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Sarah’s Weekly Picks: Atlanta Edition

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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and our Sarah Handy breaks down her picks and who you may want to pay attention too this weekend.

Top Picks:

Jimmie Johnson: He may have had a rough start to his 2018 season after being involved in accidents in The Clash, his Duel race and The Daytona 500, however, if you’ve watched NASCAR at all over the last 10 years you can’t mention Atlanta Motor Speedway and not think of Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet team for Hendrick Motorsports.

Johnson has 5 wins at the 1.5-mile oval, which leads all active drivers. He most recently won at the track back in 2016 when he tied the late Dale Earnhardt in wins in the Cup Series (76).

Last season in this same race Johnson finished 19th, certainly not his best showing at a track he has had success at. Johnson was caught speeding twice on pit road which put him multiple laps down and mid-pack for most of the race.

Even so, you can’t count against 7-time here. In 19 starts at the track he has an average start of 11.1 with an average finish of 10.1 to go and has led 585 laps.

Atlanta could very well be the track where Johnson gets his 84th MENCS win and first win of 2018 which would secure him a playoff spot very early on in the season.

Kevin Harvick: It’s hard to believe that the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Champion only has one lone win at Atlanta. That win came all the way back in March of 2001 in his first Cup attempt at the track after he replaced Dale Earnhardt Sr., after Earnhardt’s untimely death in the Daytona 500 that same year.

Harvick has led the most laps in 4 of the last 5 races at the 1.5-mile track without a win.

Last year Harvick won the pole, led the first and second stage, and led a race high 293 of the schedule 325 laps. He seemed poised to capture his second win at the track, but a late error would prevent that from happening.

With only 14 laps remaining in the race Harvick was caught speeding on pit road which sent him to the back of the field. He ultimately finished the race in the 9th position with Brad Keselowski taking the checkered flag, his first at the track.

I think if anyone can battle with Johnson for the win on Sunday it’s going to be the driver of the No. 4 for Stewart-Hass Racing. His statistics at the track are out of this world, therefore, a second victory is bound to happen at some point and with 12 wins on intermediate tracks that’s even more reason to keep him in mind.

Dark Horse Picks:

Kasey Kahne: It may be a long shot to consider Kahne a potential win contender heading into the second race of the season, but he’s still one to watch when it comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kahne has 3 wins at Atlanta which is only second to Johnson’s five when comparing active drivers.

Kahne’s last win at the track back in August 2014, before that he took the checkered flag in September of 2009 and March of 2006. His victories are all fairly spread out, but I still wouldn’t count him out.

Kahne’s average start of 10.7 and finish of 17.86 aren’t the most booming statistics just remember he two poles at the 1.5-mile track and has led 353 laps as well.

Oh, and those 1.5-mile tracks, he’s pretty good at those, he has four victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway which yep you guessed it, is also a 1.5-mile track.

Kahne is another driver that didn’t have the Daytona 500 results he was hoping for after finishing in the 34th position. Atlanta could be his chance to rebound if not with a win than a decent finish in his No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing.

Kyle Busch: The driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing has 2 career cup wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway but hasn’t won at the track since 2013. Busch’s first win at the track back in 2008 where he led 173 laps and captured his first win with JGR.

Last season Busch finished in the 16th position but he could rebound this year and captured his third win at the 1.5-mile track.

Busch may not have led any laps in this race last season but heading into the 2017 event he had his No. 18 out front for the last six of eight Atlanta races.

Busch certainly isn’t my top pick to win on Sunday but he’s the only other active driver in the MENCS besides Johnson and Kahne to have more than one win at the track which is enough to at least keep your eye on him through out the race.

Who to keep an eye on:

Brad Keselowski: The driver of the No. 2 Ford Fusion for Penske Racing passed Kyle Larson with six laps remaining to win this race last year to win his first race at Atlanta. This is really the only reason I say to keep an eye on BK. While anything can happen in a race, Atlanta certainly isn’t one of Keselowski’s best tracks. In 9 starts his average start is 16.7 with an average finish of 18.11. Before his win last season, he had back-to-back 9th place finishes and before that finished 39th and 35th.

Martin Truex Jr: The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion and dominated on 1.5-mile tracks last season. Seven of his eight wins last season came on 1.5-mile tracks.

Truex’s average finish in 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last season was 2.4. In the last six 1.5-mile tracks last season Truex had five wins and one runner-up finish.

Truex also became the first driver to win 4 consecutive races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Those statistics are mind blowing and one reason Truex could dominate on Sunday and claim his first checkered flag of 2018.

In the last three races at Atlanta, Truex has finishes of sixth, seventh, and eighth.

If I were the rest of the field, I’d be very afraid with how well Truex and his No. 78 team for Furniture Row Racing ran last season. Sunday could very well be the continuation of last years dominance.

*Editorís Note* Every Friday of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, contributing writer Sarah Handy will give you her picks for that weekend in our weekly feature, Sarah’s Weekly Picks.

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About Sarah Handy

Sarah is going into her third year covering NASCAR for Rubbings Racing as well as helping run their Social Media platforms. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Sarah is an avid racing fan as well as a fan of the major New England sports teams. She is currently studying Public Relations and Marketing at SNHU with plans to move to North Carolina after graduation. Sarah also enjoys visiting her home track of NHMS each year, reading, running and photography.

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