Dr. Diandra: Atlanta a chance for Trackhouse to regain momentum


Today’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a chance for Trackhouse Racing to regain the momentum it lost last week.

Daniel Suárez entered Phoenix with three top-10 finishes, including one top five. He incurred multiple speeding penalties at Phoenix: He sped on pit road. He then had to make a pass-through lap and sped doing that (he cited a mistake with the team’s pit road calculation). Although Suárez fought his way back to the lead lap, he finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain had two top 10s and a 12th-place finish — and led the standings. Chastain ran sixth approaching the last restart, but found himself in the wrong place, which was anywhere near Denny Hamlin. Chastain finished 24th.

In addition to Trackhouse regaining its momentum, a win could also slow Hendrick Motorsports’ charge.

And a Trackhouse win would make five out of five wins for Chevy.

Trackhouse’s best Next Gen superspeedway

My last post highlighted underdogs with the potential for a strong finish at Atlanta. In overall average finish at superspeedways in 2022, Chastain ranks sixth and Suárez ninth.

But superspeedways are not created equal.

Atlanta features the same type of pack racing as Daytona and Talladega — but Atlanta is a full mile shorter. Everything happens faster. Drivers don’t have the time to think and plan that long straightaways allow.

In addition to requiring more from the driver, a car that works at the larger speedways might not handle well enough for Atlanta. Balance is much more important this weekend.

Those differences play right into Trackhouse’s strengths.

The graph below shows drivers’ average finishes at Atlanta in yellow and at Talladega & Daytona in blue. The graph only covers 2022 because that’s all the data we have for the Next Gen car. I included only drivers with a 15.5 or better average at Atlanta.

A two-bar chart comparing the average finishes of drivers at Atlanta relative to those at Daytona and Atlanta

Chastain and Suárez post average finishes around 20 at Daytona and Talladega. When it comes to Atlanta, however, Chastain and Suárez are first and second with average finishes of 2.0 and 5.0.

Chastain finished second in the spring and summer races at the revamped track. Those finishes are despite being involved in two accidents in each race. Suárez finished fourth at the first race and sixth at the second.

Trackhouse fields fast cars at Atlanta. Chastain qualified second at the second race and seventh at the first. Suárez qualified 13th at the first race and seventh at the second.

But speed isn’t the only factor. Despite being involved in accidents, both drivers completed both races. They also gained (or didn’t lose) positions during the last 10% of each race.

The competition

Chastain and Suárez aren’t the only drivers seeking to regain momentum at Atlanta.

It’s difficult to quantify how much of a threat Kyle Busch is because he changed teams this year. He had an average finish of 26.5 last year at Atlanta with Joe Gibbs Racing, but a brilliant run at this year’s Daytona 500.

If you’re wondering about Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he has an average finish of 31.0 at Atlanta, with DNFs at both races.

Trackhouse’s biggest competition at Atlanta comes from Hendrick Motorsports. Trackhouse consistently placed just behind HMS last year at Atlanta.

  • William Byron, who enters Atlanta with two consecutive wins, won the first Atlanta race in 2022.
  • Chase Elliott won the second.
  • Chastain led the second-most laps at the first Atlanta race. Byron led the most.
  • Chastain led the third-most laps at the second Atlanta race. Elliott let the most, followed by Byron.
  • Suárez’s 46 points at the spring race is tied (with Ryan Blaney) for the third-most points earned at any Atlanta race in 2022.
    • Chase Elliott holds first place with a perfect 60-point race.
    • William Byron holds second with 52 points.

But 2023 presents new circumstances. Last year at this time, neither Chastain nor Suárez had ever won a Cup Series race.

This year, Elliott won’t race Atlanta due to a fractured left leg. His substitute, Josh Berry, earned his first top-10 last week. But Berry has only two races worth of experience in the Next Gen car. None are at superspeedways. He finished 33rd and second in the Xfinity Series last year at Atlanta.

Alex Bowman comes into Atlanta with an average finish of 21.0 at the track, while Kyle Larson‘s average is 21.5. Their 2022 average finishes at Talladega/Daytona are 15.7 and 22.75 respectively.

With Elliott out, Byron is the highest-ranking HMS driver in terms of average finish at Atlanta with a 15.5. In addition to the spring win, a crash relegated him to a 30th-place finish in the summer race.

But Louvergate puts the HMS drivers at a further disadvantage. Their crew chiefs are serving four-week suspensions, although HMS has appealed the penalties. Hendrick has a deep bench, but any disruption introduces the opportunity for hiccups.

This year, Trackhouse has one major advantage over Byron in this race: No driver wants Byron to win. It’s better for everyone if no driver accumulates too many points, stage points or playoff points. Chase Elliott proved that last year.

But winning at Atlanta requires the Trackhouse drivers to address issues that have plagued them in previous seasons.

Suárez has a history of speeding penalties and a knack for incurring them too late in the race to recover. Getting a pass-through penalty at Atlanta likely means losing multiple laps if a driver has to serve it under green conditions.

Chastain’s aggressive driving has made enemies. Chastain lost 18 positions following last week’s altercation with Hamlin. But even a driver choosing not to work with Chastain can send him to the back quickly.

Sonoma Cup starting lineup


SONOMA, Calif. — Denny Hamlin earned his 38th career Cup pole Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Tyler Reddick, who drives for the 23XI Racing team Hamlin co-owns with Michael Jordan, qualified second. Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and AJ Allmendinger completed the top five.

MORE: Sonoma Cup starting lineup

Ryan Blaney, who took the points lead last week, qualified 31st. William Byron, who is second in the points, qualified 26th.

Chase Elliott, returning from a one-race suspension, qualified 10th. Grant Enfinger qualified 35th for Noah Gragson, who is sitting out this week after suffering concussion-like symptoms from a crash last weekend at WWT Raceway.

Denny Hamlin wins Cup pole at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, as Toyota took five of the top eight spots in Saturday’s qualifying session. It is Hamlin’s 38th career Cup pole.

Hamlin led the way with a lap of 92.178 mph. Tyler Reddick, who drives for the 23XI Racing team Hamlin co-owns with Michael Jordan, qualified second (92.068 mph), giving Toyota ownership of the front row.

MORE: Sonoma Cup starting lineup

Toyota, which struggled at road courses for much of last year, had only one of its drivers qualify in the top 10 at Circuit of the Americas, the only road course race this season.

Michael McDowell qualified third for Ford after a lap of 92.060 mph. Christopher Bell put his Toyota fourth after a lap of 91.877 mph. AJ Allmendinger was the top Chevrolet, qualifying fifth after a lap of 91.873 mph. Toyota also had Ty Gibbs (91.819 mph) sixth and Martin Truex Jr. (91.736) eighth.

The top two drivers in the points did not fare well in qualifying. Ryan Blaney, who took the points lead last week, qualified 31st. William Byron, who is second in the points, qualified 26th.

Chase Elliott, returning from a one-race suspension, qualified 10th. Grant Enfinger qualified 35th for Noah Gragson, who is sitting out this week after suffering concussion-like symptoms from a crash last weekend at WWT Raceway.

Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup: Kyle Larson wins pole


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson won the pole with an average speed of 91.393 mph around the 1.99-mile road course. Justin Allgaier joins Larson on the front row after a lap of 90.562 mph. Sheldon Creed (90.429 mph) qualified third. Aric Almirola (90.375) will start fourth. AJ Allmendinger (90.274) will start fifth.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup

MORE: Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing

Larson is one of seven Cup drivers entered. The others are Almirola (starting fourth), Allmendinger (fifth), Ty Gibbs (seventh), Ross Chastain (15th), Daniel Suarez (17th) and Ty Dillon (32nd).

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.