Rain showers in the Atlanta area on Saturday ultimately cancelled NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Season owners points instead decided the grid order with Georgia native Chase Elliott starting his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from the pole position, alongside Floridian Ross Chastain in the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson – Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate – and Tyler Reddick will start from the second row giving Chevrolet a lock on the top four positions on the grid.
23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch is the defending race winner. However, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron won in the March 2022 debut of the newly-configured 1.54-mile Atlanta high-banks.
Elliott is still racing for his first victory at his home track. He has an impressive six top-10 finishes in eight starts at Atlanta with a best showing of fifth in 2017. He was sixth in this season’s spring race.
“I would love to win here,’’ Elliott said. “That would be one of the best things to do, to win at your home track. I’ve watched guys do that over the years and you can tell that means a lot to them. I think it would be very much the same for me. It would be meaningful to be able to check that box.
“We’ve been okay here. We had one really good run, I would say and the rest of them, just kind of mediocre. Now the way that it is with speedway racing, it’s a bit of a toss-up. I think anybody has a shot this weekend the way the event is now.’’
BACK TO FORM
Byron, 24, is hopeful that this return visit to Atlanta may kickstart another solid run to close out the regular season. His victory in March and a second at Martinsville, Va., only three weeks later made the Hendrick Motorsports driver the first multi-race winner of the 2022 season.
But after that April 9 win at Martinsville, Byron didn’t score another top-10 for eight weeks – a ninth-place run two months later on the Sonoma, Calif. road course. That finish – three weeks ago – is his only top-10 now in a span of 10 races.
A good showing this weekend at Atlanta would go a long way toward righting the ship for the No. 24 Chevrolet team. And there’s plenty of reason to believe that’s possible. Byron says he’s become a student of big track racing and concedes the right mindset really helps.
His results would indicate as much. Byron earned his career first his NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway in the August 2020 regular season finale.
Seven of his 25 career top five NASCAR Cup Series finishes – plus a pair of Xfinity Series wins - have come on tracks at least 2.5 miles (Daytona, Talladega, Ala., Pocono, Pa. and Indianapolis).
“When I was starting out, like going back to the first truck race on a superspeedway, I was really nervous, timid, didn’t make a lot of moves and I ended up getting into someone else’s crash,’’ Byron acknowledged Saturday.
“So I was just like, ‘man, this just doesn’t make any sense. I feel so timid. I feel so nervous the whole time’. So I just started to take a more aggressive approach to try and learn. Knowing that the outcome might be the same – maybe I’m going to crash or whatnot at the end of the race – but at least I’ve learned something throughout the race and don’t feel like I’m just a passenger in the pack.
“I hated that feeling of just feeling like I was going to ride around and hope for the best. That didn’t sit well for me so I just took a more aggressive approach.’’
XFINITY SERIES QUALIFYING
The NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway was cancelled Saturday morning as well due to poor weather conditions with the starting lineup for Saturday afternoon’s Alsco Uniforms 250 (5 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) set according to owners’ points.
That puts four-race winner, driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Ty Gibbs in the pole position. He’ll start the race alongside JR Motorsports’ Josh Berry in the No. 8 JRM Chevrolet.
Current NASCAR Xfinity Series championship leader A.J. Allmendinger, who holds a slim nine-point advantage on Gibbs, will start third in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet alongside Gibbs’ JGR teammate Brandon Jones in the No. 19 Toyota.
Gibbs won at Atlanta in March – leading only the last lap in an overtime finish.
CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
Corey Heim will start one of the biggest races of his career from the pole position, taking the No. 1 qualifying slot in the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where the trucks race in the Inaugural O’Reilly Auto Parts 150 today (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Heim, a two-race winner already in a limited 2022 schedule, stands to earn a big payday should he claim the trophy at the 2.258-mile, 15-turn road course in Lexington, Ohio. A winner two-weeks ago at Gateway, Ill., Heim can collect a $150,000 bonus as part of the Triple Truck Challenge with another victory in the third and final race of that popular incentive program. Any driver that wins this week earns an extra $50,000.
Heim starts alongside Parker Kligerman in the No. 75 Henderson Motorsports Chevrolet. A popular NASCAR broadcaster, this is the best series start for Kligerman this year. Carson Hocevar and John Hunter Nemechek roll off from the second row.
Current championship leader Zane Smith – who has a road course win at Circuit of the Americas and a runner-up at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway this season – will start 13th in the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
Justin Marks, the only former Mid-Ohio winner in the field – taking a trophy in the 2016 Xfinity Series race there – will start eighth in the No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.