Chase Elliott on Pole at Atlanta after Rain Cancels Qualifying

For the first time this season, the Cup Series is racing at a track for the second time.
Chase Elliott on Pole at Atlanta after Rain Cancels Qualifying

William Byron took the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in March, and is looking to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to sweep both races at the track. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet will have to do it from the 13th starting position tomorrow.

The three superspeedway races this season have been won by three different drivers, and three different teams. Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 while Ross Chastain won at Talladega in April. Tomorrow will mark the 117th Cup race at Atlanta. The track's new surface and higher banking produced a style of racing more like what is seen on superspeedways. There were 46 lead changes among 20 drivers in the Spring race, both of which were new track records.

Qualifying was scheduled for this afternoon but was cancelled due to rain at and around the speedway. The starting lineup was determined based on season owners points, which means that Chase Elliott will start tomorrow's race from pole position, with Chastain joining him on the front row. Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick will share Row 2 while Penske teammates Cindric and Ryan Blaney will start from Row 3. Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman roll off from Row 4 while Martin Truex Jr and Kevin Harvick complete the top ten starters.

This is a home track for Elliott, who has yet to win here. “I would love to have a win at Atlanta,” the Hendrick driver said. “I feel like anyone’s home track you want to have a win at for sure. I would love to have a good run in Atlanta. It’s always going to be a special place for me. I’ve spent a lot of time racing legends cars there so for sure I’d love to go and have a good run.”

The 2020 Cup champion believes tomorrow's race could look different than the one we saw in the Spring. "I think the difference will be teams now have had a few months to kind of dial in and understand exactly what’s going on underneath the car. I think all the cars are just going to drive better and typically when that happens, the aggression level will increase and people are going to be more apt to put themselves in compromised situations throughout the event. There were a lot of things going on to start the year and I think a lot of people were just trying to survive."

Chastain starts where he finished here in the Spring (2nd) and believes this is another opportunity for Trackhouse Racing to earn another victory. "It’s full superspeedway style, think of Daytona and Talladega," Chastain said. "We need our car to be very efficient in the air and the least amount of drag and still have grip, and not be too loose or tight."

Chase Elliott on Pole at Atlanta after Rain Cancels Qualifying

Harvick is still trying to get adjusted to the track modifications. “It’s just a superspeedway now on a mile-and-a-half racetrack,” he said. “Things just happen a lot faster, so the decisions have to happen faster, the cars move around a lot more, the corners come up a lot quicker. A lot more seat-of-your pants, just go here, go there, do this and do that. I think the way the lines formed and moved, and everything happened, you just had to get used to a different style of race than we’ve had before.”

Qualifying up front doesn't necessarily translate to success, or at least it didn't on the old surface. The Atlanta pole sitter has not won the race since Kasey Kahne back in 2006. That was 23 races ago, and the last five Cup races here have been won from the 12th, 8th, 10th, 9th, and 19th starting positions. Johnson won from the 37th starting spot in 2015, so there is hope for the guys starting in the rear of the field tomorrow.

Chevrolet has won two of the three superspeedway races this year, and the last two run here at Atlanta. Before that, it was Ford that won five consecutive Atlanta races dating back to 2017. The bowtie took five of the top six finishing positions here earlier this year, including the win. Toyota has not won here since the 2013 race.

Kyle Busch will aim to change that tomorrow, as he will start 19th in his Camry. The good news is that he appears to be closer to returning to Joe Gibbs Racing next season, according to team President Dave Alpern.

"We want Kyle to be in the 18 car and that’s our plan," Alpern said. "We’re still working on sponsorship, and as much interest as there is in our sport, these take a long time. And admittedly, this one’s taking a little longer than we thought. It’s not for lack of interest. It’s just trying to get everything put together."

The 37-year old Busch is a two-time Atlanta winner, but finished 33rd earlier this year when he was collected in a crash. He has performed well here, finishing 2nd, 5th, and 2nd in the three races from 2020-21 but that track was much different. Still, the two-time Cup champion knows what to expect tomorrow.

“It was just as crazy as I expected,” Kyle said. “It literally got a facelift with a whole new track surface and layout and everything. Old Atlanta, you had the old asphalt and really had fast lap times to fire off, and then you had a lot of tire fall-off where lap times go down throughout the run. Back in the spring, it was more like what we expected it to be, like a Daytona or Talladega speedway race. We saw a lot of pack racing with some guys going two-wide and maybe three-wide, and saw how wide the track got in the time we had on it.”

Byron has struggled since his victory here earlier this season, but hopes to turn things around beginning tomorrow. This style of racing tends to suit him better, as seven of his 25 career top-five finishes have come on large, 2.5-mile tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Pocono, and Indianapolis. The way he approaches these bigger speedways has changed over the years, and it is has paid off.

Chase Elliott on Pole at Atlanta after Rain Cancels Qualifying

"Going back to the first truck race on a superspeedway, I was really nervous, timid, didn’t make a lot of moves and I ended up getting into someone else’s crash," Byron said. "So I just started to take a more aggressive approach to try and learn. Knowing that the outcome might be the same, but at least I’ve learned something throughout the race and don’t feel like I’m just a passenger in the pack. I hated that feeling like I was going to ride around and hope for the best. That didn’t sit well for me so I just took a more aggressive approach."

Coverage for tomorrow's Quaker State 400 begins at 3 PM ET on USA Network.

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