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March 16, 2023

Story lines for Saturday’s Xfinity Series and Truck Series doubleheader at Atlanta

Austin Hill does a burnout in his car, creating a white cloud of smoke.
James Gilbet
Getty Images

Austin Hill won the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Two weeks later, Hill triumphed on 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On Saturday, the series leader will try for his third victory of the season on a 1.5-mile track that thinks it’s a superspeedway in the nightcap of a NASCAR doubleheader, the Raptor King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (5 p.m. on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

RELATED: Full weekend schedule for Atlanta | See entry lists

Fresh pavement applied before last year’s races radically changed the character of the Atlanta track, transforming it from a slip-and-slide 1.5-miler to a venue that behaves more like a superspeedway, where cars draft in precariously close quarters.

That’s a bonus for Hill, the defending race winner who has claimed three of his four career Xfinity victories on tracks that feature a superspeedway competition package. But the driver of the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet will have stiff competition.

Full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver Justin Haley, a four-time Xfinity winner on superspeedways, is moonlighting in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet this Saturday.

“It’s probably my favorite race track right now on the schedule,” Haley said. “It’s just something so different than any other track we go to, with the high speeds and it being an in-between track.”

Driving the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, John Hunter Nemechek should also be a contender on Saturday. He has started the season with four straight finishes of sixth or better, including a victory at Auto Club Speedway and a runner-up result at Daytona.

In other series news, defending Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith couldn’t have asked for a better start to his title defense.

For the second straight year, Smith won the season opener at Daytona and the driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford finished second at Las Vegas-to Truck Series career victory leader Kyle Busch, no less-to claim the series lead.

Now Smith comes to a track where his drafting skills should stand him in good stead in Saturday’s Fr8 208 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Smith, however, will have to beat defending race winner Corey Heim and TRICON Garage Toyota teammate John Hunter Nemechek, who is running both Saturday races.

Take it with a grain of salt, given the recent changes to the track, but Toyota drivers have won five of the last six Atlanta races, including last year on the repaved surface.

The exception to the recent Toyota dominance is Grant Enfinger, who won in a Ford in 2020-the only time a Ford driver has triumphed in 21 Truck Series races at Atlanta. Enfinger is behind the wheel of the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet this year.

“Atlanta is a lot different since the reconfiguration,” Enfinger said. “It races more like a superspeedway, rather than a conventional mile-and-a-half track. With the banking and newer asphalt, we will all have a lot of grip, which provides for tight racing. We will have to be aggressive on the track and pit road to position ourselves to be upfront for the end.”