Track Talk: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta

After two weeks at Daytona, Atlanta hosts Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

After two weeks at Daytona, Atlanta hosts Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero Jr, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley discuss the state of NASCAR in its 70th season and the most important intangible with winning the Daytona 500!

Trending Topics for Atlanta
Question 1: A case of rubbin’ is racing?
While opinions differ, the fact remains that Austin Dillon won Sunday's Daytona 500.

While opinions differ, the fact remains that Austin Dillon won Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Austin Dillon won his first Daytona 500 but with polarizing reactions.  When it comes to the last lap of this race, was Dillon’s move justified or could he have approached things differently?

Acero:  When everything that comes with a Daytona 500 victory is within reach, one can let it slip away or grasp it at all costs. Austin did what any other driver would have done to claim victory at NASCAR’s Super Bowl. Pretty? No. Hard racing? Absolutely!

Bowman:  Man – I could argue for both, but I’m going to go with my gut here and say that it was nothing more than last lap racing at Daytona. Dillon had a run, Almirola went to block (as he should have) and the last lap carnage ensued. Could Dillion have eased up and let Almirola in to avoid a wreck? Absolutely! Would any other driver have done any different? Not a chance!

If you have a chance to take home that trophy, you do what it takes. Dillon held his line and from every replay I saw, I don’t believe there was any malicious intent that would take away from the amazing run he had. Congrats to the 3 team!

Cassidy:  The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the season, so I believe it is natural to see drivers do whatever it takes to win. The Great American Race sets drivers apart from each other in terms of legacy, which brings a new level of emotion to the sport. Although I do feel like Dillon’s move was dirty – rubbing is racing friends.

Conley:  As seen by some of my initial comments, I wasn’t pleased with the move. However, like the drivers, I had a few minutes to cool the jets and look at the entire thing with an open mind.

Ultimately, it was pretty clear to me it was racing at Daytona and a matter of a couple inches cost one driver and benefited another. The storylines from both would have been great, but Dillon put himself in position, and won The Great American Race.

Copple:  It’s a toss up. I have been going back and forth on this since the checkered and I can’t decide if it was a good move, or not. On one hand, it’s the Daytona 500. It’s one of the biggest races of the year. It’s a victory every driver wants in their career. You are going to do anything to win, even moving someone out of the way like Dillon did.

On the other hand, it was a crappy move. Any other race it would be considered a crappy move. If they were racing side by side, and Almirola lost it, that’s one thing. But Dillon completely turned him. I really can’t take a side on this, but if Almirola and Dillon are okay-ish with the results, then that’s all that matters in the end.

Hobbs:  When it comes to winning the Daytona 500, drivers will do anything. They have said it, and, they have done it. I am never a fan of dumping a driver, but, I am also not a driver.

Hull:  It could really go either way. One could say that he was only doing what he could do to win the 500, and other people think that he took things too far. I really hate it for Aric Almirola, but in the end, he agreed that if he were in that position, he would have done the same thing. So all and all, it was a racing move that I think anyone would do.

Lucas:  Austin Dillon’s final lap “dump and run” is extremely justifiable. Almirola threw a block at him, but Dillon was not going to settle with finishing second in the biggest stock car race of the year. To paraphrase the NFL, “a racing move was made, therefore the outcome shall stand with no question.” I would’ve wrecked my grandmother if it meant I’d win the Daytona 500!

Shoppe:  I guess I’ve been watching too much Olympic short track skating races recently. There, you get a penalty with the slightest shove of another competitor. So when I saw that dump and run by Austin Dillon on Aric Almirola, I thought so little of that move I just looked to the great battle for second as if that was for the win.

To me, Dillon never really showed himself as a factor all race. Therefore he never gained that valuable experience of getting runs and making fast lane changes for the lead of the race like the actual contenders did.

So when the famous No. 3 got the chance to make the move for the win, we all know what happened. Regardless of the side you are on, it was a great story for our sport but just leaves a sour taste in our mouths.

Sturm:  Well…I know this has been quite the controversial topic. I only saw the replay from one angle, which from that angle, it looked like Aric held his line and Austin just dumped him. However, I would need to see the wreck from multiple angles to give my full opinion.

I’ve seen people saying that Austin went down and Aric went down to block and that Austin just didn’t lift which I can understand. He’s going 200 MPH on the last lap of the Daytona 500. So if that’s the case, I get it. Austin admitted to wrecking him and Aric said he understands why he did it, so it’s all good I suppose.

Question 2: The First “Real” Race of 2018?
Consider that Atlanta hasn't been repaved since 1997. Some of our panelists were in diapers at the time.

Consider that Atlanta hasn’t been repaved since 1997. Some of our panelists were in diapers at the time.

Atlanta is often hailed the start of “real racing” after two weeks of racing at Daytona.  Will Sunday’s race showcase who’ll truly contend for race wins and this year’s title this season?

Acero:  Not all tracks are created equal. Atlanta is in a class of its own given the fact that it is so fast and tire wear plays a huge role. It will give us an idea on who to keep an eye on as far as what team or teams adjust accordingly to the new “no ride height” rule! I expect a fun race nonetheless!

Bowman:  Each track favors different drivers and driving styles. To say that whoever wins or does well at Atlanta will have a great season or go on to win races throughout the season would be very misleading. Drivers who do well at Atlanta and other mile and half tracks may not fare well with short tracks like Bristol or odd-balls like Pocono or Indy.

The best part about having such diverse tracks over the course of the season is that there is really no anticipating who will do well right off the bat. Once we get about a third of the way through the season, then I’d say you have a pretty solid idea who your front runners and contenders are. But to make assumptions about it this early in the season would be foolish in my opinion.

Cassidy:  Looking at Atlanta as a mile and a half track, it would appear that this is the start of ‘real racing’ in the 2018 NASCAR season. However, with the rough track surface this will not give fans a strong indication of what teams will be strong this season. Look for veterans to excel at this unique track as the young guns try to learn the ropes.

Conley:  Not on that surface. I don’t care what the rest of the season holds. The Atlanta track surface is not going to compare to anything else we do this season. It’s going to be incredibly fun watching the slipping and sliding plus the pit strategy. That said, I don’t believe it will give us a true idea of what to expect the rest of the year. Atlanta has become its own animal.

Copple:  Yes and no on this question. Yes, because this is the first “real” race of the year. Daytona is always a toss up because really, anyone can win. Atlanta is the first taste of real racing for the season. But also, no. Atlanta’s surface is not the greatest test when it comes to what we are going to see at other intermediate tracks this season. But I will say this. I think Atlanta will be more of a test for the young guys than the veterans.

Hobbs:  It will give us a great look, especially at how the Camaro will be on track. However, Atlanta is different than other half mile tracks because it is so darn fast. It might not be a Super Speedway, but it is a hopped-up Intermediate Track. I say after the West coast swing, we will definitely have the feel of the season.

Hull:  It is indeed the true beginning of the season because as we all know, Daytona is such a wild card track where anything can happen. While Atlanta has its own element, it will be kind of preview of how the season will go. But again, it’s still early and we shall see who will be dominant over the next few weeks. It will be interesting since we have mostly new drivers in the field this year.

Lucas: I think we still have to wait until Las Vegas to see who our true contenders will be for 2018. Atlanta has such an abrasive surface compared to the rest of the schedule. Therefore, it’s a hard indicator of what will come this season.

Only Auto Club and Darlington have equally abrasive surfaces. I think the only real carryover from Atlanta will be qualifying pace and maybe short green flag run averages (less than 10 laps).

Shoppe: Atlanta’s track surface makes the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 another race all to itself. While this second round of the season is the first of many non-plate tracks as well as a common 1 ½ mile speedway, it is its own animal. Just enjoy the fun slipping and sliding action this great track provides and leave the season preview analysis for Vegas!

Sturm: I don’t want to be like a certain NASCAR driver and say restrictor plate tracks aren’t real tracks. However, there is lot more uncertainty. It’s a lot more likely that you’ll get a surprising win at plate tracks (Austin Dillon, for example). Daytona wasn’t a great indicator of how Chevys will do this season either because it was hard for them to line up.

With that being said, I do think Atlanta will be a better indicator of who will contend this season. However,I don’t think it will be the “tell all” indicator.  Although Atlanta isn’t a restrictor plate track, it is different from other mile and halfs because of the surface and the speed.

Two rounds of qualifying produced a solid starting spot for this race at Atlanta! Before we go for the win, let’s review our race and points reports from last Sunday’s Daytona 500!
Denny Hamlin delivered for a trio of panelists.

Denny Hamlin delivered for a trio of panelists.

However, the night is still young in this 36-race season.

However, the night is still young in this 36-race season.

How about we reveal our race picks for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway?  Thought so!
Will one of these seven make a panelist feel lucky?

Will one of these seven make a panelist feel lucky?

Tiongson: It’s rare that I go with the same pick two races in a row. However, with a track that has a worn out surface and multiple racing grooves, Kyle Larson is my top choice.

Conley:  Worn out surface, slick, fast high line. If that doesn’t scream “Kyle Larson,” I don’t know what does. No. 42 to Victory Lane.

Bowman:  Since moving over to Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick has an average finish of ninth and earned two poles at Atlanta. I’m feeling pretty confident in picking “The Closer.”

Hobbs:  A combination of statistics and gut tells me Kevin Harvick is the guy to watch this weekend in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Lucas: Atlanta is going to take a lot of guts to conquer this weekend. With above average temperatures predicted for race day, I think we’ll see a very slick, loose, and hungry track. Tire management will be a vital key, along with car control. With that said, I’m going with Kevin “The Closer” Harvick to wrangle up a spot into the playoffs!

Shoppe:  I have a strong feeling it will be a Kyle winning, but which one? While most will say Kyle Larson, I predict he will slide up into the wall one too many times and Kyle Busch will come through and win.

Sturm: I’m going to have to go with Kyle Busch. I just have a gut feeling about it.

Copple:  Jimmie Johnson is the King of Atlanta Motor Speedway. I see him getting his first win and locking himself in to the playoffs early in the process.

Hull:  After having a rough Speedweeks at Daytona, I think Jimmie Johnson will claim redemption and win Sunday’s race!

Acero:  The No. 78 gang dominated the 1.5 mile tracks in 2017.  That said, look for Martin Truex Jr to continue where he left off last season and end up in Victory Lane!

Cassidy:  Going with a young gun wildcard – Erik Jones.

TPF Stats: The magic is in the numbers and that magic points right towards the No. 9 in Chase Elliott!

That wraps this week’s preview, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2018.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Track Talk are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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