With the first quarter of the NASCAR Cup Series season completed, today’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 presents another challenge. By all means, this 1.5-mile quad-oval may resemble its sisters in Fort Worth and Concord. However, appearances are deceiving.
Certainly, with an asphalt surface that’s slightly older than William Byron, this track doesn’t welcome full throttle racing. Instead, drivers will balance their time between dropping the hammer and using the brake pedal.
All things considered, Altanta Motor Speedway serves as a perfect host with welcoming the “long hot summer.” No doubt, drivers may lean on their Darlington experiences. Those gas and brake pedals are no different than having an egg below your feet. Mash it and pay the consequences.
Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley Hobbs, Cody Shoppe, Kobe Lambeth, Matteo Marcheschi, Matt Sisoler, Sean Folsom, Stephen Conley, Terra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.
First, we consider Jimmie Johnson’s resurgence and John Hunter Nemechek’s impressive start.
Jimmie Johnson’s knocking on the door for his first Cup win in over three years. Will he snap his winless streak this Sunday at Atlanta? Or will he wait another race weekend for this win?
Sisoler : It’s definitely heartening to see Jimmie and Co. putting together some solid runs of late, which I think is in part to the team coming together and also in part to Hendrick’s resurgence as of late. That being said, I do not believe JJ snaps his winless streak this weekend. While momentum is on his side, he’s not had the results at intermediate tracks, such as Atlanta, to back that up.
Don’t put it past Jimmie to put that No. 48 Ally Chevy in victory lane Sunday. In fact, he’s pulled off stunning wins. But, I don’t know if it’s a solid bet this weekend for him to breakthrough.
Marcheschi : It’s a welcome sight to see Jimmie Johnson running up front again. Hendrick (and Chevy as a whole) has been strong in pretty much every race this year. But it seems to have the hottest hand when the low horsepower, high downforce package is in place.
While his finishes may not reflect the runs he’s had so far this year, Johnson certainly has a shot at victory at Atlanta. While he may not get it done there, it looks likely that Johnson a win will come before he calls it quits. And the numbers support that victory coming at an intermediate track, though we all know Johnson can get it done anywhere.
Hobbs : Oh man, it is great to see Jimmie Johnon on a hot streak! He is certainly good at Atlanta Motor Speedway – no denying that. But, when it comes to the (five) intermediate tracks that have been visited this season, he has an average finish of 20.4. If we just look at the 1.5 mile tracks, like Atlanta, his average is 19 – so, still not stellar.
He has either been on it, or not, with these five tracks this season. His last win at Atlanta came in 2016. And, it has been a rocky road since then, averaging a finish of 23.3. While I would love nothing more than to see Johnson roll back into victory lane, I do not think it will be this weekend.
Jones : While it would be a statement win for Johnson, his team, and even the sport, I don’t think it will happen quite yet. I’m not convinced this is his weekend when I look at his stats. I think he’ll run well because the Hendrick fleet clearly has it dialed in this season, but, I think victory lane will elude him for another week longer.
John Hunter Nemechek has been truly impressive in his rookie season as he sits in the top-20 points standings after eight races. Will the good times keep rolling for Nemechek and his No. 38 team?
Tiongson : It’s absolutely refreshing that John Hunter Nemechek has been fast off the truck as possible with his No. 38 team. By all means, Nemechek and crew chief Seth Barbour are hitting it off incredibly, especially since NASCAR’s return. Other than a hiccup in the Toyota 500km at Darlington, Nemechek has finished 16th or better in these past five races. With that said, I expect more good things from the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team, particularly as we get to these faster tracks. Ultimately, Nemechek and his rookie rival Tyler Reddick are the best one-two freshman racers in Cup since the Class of 2006.
Lambeth : Prior to the 2020 season, most people failed to mention John Hunter Nemechek as a serious contender for Rookie of the Year. Prior to the season, the only realistic challengers were Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and Cole Custer. However, Nemechek is proving that he could be in the conversation as well.
Without a doubt, the 22-year-old has been on a roll lately. It truly surprised me when he finished ninth in NASCAR’s return to racing at Darlington. Disregarding one bad race, Nemechek has shown good consistency early on in the season. I think his future in NASCAR is extremely bright. Also, Front Row Motorsports may have a future Cup star in their improving program. With Silly Season always providing several surprises, do not be shocked if JHN is lured away from FRM by other Cup teams.
Shoppe : JHN has been such a pleasant surprise so far this year! We have yet to see Front Row Motorsports run this well in non-superspeedway races in their existence. When the 2020 rookie crop was announced, we all looked no further then Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. While I still expect the Rookie of the Year honors comes down to Bell and Reddick, I believe John Hunter Nemechek will continue to impress in his equipment. And, he’ll elevate the performance level of FRM to a point where we could see this group perhaps be the next Furniture Row!
Conley : There is a ton of talent in that young man! JHN will be around for a long time. In this moment with Front Row, it is helping him open eyes of potential top rides in the Cup series. Who knows, could this be another Jeff Gordon moment? Jump from Ford and land in a ride with a big Bowtie team?
That 48 ride could be steering down its future wheelman that has ties with HMS through his father. Talent still means something in this sport and John Hunter Nemechek is loaded for bear!
After two exciting laps around Atlanta, let’s welcome a pause by reviewing last Sunday’s race and points reports from Round 9 at Bristol!
Next, Ashley Hobbs considers the numbers that may prove worthy with today’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta!
Lastly, here’s our picks for today’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta!
Conley : The streak is over and Jimmie Johnson finally gets back to victory lane, all thanks to what they took away from old tracks like California and Darlington!
Jones : I think he will be tearing through the field to reclaim what he lost at Bristol. While the stats don’t scream Joey Logano, I think it’ll be a mental thing for him and the 22 team on Sunday.
Marcheschi : Brad Keselowski has been in a class of his own at Atlanta the last few years. He has two wins and a second place finish in his last three races there, and has two wins already this season, including one at Charlotte, which is similar in many ways to Atlanta. Keselowski will wave the stars and stripes high once again in the Peach State.
Shoppe : Matty D is starting to show what he’s made of in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 lately. And I think this weekend at ATL, he will be a surprise winner!
Tiongson : While the last two races have been tough for Mr. Bowman, look for the man who’s had a great start to 2020 to continue his winning ways at Atlanta.
Hobbs : Two drivers stand out to me for two reasons; 1) their performance on Intermediate tracks this year 2) their AMS performance in recent years. But, I am giving the selection to the man with a slightly better overall average finish this year – Kurt Busch. I’ll let you noodle around who you think option 2 is.
Lambeth : Chip Ganassi likes winners. He will have reason to smile when Kurt Busch pulls into victory lane at Atlanta. The Outlaw is due for a win.
TPF Stats : The Closer. Happy Harvick. Mr. Consistency should be his name now. And that is what is going to get Kevin Harvick to victory lane for the second time this year (and at Atlanta Motor Speedway).
Sisoler : I can not argue with statistics. Since coming to SHR, Kevin Harvick has only one finish outside the top 10 at AMS. Not to mention, he’s finished every lap. Since 2015, his average finish at AMS is 4.4 and he nabbed his second win at the track in 2018 to back up his emotional victory over Jeff Gordon in 2001. Expect Car No. 4 to roar into Victory Lane Sunday.
Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500!
We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race? 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! Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!
The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview 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. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.