of success at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Four of his 49 wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series came at the track (fall of 2005 and 2007, spring 2008 and 2009). He is one of just two drivers entered in the race this weekend (Matt Crafton, 2015) who has won at Atlanta.

Almost-To-The-Front (Row) Joe

Nearly lost in the excitement of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona last Friday night was the presence of veteran driver and team owner Joe Nemechek on the podium with a third-place finish in the season opener.

Nemechek, whose son John Hunter also competed in the race for NEMCO Motorsports and finished 25th after being caught up in wreck, posted his best finish since a third-place effort at Texas in June of 2014.

Nemechek will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet this weekend at Atlanta, a race that his son won in 2016.

While visiting with media in Daytona, Nemechek discussed the hard work his small team puts in to keep their trucks competitive.

“You just be smart about where you’re going and what you’re doing, and Gere Kennon, our crew chief over there, we’ve got ‑‑ basically we have four guys, and the guys we have there are smart. We’re racers. We’ve been doing this a long time, and there’s no substitute for experience and knowing where you need to spend your money to get your biggest bang to make them go fast.”

Strong Debut At Daytona For Sunoco Rookie Duo

A pair of Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders posted top-10 finishes at Daytona last week to get their inaugural full-time campaigns started off strong.

Dalton Sargeant piloted his No. 25 GMS Racing Chevrolet to eighth while Justin Fontaine finished 10th in the No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.

Myatt Snider (24th) and Bo LeMastus (30th) rounded out the competing Sunoco Rookie field last weekend, as they were collected in accidents along the way. (Snider is the only 2018 Sunoco Rookie who had previous experience at Daytona, finishing 10th in 2017.)

This year’s rookie class has limited experience on 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway. Snider raced six races at that distance in 2017, posting one top 10 (Chicago) and an average finish of 15.67.

Sargeant (Homestead, 2017 – 20th place) and Fontaine (Chicago, 2017 – 17th place) have each recorded a start on a 1.5-mile track.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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