1. Now that we’re back on a normal track (not a city street), odds are acting weird. The “favorite” to win has been hovering at 12-1 and 13-1 most of the week (they’re normally 7 to 1 at worst). What’s happening at Atlanta to make this such a hard race to figure out? And who do you like to win?
Jeff: Prior to last season, Atlanta transformed itself from a typical 1.5-mile track into a high-banked superspeedway. So Atlanta now races closer to the wild card drafting tracks like Daytona and Talladega than, say, a Kansas or Las Vegas. Corey LaJoie almost won this race last summer, for example. So you have to approach this with a superspeedway mindset – the fastest car might not win, a big wreck might take out your drivers and there will be lots of luck involved. That said, if I’m going to make a pick, I’m going with Ryan Blaney based off his continued good grasp of what it takes to run well at these type of venues.
Jordan: While it’s not a carbon copy of Daytona and Talladega, the newly reconfigured Atlanta races similarly to those twin superspeedways. This makes races here more unpredictable, more wide open and picking winners more challenging. Even then, sticking with one of the usual suspects that tend to do well on superspeedways is the smart play. So anyone among Joey Logano, who won here in the spring, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Kyle Busch or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. should be considered a favorite to win. Let’s go with Elliott to win consecutive races on his home track.
2. With the All-Star race, then a week off, and a street course thrown in, we’ve talked about momentum before and it feels like we lost a little bit of it — can Martin Truex Jr. continue his hot run? He was on a roll before the break.
Jeff: More than anything right now, the schedule is going to cause challenges in identifying “hot” drivers or teams that can go on a championship run. Expanding on your point, there haven’t been two similar types of tracks for over a month now. Atlanta doesn’t fit in any category we’ve seen recently, either. So it’s not that Truex and his team have taken a step back necessarily, it’s just an odd mix of random-ish tracks in a row that prevents any one driver from dominating.
Jordan: As Jeff astutely notes, how the schedule lays out makes it hard to identify who’s hitting on their performance and who has work to do. This is especially so in Truex’s case, as the veteran has never won on a superspeedway, therefore him not winning Sunday shouldn’t necessarily be a reflection that his recent hot streak has subsided.
NOOB QUESTION OF THE WEEK: The points standings have a handful of drivers within striking distance of the final two spots. How do we expect the drivers in that 17-22nd range to drive going forward? Would it be conservative enough and trying to accrue points through Top 10s? Or aggressive to get wins? Or is there no real strategy to get in?
Jeff: They’d love to win and clinch a spot and not have to worry about the points situation. But if that opportunity isn’t there, the close race for the cutoff spots dictate they should do everything possible to maximize their points. Especially if NASCAR leaves Atlanta without an upset winner, the battle for that 16th playoff spot is going to be bonkers over the final couple months until the playoffs. So no use throwing your shot away by going for a risky gamble with an aggressive strategy or something like that. If the win isn’t in sight, take the points.
Jordan: This week, it’s about winning. The wide-open nature of the race creates the possibility of getting a playoff-clinching win and that should be the focus instead of racing for points and hoping things fall your way.
4. Who is a long shot we like in this race?
Jeff: There are so many tempting longshots. LaJoie, who could have won Atlanta last year, is sitting right there at +3000. Heck, Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is +3000. Two former Daytona 500 champions are also way down the odds list (Michael McDowell at +4000 and Austin Dillon at +4000). There are legitimately 30 drivers who could win this race, so take your pick.
Jordan: You can make a reasonable case for so many drivers, but considering he’s got such long odds go with Austin Dillon. He typically runs well on superspeedways to begin with – he’s a two-time winner at Daytona – and he comes in facing a “must win” situation if he’s to qualify for the playoffs. Him replicating his “upset” Daytona from last August is very much on the table.
5. Tyler Reddick was this column’s unofficial mascot last year, but we haven’t seen his name much in 2023. Looking at his race log, he’s had this weird run the last four races of starting in second (three times) but finishing in the 30s. What’s going on with him?
Jeff: Mistakes and bad breaks. Last week at Chicago, for example, he could have been in position to win the race (or at least take the lead until Shane van Gisbergen came on strong), but Reddick put his car in the wall. At Nashville, Reddick’s team left his wheel loose and he lost it coming to pit road (which ruined his race). And at Sonoma the week before that, he suffered a flat tire late in the race. He’s capable of winning any week, but everything has to go right – and that’s the case for much of the field right now.
Jordan: A combination of factors have contributed to Reddick’s up-and-down season, but the main thing is that he’s had speed most weeks. That speed gives confidence that he can go on a heater any week, quickly establishing himself as a legit title contender. Don’t give up on him yet.
Quaker State 400 odds (via BetMGM)
(Top photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images; photo of Tyler Reddick: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)