The NASCAR Xfinity Series makes its first “return” trip of the season, racing for the second time in 2021 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Saturday’s Credit Karma Money 250 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Justin Allgaier is hoping for an Atlanta season sweep. He beat NASCAR Cup Series regular Martin Truex Jr. in March for the Atlanta victory and has been among the hottest full-time Xfinity Series drivers of late, finishing in the top five in three of the last four races – including runner-up work at both Texas Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway. The 1.5-mile Atlanta track has been particularly good for the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. He has seven top-10 finishes in 11 career starts, including the last four races there.
Allgaier’s JRM teammate, Noah Gragson, is another driver with a good history at Atlanta. He has had an inconsistent year with a series-high six DNFs, but Gragson has never finished outside the top 10 in three Atlanta starts, including a runner-up finish in 2020 and a fourth-place finish this March.
The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet has yet to win a race this season but has answered an uncharacteristic streak of three DNFs with four top-10 finishes in the last four races. He sits 10th in the championship standings with nine races remaining to set the 12-driver playoff field.
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric leads all full-time series drivers with four wins in 2021 but has two finishes outside the top 10 in the last five races. Although Cindric has not won previously at Atlanta – his best finish is seventh in 2018 – he has been particularly strong at 1.5-mile tracks, where he has four top-five finishes this season. The driver of the No. 22 Ford has led laps in 16 of the 17 races to date. His 534 laps out front nearly 200 more than the next best total (Daniel Hemric’s 345).
These drivers expect good competition this weekend from Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, who sits second to Cindric in the championship hunt. Allmendinger earned his first career NASCAR oval victory at Atlanta last year and shows up this week with seven top-six finishes in the last eight races, including a win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In two Atlanta starts, he has a win (2020) and a fifth place (2021).
Similarly, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Hemric has continued to turn in the top-10 results. He was runner-up to Kyle Busch at Road America last week. In four Atlanta starts, he has never finished worse than 11th.
Of course, the biggest challenge on the grid for full-time series drivers this weekend is Busch, who has literally been perfect this season in the Xfinity Series, winning all four races he has competed in. This weekend marks the last Xfinity start for the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and he’d love to tie up his 2021 work with a victory circle ending. He won his last two Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta – in 2016 and 2017 – and has five more runner-up showings in 13 career Xfinity races at the track. Three times he has led at least 100 laps.