NASCAR fans can expect these drivers to contend in Atlanta

The annual three-race western swing is in the rearview mirror, and NASCAR returns to the East Coast for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. The race kicks off a trio of events at 1 1/2 -mile speedways, with Homestead-Miami and Texas following this week’s visit to the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Of course, that’s coronavirus permitting. As of Thursday, NASCAR planned to conduct the first two of those races with no fans in the stands.

Atlanta has two calling cards — high speeds and a worn-out racing surface. The two combine to make the venue one of the more exciting tracks on the schedule and a drivers’ favorite. The porous asphalt that dates to 1997 causes cars to slip and slide, putting much more of the outcome in the hands of the people behind the wheel. But because tires wear out so quickly on the rough surface, managing that degradation and utilizing pit strategy to ensure having the freshest rubber possible near the end of the race is a major factor in determining the outcome.

The season is only four races old, but patterns already are developing. Here are the drivers to keep in mind in Atlanta:

The Plays

Brad Keselowski (7/1): He has been red-hot at Atlanta, winning two of the past three years. Keselowski has an average finish of 13.0 dating back over the last 10 races at the track and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since 2015. Although Keselowski has not won in 2020, he has started the season solidly with a pair of top-10 finishes in the first four races, including a top-five run. Keselowski pilots a Ford, which has won the past three Atlanta races.

Kevin Harvick (4/1): Another Ford driver with a stellar Atlanta record, Harvick won at AMS in 2018 and has a streak of five consecutive top-10 performances. He has led a mind-boggling 1,061 laps at Atlanta over the previous 10 races, nearly 900 more than runner-up Denny Hamlin. Harvick was second last week in Phoenix and leads the NASCAR Cup Series points standings after four races.

Martin Truex Jr. (7/1): This year has been a struggle for the 2017 series champion, but Atlanta could be his tonic. Truex finished second here last year and has put together five straight top-10 finishes. He doesn’t have a top 10 this year, but that should change Sunday.

Kurt Busch (25/1): The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has the best average finish among active drivers over the past 10 Atlanta races with a sparkling 6.9 mark. He has a third and a fourth in the previous four Atlanta races. While Ford has dominated at AMS in recent years, this year’s Chevrolet stable, of which Busch is a member with Ganassi, has found some early speed. Busch will be a player Sunday.

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