We’re now one race into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, as the series heads one state north this weekend for the annual stop at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. With that being said, some drivers heads to this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET/FOX/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) needing a very good finish on the 1.54-mile track.
While one race into a season is no reason to panic, several big named drivers got off on the wrong footing last weekend in Daytona. Here are five that need a much better week this time around.
I don’t think Harvick is really going to have any trouble making the playoffs this year, but he’s coming off of a disappointing 31st place finish in the Daytona 500 and currently sits 19th in the Cup points standings. If not for that second place finish in the Duels last Thursday night, it could be even worse. Now, he heads to a track that he’s been very good at over the years.
Harvick, won his very first Cup race of his career in Atlanta back in 2001. Unfortunately, he hasn’t won in 26 starts since. But, he has been a very big contender though. He’s led 100 or more laps in five of his last six Atlanta starts. He’s had three front row starts in his last four races there. Neither of those races resulted in a win though.
In fact, he has just two top five finishes in Atlanta since 2010. With a possible Ford aero disadvantage, what happens if his No. 4 Ford isn’t up to par like it normally is there?
He needs to run like he normally does in Atlanta and get over the hump and land in victory lane. He led 292 laps a year ago and lost the race on a late pit road speeding penalty.
Johnson entered 2018 coming off of arguably his worst Cup season ever. He had career lows in top fives, top 10’s, laps led and average finish. He led just over 200 laps for the season. Harvick, led more than that at Atlanta alone last year than Johnson led in 36 races for a full year. He said all the right things though heading into 2018 and was hoping for a quick turnaround. Unfortunately, he crashed in all three of his Speedweeks races instead.
In fact, Johnson crashed on Lap 8 in his Duel and received zero points that night. In the Daytona 500, he crashed in the first stage and got zero stage points. His 38th place finish netted him one championship point for the race and that was all he left Daytona with.
He’s way behind the eight ball now and if he runs bad again this weekend, it may be telling on what’s to come for his No. 48 Chevrolet.
After saying he had one of the best cars that he’s ever had, Brad Keselowski wrecked in his Duel on Thursday night in Daytona. Then, he said his backup car was also one of the best cars that he’s ever had too. He lasted 103 laps and also wrecked that in the Daytona 500. Keselowski, heads to Atlanta as the defending race winner but sits 32nd in the Cup points standings. If what he’s said about Fords disadvantage this season is true, then a track like Atlanta could potentially see Keselowski struggle.
Out of his last nine Atlanta starts, Keselowski has just two top five finishes in his No. 2 Ford. He lucked into that win last year all because Kevin Harvick was speeding on pit road. What happens this year if his speed isn’t there and he struggles to get a top 10?
I don’t think we will see the carnage that we saw at Daytona this weekend in Atlanta, so making up a ton of ground could pose to be a difficult problem for Keselowski. That’s why Daytona’s bad finish could come back to hurt Keselowski. Three of the next four races are on tracks 1.5-miles in size or bigger.
The hometown boy was involved in that Lap 103 crash with Keselowski last weekend. He now sits 23rd in the points standings. But, Elliott doesn’t want to play catch up all year, after all, he’s still yet to win a Cup race. The way he’s been making it in to the playoffs has been on points. He can’t fall too far behind the cutoff line because it would be miserable to play catch up later, especially with the noise growing louder and louder by the week that he wasn’t won yet. Imagine that noise crescendoing even louder come June and he’s outside of the top 16 in points.
Atlanta has always been a track that Elliott has done well at. In two career Cup starts on the Georgia track, the Dawsonville native has finished eighth and fifth respectively. Chevy has a new car and Elliott is hoping to land at least another top five finish this weekend and move way up the standings heading to the west coast swing.
Daytona could not have gone much worse for Byron. He crashed in the Duels and crashed multiple times in the Daytona 500. He currently sits 26th in the standings, one spot behind Mark Thompson and three spots behind Gray Gaulding. The 20 year old has made two career starts in Atlanta. He finished 32nd in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2016 and seventh in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race a year ago. If he gets another sub 20th place finish on Sunday, he will be facing an uphill battle that he’s never had to climb before.
In 2016, he had three wins and five top 10 finishes in his first eight Truck Series starts. In 2017, he had five top 10 finishes in his first six XFINITY Series starts. With how well Chase Elliott did immediately in that No. 24 Chevrolet and with how Jeff Gordon always was in that car, two bad races in-a-row would not be a good start for the North Carolina native.