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Three things to watch during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta

February 25th, 2024

HAMPTON, Ga. — The Cup Series returns to Atlanta as drivers try to join Daytona 500 winner William Byron in the playoffs. Back-to-back superspeedway races only fuel the intrigue heading into Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

Here are the three things to watch in the race:

1. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Atlanta history

Two of the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers finished inside the top 10 last week at Daytona. Noah Gragson was ninth and Chase Briscoe was 10th. The next challenge for the revamped lineup is Atlanta.

None of the SHR drivers finished in the top 15 in either of last season’s Atlanta races. Briscoe had the best finish of the group in the spring race when he crossed the line 24th.

Aric Almirola, who is running a partial Xfinity schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing this season, had the best finish of the group in the summer race. He crossed the line 18th after starting from the pole. Ryan Preece finished 24th or worse in the two races.

Team owner Tony Stewart delivered a blunt message to his team after two seasons that he called miserable. He appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in early February and said that he told his team “they are going to have to find something or we’ll find people that will find it because we can’t perform at this level. It’s just not acceptable anymore.”

SHR is an organization searching for improved and consistent performance after going winless last season and only winning three races in 2022. Putting at least one car in the top 15 would be a step in the right direction as the team continues to build around a lineup now featuring Briscoe, Preece, Gragson and Josh Berry.

SHR does face one potential hurdle after leaving Atlanta. NASCAR confiscated roof rail deflectors from the cars of Gragson and Preece Friday. A NASCAR spokesperson said that the parts would be evaluated in the coming days and that any penalties would be announced next week. This could include the loss of points depending on the potential violation.

NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 -  Qualifying

NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 – Qualifying

Kyle Busch says excessive fuel saving strategy in Daytona 500 by all teams was ‘pathetic’

Kyle Busch says he felt “disgraceful” with how slow the field went to save fuel in the season’s biggest race.

2. William Byron goes for his third Atlanta win

William Byron kicked off his season in the best way possible — he won the Daytona 500 and put himself in the playoffs. Now he returns to a track where he has a mix of success and failure in the past two seasons.

Byron won the first race at Atlanta in 2022 after the track underwent a reconfiguration. He won the opening stage and led 111 laps. Byron then won for the second time last summer while leading another 19 laps.

Byron was not as successful in the other two races after the reconfiguration. He crashed and finished 30th in the 2022 summer race. He crashed and finished 32nd in last season’s spring race.

“The first win, we were pretty dominate here — led over 100 laps and put ourselves in a good position,” Byron said Saturday at Atlanta. “But since then, it’s gotten even more chaotic.

“It’s two- to three-wide and it seems like everyone has really figured out the draft here. It’s unique, for sure. I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but I do enjoy the challenge of it.”

How will Byron fare Sunday at Atlanta? It will be something to track, especially as a win could strengthen his hold on the points lead. He is four points ahead of teammate Alex Bowman.

Byron also has the opportunity to become the sixth driver to win the first two races of a Cup season. He would join Marvin Panch (1957), Bob Welborn (1959), David Pearson (1976), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Matt Kenseth (2009).

AUTO: FEB 24 NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400AUTO: FEB 24 NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400

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Atlanta Motor Speedway starting lineup: Michael McDowell wins pole

Michael McDowell starts from the pole for the second week in a row.

3. Don’t miss out on points

Having back-to-back superspeedway races for the first time since the 1998 Cup season adds drama to Sunday’s race considering that potential crashes could drop some playoff contenders in the standings.

There are several drivers needing to make up ground after the Daytona 500. Austin Dillon is 36th in the standings with one point. Michael McDowell is 35th with one point. Both are Daytona 500 winners with playoff appearances in the Next Gen era.

Two-time champion Joey Logano is 30th in the standings. 2012 champion Brad Keselowski is 31st. Reigning champion Ryan Blaney is 23rd.

Dillon, Blaney, McDowell and Logano are all starting inside the top 10 for Sunday’s race. Keselowski will start 24th.

There will be 24 races left in the regular season after Sunday, so a poor finish at Daytona or Atlanta doesn’t necessarily doom a driver.

The possibility of missing out on points at Daytona is nothing new. A common statement heard throughout the garage in years past was “the season starts after Daytona.” Moving Atlanta directly after Daytona could push that timeline back one week for many drivers and teams.

Just don’t put Logano in this group.

“The season starts when the green flag drops in Daytona,” Logano said Saturday at Atlanta. “…They’re giving points out, they’re giving trophies out, and they’re giving money out, so we better go get it.”

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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