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2018 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Preview

Race: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Date: Sunday February 25, 2018
Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway
Time: 2 pm ET

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper,

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The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500sure didnít disappoint as the opener to the 2018 season! The field went into overtime with Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, and Denny Hamlin racing hard into the finish. Dillon raced hard to the finish, pushing Aric Almirola out of the way. We saw a lot of that throughout the race, in fact. Many drivers pushed others with nothing but the air to gain a position, often forcing other guys into the wall. Thatís the nature of the beast when it comes to Daytona, though. The great thing to me about the race was that most of the drivers understood that concept. We didnít see any of the whining that we saw with a lot of the drivers last year. The guys realized that there is little control of the draft and the runs that others get when youíre here. When a line comes freight training to the front, you can gamble and stay in front or you can move and lose those positions. Staying in front means you have a heck of a lot of confidence because just the slightest push of air from another driver can send you into the wall, ending your day for good.

Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski both suffered from catastrophic losses, as did much of the field. There were several pretty gnarly wrecks. Ryan Blaney ended up wrecking after leading an impressive 118 laps while he tried to block Kurt Busch. Overall, it was still a very competitive race. We saw a lot of risks taken with drivers on the track through most of it, although the segments still take away for what is supposed to be an endurance race in my opinion. Regardless, Dillon put the iconic #3 car back in victory lane exactly 20 years after the late Dale Earnhardt did the same. If thatís not a pretty cool thing to do, then I donít know what is. On top of that, Bubba Wallace took the #43 car to a second place finish. Thatís another impressive feat for the Childress garage. Wallace is running a Childress engine package.

This weekend, weíre still going to see a lot of speed. The drivers are moving on to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta is 1.54-mile quad-oval. It has 24 degree banking in the turns and 5 degree banking in the straights. Just because of the configuration, these drivers will see upwards of 190+ on this track. As you can imagine, tires become an issue here at Atlanta as well. Goodyear has done a tremendous amount of testing here trying to create a compound that is not only competitive but one that will withstand just enough racing to keep things interesting. Tire strategy is always an interesting concept at this track. Being that there arenít restrictor plates here, we see some hard wrecks here too when those tires go downÖbecause they will go down.

The most competitive drivers here are ones who run well at the super speedways. The drivers who had speed last weekend will likely have the same this weekend. Even if the finishes werenít that stellar, Atlanta is a whole other ball game when it comes down to it. Weíre not going to see the insane wrecks like we do at Daytona because drafting and aero isnít really seen here like at that place, but the speeds alone certainly require some serious horsepower. The guys who came away disappointed last weekend will likely have a better run this weekend. The risk of wrecking is much less and the risk of being involved in a wreck is always greatly decreased. I think that we are going to see strength in the Penske group once again. Overall, they will have a good group of guys racing between Logano, Keselowski, and Blaney. That team knows how to find speed. The one driver that I think will really put it out there and has a great shot, though, is Martin Truex Jr. That guy had an absolutely stellar year last year. Quite frankly, his championship should be easily defended if he continues on the same path. With a very strong run before being taken out in a wreck last weekend, Truex should put his speed and past successes here at the forefront to be very competitive for the win. Hereís a look at your potential winners heading into Atlanta this weekend:

My Pick to Win: Martin Truex Jr.
Middle of the Road Pick: Kyle Larson
Dark Horse Prediction: Bubba Wallace

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With his second place finish after Daytona, I just canít count out Bubba Wallace. The kidís got talent. Heís been an up and coming star for quite some time and proved that heís a force to be reckoned with. Daytona was not a fluke for this guy. I think heís just that talented. Look for him to really come into his own and continue a good run this weekend at Atlanta. Kyle Larson is going to be another driver to watch. Although not a typically cookie cutter track, Atlantaís intermediate configuration suits his driving style. With the speed and the banking along with a top 10 finish at every run heís made here, Larson is nothing to sneeze at. All of these drivers will be looking to settle into those coveted top 16 spots in the points after this weekend. Daytona, although a great race, is rarely a reflection of a driverís complete ability as there are so many variables and unpredictable moments. That being said, letís see where those unpredictable moments landed our first set of the top 16 drivers.

Here are your current top 16 after last week's race:

1. Ryan Blaney
2. Joey Logano
3. Austin Dillon
4. Darrell Wallace Jr.
5. Paul Menard
6. Michael McDowell
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Ryan Newman
9. Chris Buescher
10. Aric Almirola
11. Trevor Bayne
12. Martin Truex Jr.
13. Clint Bowyer
14. Alex Bowman
15. AJ Allmendinger
16. Kurt Busch

Keep in mind, these standings incorporate not only the win but also stage points as well. That creates a lot of different strategies from different teams. As you can see, the win doesnít mean everything anymore. It means a lot, donít get me wrong, but it was abundantly clear in Daytona that the stages are what drivers are fighting for tooth and nail. There were many wrecks at the end of the stages as guys tries to set themselves up for those coveted points. Look for Atlanta to set a little more of the pace for points this season. Daytona is just a thriller. The real season starts this weekend. Stay tuned for some fast cars and great racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway!

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