Atlanta 101: Eastbound and down


After three weeks out west, NASCAR teams finally return to race back east and just a little south of their home bases and prepare for what will be a thriller at the newly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Last season, Atlanta rolled out a new look that turned the 1.5-mile speedway’s style of racing into a miniature Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The track was re-paved along with banking increases that saw the turns elevated from 24 to 28 degrees. The racing surface narrowed in width from 55 feet to 40 feet, creating more of a pack-racing environment.

Before Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), prepare for the race with trends to watch, notable moments and the on-track schedule for the weekend.

RELATED: Projected Atlanta results | Odds for Atlanta

HENDRICK PENALIZED 🚨

The biggest news entering this weekend at Atlanta is the L2-level penalty handed to the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

The Nos. 5, 24, and 48 were all docked 100 owner points as well as 10 playoff points (Note: the No. 9 was not docked driver points due to Josh Berry subbing for the injured Chase Elliott.) The penalties were issued due to unapproved parts modifications at Phoenix Raceway. The No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet driven by Justin Haley was also penalized for the same issue.

After Phoenix, Alex Bowman was the points leader but with the penalty, Bowman has fallen to 23rd. Two-time 2023 winner William Byron dropped to 29th and Kyle Larson to 32nd.

RELATED: More on Hendrick Motorsports’ penalty

TRENDS TO WATCH

— Chevrolet is seeking its fifth straight win to open 2023; Chevy was the last to accomplish this feat in 1995

— Chevrolet has won the last three Atlanta races; Ford has won the prior five races

— Toyota has not won at Atlanta since 2013

— Martin Truex Jr. owns nine top 10s in the last 10 Atlanta races

NOTABLE MOMENTS

2001: Harvick wins his first Cup race in photo finish with Gordon | WATCH

2005: Carl Edwards bests Jimmie Johnson for first Cup win | WATCH

2016: Johnson ties Earnhardt on all-time wins list | WATCH

2022: Byron wins first race on Atlanta reconfiguration | WATCH

ON-TRACK SCHEDULE

Saturday, March 18

— 11:35 a.m. ET: Cup qualifying (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 19

— 3 p.m. ET: Ambetter Health 400 (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

MORE: Full weekend schedule at Atlanta

RULE CHANGES/GOODYEAR TIRE NOTES

This season, no practices will take place on weekends at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In the event of a lost wheel that is contained to pit road, the offending team will be subject to a pass-through penalty under green-flag conditions. If the infraction occurs during a caution period, the offending team will restart at the tail end of the field.

If the wheel breaks free outside of pit road, the new rules guidelines mandate a two-lap penalty, plus a two-race suspension for two crew members. Each penalty is series-specific: Violations in one series will not impact those crew members’ eligibility to participate in other series.

Following last Sunday’s race at Phoenix, competition officials issued a safety violation for the loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle (Sections 8.8.10.4 A&C) to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Aric Almirola. Crew members Ryan Mulder (front tire changer) and Sean Cotten (jack) were suspended for two races.

Teams will run the same tire setup used at Daytona and Talladega.

RELATED: See rules changes for 2023

FAN REWARDS

Fans can get in on the action all season long with NASCAR Fan Rewards, a free program that rewards fans for participating in the action when they watch races and play NASCAR Fantasy.

There’s no cost to join. Fans must be 18 years or older to participate in the program.

Earn points by checking into a race from home or at the track, setting your Fantasy Live lineup, making purchases on the NASCAR.com shop and more. Points can be redeemed for race tickets, merchandise and VIP experiences at the track, including pace car rides and waving the green flag at qualifying.

JOIN TODAY

FANTASY LIVE

Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 3, and there is a $25,000 prize for the winner.

How to play: Fantasy Live | Set up a team today!

ALSO ON NASCAR.COM

Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week, a select number of in-car cameras will be available – as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.

NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement to the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more – and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.

MUST WATCH