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February 24, 2024

What to Watch: Atlanta sparks early-season grind for NASCAR Cup Series

Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

(⏰ Sunday, 3 p.m. ET | FOX | MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the second points-paying event of the 2024 Cup Series season.

Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Weather tracker | NASCAR 101

Location: Hampton, Georgia
Track length: 1.54 miles
Cup Series race purse: $9,137,793
Race distance: 260 laps | 400 miles
Stages: 60 | 160 | 260

Starting lineup: McDowell earns first career pole at Atlanta
Pit stall assignments:
Where drivers will pit on Sunday
Defending winner:
Joey Logano, March 2023

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Key things to watch

Saturday sessions

Michael McDowell is certainly helping Front Row Motorsports live up to its name in 2024. The Arizona native stormed to his first career Busch Light Pole Award Saturday, backing up last week’s second-place qualifying effort at Daytona. Ford’s new Dark Horse Mustang dominated time trials, snagging seven of the top 10 starting positions. Joey Logano, defending race winner and polesitter one week ago, shares the front row with McDowell again, while McDowell’s teammate, Todd Gilliand, earned his best career starting position with a fourth-place effort. | Read qualifying recap

Big story line

Can William Byron start the year with back-to-back wins?

William Byron enters with a chance to make history rarely made — winning the opening two races of the NASCAR Cup Series season. No one has accomplished the feat since 2009, when Matt Kenseth was victorious at Daytona International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. Only four others have ever done it: Jeff Gordon (1997), David Pearson (1976), Bob Welborn (1959) and Marvin Panch (1957).

Byron seems as likely a candidate to pull off the historic start. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has won two of the four races on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s new high-banked configuration dating back to (and including) its debut in 2022. The 26-year-old led the series with six victories in 2023 and advanced to the Championship 4. Perhaps that momentum rolls into Hampton, Georgia on Sunday.

History tells us…

Not a ton, actually. Atlanta Motor Speedway has hosted 119 Cup Series races since it opened for business in 1960, but only the last four have been held with its current configuration. When the track was reprofiled with steeper banking (from 24 to 28 degrees) before the 2022 season, it was reimagined as a NASCAR hybrid – packing a superspeedway style into an intermediate-sized 1.54-mile oval.

In those four newfangled Atlanta races, Byron has been boom or bust, winning two and crashing out of the other pair. But there’s also some historic indication that a pole starter might fare well, with Chase Elliott (2022) and Joey Logano (in this race last year) visiting Victory Lane from the No. 1 starting spot. If so, that bodes especially well for Michael McDowell, who steamed to his first Cup Series pole in Saturday’s qualifying after 466 career races without one.

He may not be the betting favorite to win, but watch out for…

Corey LaJoie. At 40-1 odds this week, LaJoie’s name comes to the forefront just about every time the circuit reaches at Atlanta since its reconfiguration, and with good reason. While the Spire Motorsports driver is still seeking his first career Cup win, Atlanta is the sight of two of his four career top fives — fifth in March 2022 and fourth in this race a year ago. He also led 19 laps here in the 2022 summer race, in which he ran second at the white flag and crashed trying to make the winning pass on Chase Elliott. | Atlanta odds

Speed reads

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

– Parts confiscated from SHR: Nos. 10, 41 teams have roof rail deflectors taken for further evaluation | Read article
36 for 36: NASCAR survivor pool makes selections for Atlanta | Read article
– Home game: Chase Elliott returns to home track | Watch video
Behind the scenes: In-depth access to No. 8 team, Kyle Busch’s pursuit at Daytona | Read article
Double duty: No. 24 team’s pit crew wins Daytona 500, pulls double in Xfinity race | Read article
Memory lane: Relive the most memorable moments from Atlanta | See the photos
– Per the numbers: Racing Insights projects the final race results | Read article
At-track photos: Sights and scenes straight out of Georgia | Photo gallery
– Fantasy Fastlane: Setting your lineup for Atlanta | See fantasy tips
– Paint Scheme Preview: Pretty paint to shine in the Peach State | Pick a favorite
– Power Rankings: Byron begins in the best way possible | Latest driver rankings

Fast facts

Race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Toyota is winless on drafting tracks in the Next Gen car. The manufacturer’s last win on a drafting track came in the Gen 6 car with Bubba Wallace at Talladega.
Joey Logano has led more laps on drafting tracks since 2022 than anyone else (296 laps).
Ford drivers led 366 of the 445 laps raced at Atlanta in 2023 (82%).