HAMPTON, Ga. – It is back to the East Coast where the temperatures may be chilly for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
For a track about 30 miles to the south of its namesake city nicknamed “Hotlanta,” the action will be hot with 36 NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams ready for 400 miles at the 1.54-mile hybrid intermediate turned superspeedway.
With the second season kicking off with the refit Atlanta Motor Speedway, it remains to be seen if the track will behave like a genuine superspeedway, pack style race seen at Daytona and Talladega or an intermedia with distinct packs.
Either way, it is the fifth round of the 2023 season, a year seemingly dominated by Chevrolet. By far, William Byron has been on a hot streak despite NASCAR’s penalties levied against his team and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates due to unapproved modifications to the hood louvers or vents. Penalties or none at all, the Bowtie Brigade appear to be legitimately competitive forces on a weekly basis.
Then again, the Fords of Joey Logano, Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske may have something to say. Particularly, the trio start 1-2-3 for Sunday’s race. Then, there is the fact that Fords dominated Saturday’s qualifying rounds, occupying the first four rows.
Anyone including the elusive black cat from 2014 are contenders in Sunday’s race. Maybe it is the best chance for fantasy race owners to win with their randomized Steve Luvender generated pick.
Once the flag waves the green flag to kick off this new season, it is anyone’s guess as to who will prevail in this year’s Ambetter Health 400. For the time being, come along for the ride this and each race weekend with Podium Preview.
This weekend, Cody Shoppe, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis Torres, Matt Sisoler, Teresa Bennink and yours truly ruminate over William Byron’s victorious ways and Tyler Reddick’s promising performance at Phoenix.
How convincing is William Byron’s early season success in terms of building momentum during the spring race segment of the 2023 season?
Lambeth : It’s safe to say that William Byron has finally developed into a top-tier driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, who should be taken seriously as a weekly contender. For the first few seasons of his Cup career, Byron slowly made progress each year and I believe he’s due for a breakout year in 2023. Very few people expected the No. 24 Chevrolet to be so strong this early in the season.
The momentum is building but one has to wonder if the big penalty after Phoenix will slow down Hendrick Motorsport’s early season mojo. Nevertheless, with Byron returning to Atlanta as the defending race winner, this is a good place for HMS to keep the good times rolling and put the points penalty behind them sooner rather than later.
Sisoler : I wouldn’t call him a championship favorite just yet, but it is hard to argue with the results William Byron has shown so far in 2023. He’s arguably got the most momentum out of the Hendrick stables, and provided the penalty the organization took doesn’t derail them, that 24 is gonna be a tough out going forward.
Torres : For the third year in a row, William Byron is in a neat spot because of him scoring strong results. More so this season as he already nabbed two wins in a row. In large part of Byron’s No. 24 crew led by crew chief Rudy Fugle, it appears right now they’re a threat for a title.
However, this must be the year for Byron to continue performing well. I still stand that Darlington broke Byron and the whole No. 24 team’s morale following a bump and run by Joey Logano. I don’t like to see them dip should they have one real bad break because it’s what’s keeping them from being genuine contenders.
Two years ago, Byron, to me, had a better season performance wise than Alex Bowman in spite of the win column telling us otherwise. Last year, Byron was again stronger than Bowman but fell behind Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.
Despite having two wins, Byron must continue to prove folks wrong. If he carries this momentum past spring, he could be a dangerous squad to deal with. Hopefully, it also showcases Fugle as one of the rising stars on top of the pit box as well. As I always say, time will tell.
After a difficult start to the year, Tyler Reddick nabbed a podium finish at Phoenix. Can he make some noise in Atlanta?
Sharpe : 23XI has a decent superspeedway package overall. Reddick is starting to piece everything together and his teammate, Bubba Wallace Jr. is great at these types of tracks. If these two can pair up, I sense something magical may happen.
Tiongson : It will be interesting to see if Tyler Reddick can keep his strong performance up in Atlanta. While the Toyotas lack qualifying speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reddick in the mic for the victory if he misses the shenanigans during restarts and corner exits. Although I expect a Ford or Chevy to win on Sunday, Reddick will carry the Toyota colors to their best finish in Sunday’s race.
Shoppe : I expect great things coming for Tyler Reddick and his new 45 team. Now that they have put a whole race together, they can focus on putting some momentum together. I feel the bad luck is behind them and can see Reddick winning soon!
Bennink : Reddick did not have a bad qualifying effort considering some of the challenges some drivers faced. Starting 17th, he could be in a rough place for some expected restarts in the race. I do believe the team will need to go through some growing pains before they can say they have put together a string of several strong races. I expect the Fords to dominate the race as they did qualifying and Reddick to finish mid-pack.
Two laps around Atlanta on our own was quite breathtaking in these chilly conditions! Now, let’s rewind back to Race No. 4 of 36 with the race and points reports from last Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway!
Next, let’s consider our top 10 starters for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway!
Last but not least, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway!
Lambeth : After the Fords swept the first eight spots in qualifying, I think it’s safe to bet that one of the Blue Ovals will be the favorite the enter victory lane in Atlanta. Give me Brad Keselowski!
Tiongson : Joey Logano seems due for a victory after a couple of difficult weeks. Look for the reigning Cup champion to reign supreme at Atlanta on Sunday.
Sisoler : Really, I just picked a number out of a hat (sort of). The type of pack racing at Atlanta means anyone could win (see Corey LaJoie last year). Hendrick’s run of good form may not last, and I don’t see William Byron winning. That being said. I think it’s gonna be Kyle Larson’s time to shine on a “plate” track. He’s due for one.
Torres : A year ago, Ross Chastain ended up with the shortest straw to Hendrick Motorsports. He was runner-up in both races and was competitive in Atlanta. With Chase Elliott out of the picture, Chevrolet are gonna stay undefeated in 2023 with Chastain coming through with his first win of the season. He’ll be a mad man following another tangle with his foe Denny Hamlin, which they’ve made a truce.
Last time in Atlanta, they had one of those episodes. I doubt we’ll see this again, but being there towards the end of superspeedway races comes a long way. While some will go with the likes of Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie or even Joey Logano, Chastain is gonna be tough to beat which is why I’m going with him as Sunday’s pick.
Shoppe : William Byron is in a roll lately. As last year’s winner here and winner of the last two races, why not pick the 24 to keep the streak going today in Atlanta!
Sharpe : This HMS driver has made a ton of smoke this season and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, even after HMS was fined and penalized. His ability to keep leveled and calm has worked out great so far.
We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win? Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!
Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week as we celebrate our 15th anniversary of operations!
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.
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