After a rough and tumble opening weekend for all three national touring series, the 2017 NASCAR season shifts 400 miles north to Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track where drivers will face a whole different set of challenges, as the historic facility, first opened in 1960, closes the books on one iconic era of racing before opening another on a new surface in 2018.
As the season shifts into its non-restrictor-plate racing schedule, Week 2 offers a bounty of intriguing storylines to watch as NASCAR returns to the historic high banks of Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Final Race on Current Atlanta Surface
After 20 years, 31 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 XFINITY Series races and 15 Camping World Truck races since it was last repaved in the spring of 1997, Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1.54-mile quad oval track will see one more race in each of NASCAR’s top three series this before getting a facelift later this spring. Atlanta’s is the second-oldest surface on the NASCAR circuit.
Some of the many iconic events in NASCAR’s history that happened on the current surface include Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of factory over Bobby Labonte in 2000, Kevin Harvick’s emotional and record-setting 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon in Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing car the following year, Carl Edwards’ first Cup Series victory and subsequent season sweep of both Atlanta races in 2005 and the first-ever Atlanta night race in 2009.
NASCAR’s 2500th Race
In its 68th year of competition, NASCAR will run its 2,500th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway during this Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. It will also be Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.
Double-Duty for Chase Elliott
After leading 23 of the final 26 laps in yesterday’s season-opening race and falling just short of his first regular-season victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 21-year-old Chase Elliott will offer Georgia racing fans double the opportunity to watch him win on his home track.
Elliott will pilot the No. 23 All-Star Team for GMS Racing in Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series race, just his 11th career start in a truck, before attempting his first Cup Series win in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday.
AMS Legends Alum Victorious
While Elliott fell just short of his first Cup Series victory, one of his fellow AMS Legends alumni did emerge victorious after the first week of the 2017 NASCAR season. Kaz Grala, who raced on the AMS “Thunder Ring” in both 2011 and 2012, sealed his first NASCAR win in last Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race in Daytona. He will try for his second straight to open the season in this Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200, driving for GMS Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.
Seven-Time Three Straight at Atlanta?
In its 57-year history, no driver has ever won three straight races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson can be the first to accomplish that feat on Sunday. Johnson drove from the 37th starting position in 2015 and the 19th last season to win back-to-back Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 victories. He is the winningest current driver at Atlanta with five trips to Victory Lane. NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Fred Lorenzen, however, did win four races in four years at Atlanta from 1961 to 1964, though they were not consecutive. Cale Yarborough, another Hall-of-Famer, did something similar three years in a row from 1967 to 1969, winning three straight Atlanta spring races.
The defending 2016 Atlanta Camping World Truck Series winner, John Hunter Nemechek, will be joined on the race track this weekend by his father, four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and 16-time XFINITY Series winner, Joe Nemechek, in the Active Pest Control 200. Father Joe has two Camping World Truck Series starts at Atlanta under his belt, finishing 35th in 2006 and 10th in 2015. He also has seven top-10 finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level in 39 Atlanta races.
Crowded XFINITY Series Lineup
While full-time XFINITY Series drivers make up the bulk of the Rinnai 250 entry list, several Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are set to crowd the front of the pack for Saturday’s race. Brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola are all scheduled to compete for this year’s Atlanta XFINITY Series crown.
Three drivers, JJ Yeley, Mike Harmon and Kyle Busch, winner of the 2016 Atlanta XFINITY Series race, are scheduled to drive in both the Rinnai 250 XFINITY Series and Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday.
The 2017 Atlanta NASCAR weekend gets underway this Friday, March 3 with practice sessions from all three NASCAR national touring series, followed by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying. On Saturday, AMS will host NASCAR’s only same-day doubleheader with the Rinnai 250 XFINITY Series and Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series races. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race rounds out the weekend on Sunday, March 5.