Ambetter Health 400 Race Predictions & Analysis

by | Last updated Feb 21, 2024 | nascar

Race: Ambetter Health 400
Date: Sunday, February 25, 2024
Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway
Time: 3 pm ET
Channel: FOX

What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?

The Daytona 500 finally got underway on Monday afternoon after a series of rain delays, forcing NASCAR to postpone both the Xfinity and Cup Series events. For many, it was a typical 500, where the “Big One” definitely happened in the closing laps, effectively eliminating a good portion of the field who had previously dominated the race. For William Byron, it was the best Daytona 500 he’d ever raced, coming away victorious but just barely beating his teammate. Alex Bowman was narrowly behind Byron after crossing the white line when a caution came out, ending the race.

That’s something that was a little disappointing as a fan. NASCAR said the caution fell after he drivers crossed the line, taking the white flag. This meant no overtime. Honestly, I think NASCAR was purposeful in making sure there was not overtime because they still needed to get the Xfinity race in last night. The announcers had just talked about 3 out of the last 4 500s finishing in a green-white-checkered finish. Unfortunately, Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric made contact, bringing out the final caution of the race. For us fans, we had to settle with NASCAR’s call to end the race, with William Byron taking the checkered flag. It was a one-two finish for Hendrick Motor Sports, with Alex Bowman coming in second. He was followed by Christopher Bell, Corey Lajoie, and Bubba Wallace to round out the top 5 spots. AJ Allmendinger, John Hunter Nemechek, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson, and Chase Briscoe finished out the top ten.

Where Are We Headed This Weekend?

This weekend, we are headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway. This is different than the schedule last year, but following Daytona to Atlanta makes sense. The track was originally opened in 1960, so it boasts a large history like Daytona. It most recently underwent a resurfacing in 2022, ultimately creating 28 degrees of banking through the turns and 5 degrees on the straights. It’s a 1.540 D-shaped quad-oval. Because of the length, banking, and overall configuration, Atlanta lends itself to high speeds and similar racing to the superspeedways. The only difference is that we’re not going to have the drafting lines like we do at Daytona and Talladega because of the length of the track. The reality is that drivers will hit those high speeds and maintain them throughout the track. There is very (if any) braking and nearly full throttle through the majority of the track. Drivers will end up spacing out and lapping many in the field as the race progresses.

Odds and Value Picks

When it comes to picking a winner, we’re going to have to take a look at those who had the endurance and speed to make it through Daytona. That said, the finishes at Daytona don’t necessarily warrant who we need to choose as a winner. We won’t see the wreck taking out nearly the entire field like we did on Sunday. Interestingly enough, the drivers who excel at both Phoenix and Las Vegas are also good choices for Atlanta winners. The difference is that last year, the drivers got to race at both of those tracks prior to getting to Atlanta. This year, they don’t have that luxury. Who excelled at Daytona? Well, obviously, William Byron was the winner, but did he have the best car, and was he the best driver? Denny Hamlin led for quite a while. Ross Chastain had his moment in the sun. Joey Logano also had a tremendous race going prior to being taken out in the big wreck at the end. There are a lot of different options, but we also have the historically good drivers here to look at, too. Let’s take a look at your potential winners heading into Sunday’s race with odds provided by Bovada Sportsbook:

  • Winner: Joey Logano +1000
  • Mid-Range Pick: Erik Jones +2500
  • Dark Horse: Corey Lajoie +4000

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Jones has a paid of top 10 finishes at Atlanta and is coming off an 8th place finish at Daytona. That’s certainly something that is going to give him some momentum heading into this season. Jones has an average finish of 14.2 with just six starts and is the 8th-best finisher here. Don’t count him out. This team is looking for some strength this year. With 2 top-10 finishes between Jones and John Hunter Nemechek, there’s something brewing. I believe we’re going to see a win from this team this year. Jones might just have what he needs early in the season. Corey Lajoie is a true underdog that folks will be watching this year. He runs the No. 7 Chevy for Spire Motorsports. Although he’s had his struggles, his 4th place finish at Daytona wasn’t happenstance. He held his line throughout the night and truly did not luck into that finish. Atlanta has given him 2 top 5 finishes in his career. This weekend, we’re likely going to see a version of Lajoie that is more motivated, more determined, and more excited than ever to get to victory lane. Maybe Atlanta will be his jam. For all of the drivers, though, Logano is going to be the man to beat. He was so close to winning Daytona before being taken out in that wreck at the end. He’s always had the speed at these tracks and actually has a win here last year. Often, after a big disappointment, these guys are looking for some redemption. Logano certainly has that opportunity this weekend.

While Daytona didn’t go in his favor, he has a chance to turn it around on Sunday. The standings after the 500 are often subject to some very large changes pretty quickly. As I mentioned last week, Daytona tends to lend itself to some unpredictable finishes. This means that some of our younger or rookie guys can often have a strong run or lucky finish. Frequently, we see that as a one-and-done. The consistency just isn’t there, and the fact that 2/3 of the field wrecks usually provides an unusual boost in strong finishes for sometimes not the best drivers. That’s not to take away from anyone who’s won a 500, but we have to remember that luck tends to play a huge role at any superspeedway. That’s just the way it goes. Let’s take a look at where the top 16 drivers are at after the first race of the season:

  1. William Byron
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Christopher Bell
  4. Chase Elliott
  5. Bubba Wallace
  6. John Hunter Nemechek
  7. Kyle Larson
  8. Kyle Busch
  9. Erik Jones
  10. Corey Lajoie
  11. Austin Cindric
  12. Denny Hamlin
  13. Chase Briscoe
  14. Zane Smith
  15. Noah Gragson
  16. Martin Truex Jr.

As you can see, Zane Smith and Gragson are in that top 16 for now. I don’t anticipate either of them hanging on for long. I think that they will both have huge growth this year, but the real racing starts at Atlanta. There is going to be some harsh competition coming into the weekend. Logano has a great shot, but he’s going to have some big names to beat. Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, and Denny Hamlin had fantastic runs at Daytona. Then we have William Byron, who won Daytona and also won another Atlanta race just last year. Who’s going to take it this weekend? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out! Watch Sunday on FOX as the drivers take to the track and get the real 2024 season underway.