The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 11, for Quaker State 400. It will mark the 21st race of the season and the second on the Atlanta Speedway, following the 2021 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in March.
The Quaker State 400 follows Jockey Made in America 250, which was held at the start of the month. The reigning champion Chase Elliott won the race and secured all 41 points to edge a step closer to Joey Logano, who sits in fifth on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Christopher Bell stunned the field and finished in second, with Kyle and Kurt Busch claiming third and fourth, respectively. The current Cup Series leader Denny Hamlin finished fifth, while Kyle Larson failed to deliver and had to settle for 16th place after starting second on the grid.
The current no.3 on the season, William Byron started the race from the pole position, led for the first 15 laps and won Stage 1. However, he finished 33rd after spinning off course in the final stage after bumping into his teammate Alex Bowman, who would placed 22nd.
Outside of that, there weren’t many big surprises on the day. Elliott claimed his second win of the season and is slowly mounting an attack for the trophy following a streak of iffy showings across the last couple of months. Hamlin remains firmly atop with his fourth top-10 of the last six races and 11th top-five of the season.
With the playoffs picture intensifying, the margin of error has become slimmer than ever as NASCAR drivers now look towards the second race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in over a decade.
The forecast for Sunday, July 11, shows between 30 °C (86 °F) to 21°C (70 °F). The weather is expected to be sunny, with some clouds towards the evening, albeit it’s unlikely to rain.
There’s a 25% chance of rain on the race day, albeit some thunderstorms in the area are expected on Saturday, July 10.
Kyle Larson, The Man to Beat
Kyle Larson enters Quaker State 400 as the man to beat. He has been in exceptional form of late and is now only three points short of catching up to Hamlin on the NASCAR Cup Series standings.
Although Larson hasn’t had the best showing back at Road America (16th), it was his sole iffy showing across the last nine starts. Larson claimed three gold medals during that stretch, finished runner-up four times, and added a ninth-place finish at 2021 Pocono Organics CBD 325.
One poor showing definitely isn’t a reason for concern; however, you could definitely make a case for betting against Larsson at 3.00 (Bet365). Regardless of his excellent form, Larsson hasn’t been the most efficient driver in Atlanta.
On Atlanta Motor Speedway, Larsson averages a 12.1 finish, ranking him the seventh-best driver in the field. He has, however, finished runner-up here earlier in March when he led for 265 laps and has won two 1.5-mile tracks on the season already.
Harvick and Elliot Poised To Make Some Noise
Kevin Harvick (13.0 at Bet365) travels to Atlanta Motor Speedway as a serious threat for Larson. The “Happy Harvick” is the most efficient driver at the track, where he is averaging an impressive 6.6 finish over the last 10 years and is widely regarded as the lap-leader king in Atlanta.
He hasn’t shown that side of him in March when he failed to lead a single map, but that doesn’t take away from his previous success at the track. He has led 100 or more laps in seven of his last nine starts in Atlanta, which includes 95, 116, 131, 292, 181, 45 and 151.
Ignoring his struggles in March, Harvick has finished second, sixth, ninth, first, fourth and 10th across his last seven starts at this track and has 13 top-10 finishes in the last 15 starts.
Joining Harvick as a potential outsider to steal the win is Elliott, who fresh of a commanding victory in Wisconsin. The Georgia-native has, however, never won on this track and averages a 14.7 finish since 2016. That said, Elliott has managed four top-10s in his last six appearances and seems to be finding his form ahead of his home race.
Elliott enters Quaker State 400 as third-favourite, priced at 8.50 (Bet365), behind Kyle Busch (8.00 at Bet365) and Larson as the undisputed favourite at 3.00 (Bet365). Given his lack of success on his home track, a top-five finish (2.00 at Bet365) might be a solid alternative, given his success last month, when he strung together four podiums, including a first in Texas.
Harvick To Dominate Group B
Harvick is priced as a tied favourite(3.50 Bet365) with Ryan Blaney to win Group B with Brad Keselowski (3.60 Bet365) and Joey Logano (3.60 Bet365) in second. That isn’t too surprising considering how poorly Team Penske drivers have been driving of late.
Keselowski has only one top-three finish and only two top-10s finish in his last eight starts. What’s more, he has finished in 11th last time out on this track and averages a 13.6 finish in Atlanta. His teammate Logano has only one top-five in his last five starts and hasn’t impressed at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier in the season (15th).
Logano’s average finish at this track is at 11.0, which isn’t terrible; however, he hasn’t averaged higher than the 10th-place finish since 2018 (6th). Similarly, Blaney hasn’t impressed anyone with only two top-fives on the season and three top-10s in the last eight races.
Harvick not only holds the best average finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway out of the three but is also in much better form, having finished inside top-five in two of his last four starts. Harvick outperformed both Keselowski and Logano at this track last time out and finished only behind Blaney, who won, albeit failed to repeat that success since.
Prediction: Harvick to win Group B – 3.50 at Bet365
Prediction: Chase Elliott Top 5 Finish – 2.00 at Bet365