The NASCAR circuit makes a second stop in Atlanta for the first time in over a decade this weekend for the Quaker State 400. As the playoff picture intensifies, the margins for error will be ever-slimmer.
Kyle Larson obviously enters as the man to beat, as he's currently on a white-hot run, and closely tailing Denny Hamlin for the overall Cup Series lead as we hit the regular season's home stretch.
Get the inside track on your NASCAR bets with Covers Experts' Auto Racing Advisor preview and picks for the Quaker State 400, which gets underway at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 11.
Quaker State 400 favorites
Kyle Larson (+225)
Hard to bet against him. He’s won twice on 1.5-mile tracks this season, including what should have been a third in Kansas and a fourth in the spring race in Atlanta. He led 269 of 325 laps in March and enters as the easy favorite.
Kevin Harvick (+1,000)
Harvick is a lap-leader king in Atlanta but failed to lead a lap this past March. Prior to this year, the California native had led 100 or more laps in seven of his last nine Atlanta starts including 195, 116, 131, 292, 181, 45 and 151, respectively, in his last seven tries prior to March’s goose egg. Harvick also has 13 Top-10 finishes in his last 15 starts on the Georgia race track, including a win last year. Over his last seven starts, he’s finished second, sixth, ninth, first, fourth, first and 10th, respectively.
Chase Elliott (+900)
He’s never won on his home track, but the Georgia native does have four Top 10s in six tries and emerges after a win at Road America last Sunday.
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Quaker State 400 long-shot picks
Christopher Bell (+3,500)
Why not here? Bell was third and first respectively on this very race track in his two Xfinity Series starts on it. He won the Truck Series race in 2017 too. But he was outside the Top 20 in March, which is why he’s getting these odds.
Alex Bowman (+1,600)
He was third in March and is great on aged tracks. I like this as a potential winner.
Chris Buescher (+10,000)
He’s great on 550 tracks, was in the Top 10 for most of the day in Homestead, finished seventh in March, and should hang around on Sunday.
Quaker State 400 matchup pick
Kurt Busch (-122) vs. Christopher Bell (-109)
Bell scored a Top 5 last weekend but his last one on an oval came back in April in Richmond. Meanwhile, Busch has four Top-8 finishes in his last five starts on the season and has beaten Bell head-to-head in four of the last five races too.
Busch also has five Top-8 finishes in his last six starts in Atlanta and nine in his last 12 starts. Other than March, his worst finish since 2010 in Atlanta is 13th. He was third in 2019 and sixth a year ago.
PREDICTION: Busch (-122)
Quaker State 400 fades
Penske is slumping, with Brad Keselowski having finished 10th or worse in eight of his last nine on the season. Joey Logano has one Top 5 in his last six and three in the last 11 with Ryan Blaney having one Top 5 since his Atlanta win.
Quaker State 400 preview
For the first time since the 2010 season, the NASCAR Cup Series will come to the Atlanta Motor Speedway twice in the same year. Atlanta is one of the drivers’ favorite tracks, with the 1.54-mile track being the second-oldest racing surface on the schedule. That changes next year, as this will be the final race on this surface.
The current track creates a lot of tire wear and multiple grooves to race on. Next year’s will be the opposite.
While the track also has a ton of past history, the recent stretch has seen this go to all Fords. They’ve won five straight, with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick alternating wins in each of the last four years, then Ryan Blaney this past March. They will be tough to stop, but don’t count out the Toyotas either.
A Toyota hasn’t won since 2014 but all four drivers in the JGR camp have excelled in Atlanta lately too. They were 2-3-5 a year ago, 4-5-9 this spring and have had a front-row seat at watching Keselowski and Harvick dominate in the Peachtree State. Can they close the gap enough this weekend?
Well, I say not so fast on all of this.
Chevy may have something to say again. They won Homestead with William Byron on a worn surface and saw Alex Bowman finish third in March.
Plus, Hendrick Motorsports has won half of the 20 races this season, and eight of the last nine including the all-star race. They’ve won 15 of the last 34 races overall, after only scoring 14 wins in the previous 133 tries.
Kyle Larson could be the overall man to beat because of that. Coming into this year, Larson’s didn’t have a ton of Atlanta success, with a runner-up in 2017 as his lone Top-5 finish. But, with Atlanta being an aged surface and how well Larson races on those tracks, he excelled this spring.
He led 269 of 325 laps but was caught and passed by Blaney in the end. I don’t expect them to allow that to happen again. Larson has led 66 percent (831 of 1,259) of laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season, with seven stage wins and a runner-up in nine stages run. He has a Top 2 in three of the four races as well.
On older surfaces, Larson, has four Top-5 finishes in his last six Homestead starts. Then you factor in Darlington. He has four Top 3s in his last five starts on that track and a Top 10 in six of his last seven.
With Larson being so good on aged tracks, it’s only a matter of time before a win in Atlanta.
Chase Elliott has never won in Atlanta but does have five Top-2 finishes in his last eight starts on the season, including a win last Sunday.
This may be Chevy’s race to lose instead. They may get some pressure in the form of JGR though, not Ford, most notably Kyle Busch.
Busch has three straight Top 3s, including six in the last 10. Hamlin hasn’t finished better than fourth in his last 11 races, while Truex has two Top 5s in his last 10.
Penske is slumping too, with Keselowski now having finished 10th or worse in eight of his last nine. Logano has one Top 5 in his last six and three in the last 11, with Blaney having one Top 5 since his Atlanta win.
SHR is nowhere near their old form either.
This could all spell an end to Ford's reign in Atlanta on Sunday.
Quaker State 400 key stat
We’ve seen 14 different winners in the last 23 races on intermediates including 11 straight, but we’re running out of names to keep this going: All that’s left on the big teams are Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, or Aric Almirola.