September 24, 2022

This weekend marks the first repeat track visit of the 2022 season for the NASCAR Cup Series with the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron won the first race at the newly reconfigured 1.54-mile Atlanta Oval in March – a race that featured track records in number of race leaders (20) , lead changes (46) and green-flag passes for the lead (141). Kurt Busch is the defending winner of the race, taking his win last year before the track was remodeled.

And with eight races remaining to define the 16-driver playoff field, the intensity of the build is palpable.

Last week, Tyler Reddick became the fifth NASCAR Cup Series winner for the first time this season – tying the record for new single-season winners in the modern era (1972-2022) – taking victory over the master of the road course and leader of the Chase Elliott Series driver standings at Wisconsin’s Road America.

This week, the competition returns to Elliott’s “home track” outside of Atlanta and the question quickly becomes “how many winners will the 2022 season feature?” The count is currently at 13 race winners with only 16 drivers qualifying for the playoffs in September. And there are notably still a handful of former champions and perennial winners still looking for a shot at earning that automatic playoff nod.

Interestingly, there are eight 2021 race winners – Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Bubba Wallace – still looking for their first victory of 2022.

Three former series champions – Truex, Keselowski and Kevin Harvick – are among those who didn’t win, as is Blaney, who is currently ranked second in the driver standings with a 112-point cushion in the top 16.

Truex holds a 61-point advantage over the playoff line, but Harvick is actually ineligible for the playoffs in the standings after Reddick’s win last week. Harvick trails Bell by 20 points for this final playoff transfer position if he doesn’t earn an automatic berth with a win.

Kurt Busch is the winningest active driver in Atlanta with four wins. Harvick is next with three – earning his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Atlanta in 2001. It was an emotional triumph in the weeks since taking over the Richard Childress Racing car for NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in the season opener. Daytona 500.

Keselowski and Kyle Busch each picked up two wins in Atlanta, with Byron, Blaney and Denny Hamlin also picking up a trophy.

Harvick, who was top in several statistical categories at Atlanta before recent track changes, said he’s still trying to master the new layout which features a higher incline, narrower track surface and new asphalt.

“It’s just a superspeedway now on a one-and-a-half-mile race track,” said Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “Things happen a lot faster, so decisions have to be made faster, cars move a lot more, corners happen a lot faster. A lot more seat of your pants, just ‘go here, go there, do this and do that. I think the way the lines formed and moved, and everything happened, you just had to get used to a different racing style than we had before.

There will be no practice this week. Qualifying for the Busch Light Pole – two rounds of single-car racing – is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. ET on Saturday. Qualifiers will air live on the NBC Sports app at 11:30 a.m. and then on the US Network at noon ET.

Xfinity Series gears up for high-speed action in Atlanta

The NASCAR Xfinity Series moves from a road course to the heart of the schedule with Alsco Uniforms 250 Saturday afternoon (5 p.m. ET on USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the high-speed, 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.

And thanks to Ty Gibbs’ spectacular overtime assist for the win last week at Road America in Wisconsin, he becomes the youngest driver (19 years, eight months, four weeks) to claim eight career Xfinity Series wins. and his work certainly brings the championship standings closer to the regular season. than ever.

Only nine points now separate four-race 2022 winner Gibbs from current Drivers’ standings leader and veteran two-race winner AJ Allmendinger.

Both drivers played prominent roles at the series’ final race in Atlanta this spring. Gibbs led just one lap on the day – the final lap – in a multi-overtime finish to claim his second win of the year. Allmendinger led a race with the fastest 41 laps and finished third.

Three of Atlanta’s last four race winners are full-time Xfinity Series drivers – Allmendinger (2020), Allgaier (2021) and Gibbs (2022) – the only exception at this time is defending winner Kyle Busch , who is not registered this weekend.

Ten regular season races is still plenty of time to shape and reshape the championship. The top three drivers – Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Gibbs and JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier (-34) are still in the hunt for the regular season title.

Allgaier’s JRM teammate Noah Gragson was just 39 points off the top of the drivers’ standings before being handed a 30-point, $35,000 penalty on Wednesday afternoon for “behavioural” infractions in the race at RoadAmerica.

At the other end of the standings, Ryan Sieg sits in the 12th and final transfer position with a solid 82-point advantage over 13th-placed Anthony Alfredo.

The wild card in all of this may be the right possibility for new winners.

Granted, former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champions Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed along with former Xfinity Series race winner Myatt Snider are easily favorites to win a trophy in 2022 and qualify for the playoffs. Seven of the 12 current playoff contenders have wins.

However, both Moffitt and Creed currently have as many DNFs as top 10s – four for Moffitt and six for Creed. Snider has one top five, four top 10s and three DNFs.

There are no practices scheduled for this return trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway. A two-round qualifying session is scheduled for 10:05 a.m. Saturday morning and will air on the NBC Sports app.