What to Watch: Full guide for Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway
(⏰ 3:30 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the 21st points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season. 

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54-mile track located just south of Atlanta in Hampton, Georgia
Green flag: 3:48:30 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Showers and thunderstorms likely after 9 a.m. ET. Mostly sunny, with a high near 89 degrees. Chance of precipitation is 60%, according to NOAA.gov
Race Distance: 260 laps, 400 miles
Stages: Stage 1 – 80 laps | Stage 2 – 80 laps (ends at Lap 160) | Final Stage – 1oo laps (scheduled to end at Lap 260)
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 55 mph
Atlanta 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup

Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections

Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

1. The last five races at Atlanta have been dominated by Ford drivers. Ryan Blaney reached Victory Lane in the last race here and Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski each have a pair of wins. As of late, Ford has taken a back seat to the Chevrolet dominance and the Toyota resurgence. Yet, this weekend could easily get their stable of experienced drivers back on track. Recent history says it will, for whatever that’s worth. Harvick’s first win of the season could come at any time and it wouldn’t be a surprise. He hasn’t had a winless season since 2009. The No. 4 wheelman has led the most laps in six of the last eight Atlanta races. Blaney, Keselowski and Joey Logano join Harvick with reasonable chances to take home this week’s trophy, according to the oddsmakers. How well they do as a manufacturer and individually is something to keep an eye on this Sunday.

2. A couple of months ago, it seemed like Denny Hamlin was going to run away with the regular-season championship. Then, Kyle Larson led Hendrick Motorsports on one of the best runs the sport has ever seen. And he’s shown no signs of cooling off anytime soon. Coming into this weekend within three points of Hamlin in the Cup Series points standings, Larson can take over the standings leaderboard for the first time this season. With 15 crucial playoff points on the line, a bonus that comes with the regular-season title, neither driver can afford to slip up in the next six races. While the favored bets are on Larson this weekend, Hamlin’s consistency is what’s got him this far — even without a win in 2021. Expect both drivers to have a solid showing as the pressure turns up.

3. Kyle Larson has been the most dominant driver of the season to this point. That’s undeniable. You could also argue that he’s been the most dominant driver at Atlanta in his last two starts at the track. Over that span, Larson has led 411 laps, won three of the last four stages and finished runner-up in the March race. But wait. Even with all the impressive stats, Larson has surprisingly never won here. Blaney outran the No. 5 driver in the closing laps earlier this season, and his other runner-up finish came all the way back in 2017. Still, he’s finished no worse than 12th in his last four races at Atlanta. The heavy favorite coming into the weekend, this time we will see if he can close the deal.

4. Only one Georgia-born driver has ever won a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and his name is Elliott. Bill Elliott, that is. That’s right, the NASCAR Hall of Famer and father of reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. He won at Atlanta five times. Chase Elliott is still searching for his first win on his home turf after being winless in five career Cup starts there and only has one top five. This weekend, he starts on the pole and will have the early edge. Coming off an impressive, but not unexpected, win at Road America, the 25-year-old fan favorite might ride the momentum to his first-ever win in his home state. The Dawsonville Pool Room, located just under two hours away from the track, will certainly hope so.

5. The tale (not quite) as old as time. Tire wear at Atlanta. One of the older tracks on the current slate of tracks, Atlanta Motor Speedway is known for the high wear and tear on fresh Goodyear Eagle tires. Last resurfaced in 1997, the 1.5-mile asphalt oval tends to get the most out of driver ability. Over the course of the 400-mile marathon, tire strategy — especially on long, green runs — should play a factor in deciding the winner of the race.

Race-day staples

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Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

Betting odds for second Atlanta race | See the odds
Colorado sports betting numbers show positive signs for motorsports | Find out why
One-stop shop for NASCAR betting information | Check it out
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Take two at Atlanta

ISC Archives via Getty Images

It’s the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Take a look at some track history and what happened last time out.

Remember this?: Memorable moments from Atlanta | See the moments
• Reverse: Relive the iconic 1992 championship battle and Richard Petty’s final race | 1992 Hooters 500 breakdown
 Cale or Dale? See which Hall of Famer led the most laps at Atlanta | Find out here
Winning is a habit: Most all-time wins at Atlanta | Take a look
• Blaney’s got the pace:
Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Larson for the win in March | See how

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has held 114 Cup Series races and is the eighth oldest track on the current series schedule.
• Bill Elliott
 is the only Georgia-born driver to win a race at Atlanta, winning five times.
• Wood Brothers Racing has led the most laps by any team at Atlanta with 3407, 79 more than Hendrick Motorsports.
• Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for the most top 10s in the last nine races on 1.5-mile tracks with eight.
• Four active drivers have a sub-15 career average finish at Atlanta: Kyle LarsonKyle BuschRyan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

• Live from Atlanta: NASCAR.com to stream pre-race show Sunday | See the details
• All square: Hendrick teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman on good terms after Pocono | Read more
• Penalty report:
No. 14 crew chief Johnny Klausmeier suspended for Road America lug-nut violation | See the details
• New television series:
USA Network to team up with NASCAR for new docuseries | Read more
• Gearing up for 2022:
Atlanta Motor Speedway bringing in next generation with track reprofile | See the details
• New partnership: United Rentals named Official Rental Equipment Partner of NASCAR | Check out the deal

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

“Atlanta is a ton of fun to race at and a place where I have a couple of wins. I’m looking forward to having CRAFTSMAN Ace and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals represented on the car this weekend.  Some of the kids actually designed the car and get to join us at the track this weekend.  This is the 15th year Stanley Black & Decker has partnered on this program with CRAFTSMAN and Ace Hardware, they’ve donated $1.5 million over the years and I’m honored to be a part of the program this year. Hopefully, we can build on our strong finish in Road America and carry that momentum into Atlanta.” — Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry

Sean Gardner | Getty Images

“I would say Atlanta is probably, to me at least, the hardest place to just go around by yourself.  It’s just extremely challenging to do the same thing twice. The grip level is literally different from lap one to lap two, quite drastically truthfully, and it’s just a lot of hard work from a standpoint of the car never wants to do what you’re wanting it to do. It’s not gonna have grip. It almost feels like you’re on ice at all times and it would be like taking an exit ramp in the middle of an ice storm and you’re trying to drive it at 150 miles an hour. It just doesn’t want to stick. It doesn’t want to do anything you want it to do, and it just wants to slide you right off of it and it’s the same at Atlanta.” — Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. 

“Atlanta is a great racetrack with the worn-out surface and obviously it’s going to be hot this weekend. That should make the track slick and that’s fun for us as drivers. We weren’t quite as good as we wanted to be in that first Atlanta race, so hopefully we can improve on that this weekend and get back in the top five like we have been able to do the past few years there.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry

“Atlanta is typically a track where you’re always fighting loose with really limited rear grip. You’ll also have some front grip issues, as well, with the way tires wear. It’s really about managing it all throughout the run. You want to be able to wrap that white line and be good down low for as long as possible in a run. Hopefully for us, we have that grip in the car that we need.” — William Byron, driver of the N0. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro