Event Overview

● Event: Ambetter Health 400 (Round 2 of 36)

● Time/Date: 3 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 25

● Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia

● Layout: 1.54-mile oval

● Laps/Miles: 260 laps/400 miles

● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 60 laps / Stage 2: 100 laps / Final Stage: 100 laps

● TV/Radio: FOX / PRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Notes of Interest

● Even though Noah Gragson is still new to Stewart-Haas Racing and the Ambetter Health 400 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway marks just his third race with the team, he brings a dose of familiarity to the Georgia track. Gragson’s No. 10 Ford Mustang carries a similar paint scheme to the one he ran for the majority of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career, where he was a 13-time race winner and perennial championship contender. Black Rifle Coffee, Ranger Boats, TrueTimber and Winchester Repeating Arms adorn Gragson’s car for the second straight race after debuting with him in the Daytona 500, where Gragson led five laps on the way to a ninth-place finish.

● Atlanta Motor Speedway has been around since 1960, but the Atlanta track Gragson and his NASCAR Cup Series brethren will compete on this Sunday is only two years old. The 1.54-mile oval was reconfigured after the final race of the 2021 season. The banking was increased from 24 degrees to 28 degrees and the track was narrowed from 55-feet wide to 40-feet wide, and it was all covered in fresh asphalt. The goal of the reconstruction was to recreate the kind of pack-style racing seen at the behemoth, 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the even bigger 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Drivers competed on the new layout for the first time in March 2022 and the Ambetter Health 400 will be the fifth Cup Series race on the revamped track.

● The Ambetter Health 400 will mark Gragson’s fifth NASCAR Cup Series start at Atlanta, with all of his prior starts coming on the updated configuration. The driver of the No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang earned his best Atlanta finish in his third Atlanta start – 12th in March 2023.

● Gragson has experience on the old and new versions of Atlanta. He has six NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the track, the last two of which came in 2022, the first year of the reconfiguration. He finished among the top-10 in all but one of his Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta and his best finish was a second-place drive in June 2020.

● Gragson also has two Atlanta starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He finished 14th in his first Truck Series start at the track in 2017 and then earned a second-place finish when he returned to Atlanta in 2018, leading the first 43 laps.

Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang

How much does racing at Atlanta emulate what you just experienced at Daytona?

“It’s hard to tell what we’re going to have at Atlanta. Handling definitely comes into play more so than at Daytona. Still, at Daytona, you have handling issues if you get held on the bottom. It just seems like everything happens a little bit faster at Atlanta. The straightaways are shorter, so you don’t have the time to mount your runs. It’s different than the superspeedways. There’s a lot more pushing on the straightaways at Daytona and Talladega. At Atlanta, you can’t really get locked up for the whole straightaway and get away. Everybody’s super tight together. It’s a mix between an intermediate track and Daytona and Talladega. It’s a little bit of a different form of racing.”

Is competing at Atlanta mentally taxing?

“Atlanta is mentally taxing. You’re still having the same thought processes that you do with superspeedway racing, but it’s just faster. You’re mentally drained after Atlanta.”

Single-car qualifying is all the track time you’ll have at Atlanta prior to Sunday’s race. How do you prepare for the race when you know so little about how your car will perform?

“I think qualifying at Atlanta is a lot more sketchy than at Daytona and Talladega. It’s the same format where you don’t have any practice time. It’s way more sketchy to go out there and hold it wide open, and the track seems like it’s always a little bit dirty during those qualifying sessions. It bit some guys last year in the first Atlanta race, running the top on their out lap, they get loose or what-not. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and the team say that it’s going to be really secure during qualifying and probably a little more sketchy during the race, for whatever the reason. That’s kind of the opposite of what I’ve had in the past. I feel like it’s really sketchy during qualifying and it drives better in the race. Stewart-Haas sat on the pole there last year. They always bring fast Ford Mustangs for these superspeedway qualifying efforts, so I’m excited for it.”

Are you wide open every lap at Atlanta?

“You’re wide open in qualifying. In the race, you’re working the throttle more. At Daytona and Talladega, you’re more pacing the throttle to save fuel, where at Atlanta, you’re lifting out of the gas because you’ll get tight or loose behind guys and you have to really play with the timing on your throttle for when you get runs up to guys. You’re playing with the throttle because of handling.”

What do you need in your racecar to be fast at Atlanta?

“You’ve got to be fast and you can’t be too draggy. It’s bitten me in the past where we started the race tight and I couldn’t make any passes, and then we kept on freeing the car up, loosening it up, and probably got past the neutral point in the balance and got too loose and I ended up wrecking. But the freer we got it, the faster I went. So it’s a fine line of what’s enough, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out, what’s too much, what’s enough, but you definitely have to be handling good to be able to tug on the wheel and keep the thing wide open.”

Daytona and Talladega races are known to be a crapshoot, where there are so many things out of your control. Is that also the case at Atlanta, or are you still able to make a little bit of your own luck at Atlanta?

“It’s probably the same as far as making your own luck and getting to the front. You can work your way up to the front, you just really don’t want to get stuck in the back. With green-flag pit stops, the commitment line starts early and they start taking pit-road speed into turn three and you run the apron all the way through (turns) three and four during green-flag pit stops. That makes it a little bit different and it bites some guys, but for me, I take the same mindset going into Atlanta as I do Daytona and Talladega.”

Stewart-Haas Racing had an off year in 2023 and the organization is expecting a turnaround in 2024. Do you feel added pressure to perform?

“We use it as motivation. We all want to be leaders. We all want to be the best teammates possible, and we all want to work together to be a part of this deal. It takes everyone’s effort, and if we can be better than we were yesterday, that’s how we’re going to be successful in the long run.”

What are your expectations for this year?

“This is an incredible opportunity. At the same time, you know there’s going to be challenges along the way. There’s going be adversity. There’s going be good runs and bad runs, but it’s how you react to it and how you keep on moving forward each and every race. It’s easy when you’re winning, and I’ve kind of learned that over the past couple of years. When we were in the Xfinity Series, we literally could do no wrong, but the flip side of winning all those races was that I kind of lost my grounding in a sense of, ‘Hey, I’ve got to keep on working at this.’ It’s not always going to come as easy as it did in my final year in Xfinity. It was somewhat of a rude awakening in 2023. Obviously, we didn’t unload with race-winning speed, ever, so that was a big challenge. I’ve done a lot of self-reflecting and soul searching over the past handful of months and trying to become the best leader possible. I think that’s what in 20 years when I look back I feel like, man, if I was the best leader for my team and the best piece of the puzzle for my team and did the best job, I’ll be satisfied with myself.”

You’re still able to connect with partners, and that’s on display again this week with Black Rifle Coffee, Ranger Boats, TrueTimber and Winchester Repeating Arms on your racecar. How important as these partnerships?

“We have a lot of great support. It’s just relationships and being able to bring value to a partner and say, ‘Hey, what’s our plan here? How do we achieve it and go above and beyond?’ I can confidently say that we do go above and beyond and we’ve got a lot of great partners that allow us to do this. It’s great to be back with Black Rifle Coffee and TrueTimber and to also start a relationship with Ranger Boats and Winchester. It’s really special to be able to introduce them on a familiar scheme that we’ve had over the past handful of years in the Xfinity Series.”