NASCAR at Atlanta: Lineup, start time, race preview, picks, predictions, how to watch Ambetter Health 400



When the checkered flag flew in the Daytona 500, only one driver — William Byron — was able to achieve the ultimate goal of Speedweeks and become the champion of NASCAR’s biggest race. With that title settled, the attention of Byron and more than 30 other drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series now turns to fulfilling their season-long goal of becoming a Cup champion. And this weekend, the first race of the rest of the season after Daytona presents just as frenetic a pace and intense a challenge as what the field just went through.

NASCAR doubles up on speedway races to start the 2024 season, with the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway marking the Cup Series’ second-straight race on a drafting track. Atlanta has quickly become one of NASCAR’s premier action tracks since its reconfiguration in 2022, with the combination of sustained speeds and pack racing contained to just 1.5 miles in length creating exciting racing that is sure to challenge nerves that have already been exhausted by last week’s Daytona 500.

This trip to Atlanta is a welcome one for William Byron, as he has won two out of four races in Atlanta’s new era. If he adds a third this weekend, he will become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 and then win the second race of the season since Matt Kenseth did so in 2009.

How to Watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta

Date: Sunday, Feb. 25
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway — Hampton, Georgia
Start time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: Fox | Stream: fubo (try for free)

What to Watch

In the fallout of the end of the Daytona 500, two of the central characters involved — Austin Cindric and Corey LaJoie — shared conflicting opinions of what occurred to spark the contact that sent Cindric into Chastain, the two spinning into the infield and across the track, and brought out the caution that ultimately gave William Byron the victory. Given what was said — and given their histories in the draft and at Atlanta — it is expected that the spotlight will be on those two this weekend.

Speaking to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports after getting out of the infield care center, Cindric was critical of the way LaJoie drove coming to the white flag, claiming that he “tried to fit a car where there wasn’t a car and just continued to push through my left rear until I wrecked.”  LaJoie responded by saying that he had seen Cindric “do a lot of dumb things too” and that the two aren’t friends, then later put the onus of responsibility for the accident on Ross Chastain for trying to cut to the bottom of Byron while Cindric was there during his Stacking Pennies podcast.

“I understand that in the moment, it’s just hectic and you feel like you’re getting pushed too hard and this and that, and you probably haven’t even seen the tape,” LaJoie said. “But clearly his race was ended, and his finish was impeded, by the 1 trying to make the bold move down to the bottom to go underneath the 24, and it didn’t work out for either of them. Hate it for ’em.”

Since its reconfiguration in 2022, Atlanta has served as arguably LaJoie’s very best racetrack, as he has two straight top fives in the spring race — a fifth in 2022 and a fourth in 2023 — while also nearly winning the track’s second race in the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, Cindric has finishes of 3rd, 11th, and 12th in his last three Atlanta starts, including last July when he led 10 laps.

Provided they both stay out of harm’s way, Cindric and LaJoie should find themselves up front again this weekend. And if they find each other in the draft again, both of their races may be determined by whether they can put their differences behind them and work together, or if they fend for themselves in the aftermath of their Daytona disagreement.

News of the Week

  • In the day that followed the Daytona 500, a sentiment of dissatisfaction emerged among competitors and other observers with how the race was run, specifically as it pertained to drivers in the pack running half-throttle or more trying to save fuel to make their pit strategies work and give them the best track position possible. That dissatisfaction extended all the way to NASCAR itself, as senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer acknowledged that the sanctioning body was looking into ways to eliminate strategies where drivers try to maximize their fuel savings in order to spend as little time as possible getting fuel on pit road and gain track position as a result.

    “It is something that we’re looking into,” Sawyer told SiriusXM. “Ultimately we want to drop the green flag on the race, and (have them) racing as hard they can until we drop the checkered flag. There’s some strategy in-between there, and we will definitely take a much deeper dive at this particular situation and the strategy that goes into it.”

    When asked if NASCAR has considered changing the size of the fuel cell on superspeedways to combat such strategies, Sawyer said that “the short answer is yes”.

  • A significant development took place during Speedweeks in the ongoing negotiations between NASCAR and its race teams on the renewal of the charter agreement, as the Associated Press reported that the teams have hired Jeffrey Kessler of Winston & Strawn LLP — one of the top antitrust lawyers in the United States — as an advisor after representatives from NASCAR did not attend a Saturday meeting with the majority owner from each of the 15 chartered Cup Series teams. As the current charter agreement is set to end at the end of 2024, negotiations between NASCAR and its teams have broken down, with the teams declining last month to extend their exclusive negotiating window with the sanctioning body.

    23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin expressed disappointment in the state of negotiations on his podcast, particularly given the way NASCAR CEO Jim France declined to take the opportunity to speak with team owners desptie being present for the Daytona 500.

    “All I think the teams are wondering is ‘You’ve said ‘no’ over and over and over to us. We’re just looking for an explanation of why, and we haven’t got that ‘why’ yet other than ‘it just is,'” Hamlin said. “There’s a story to be told on the owners’ parts, and obviously hiring Jeffrey is a big step for the owners. But I think a lot of it is just protection for the team owners.

    “Obviously there’s a lot of language and so much red tape when it comes to charter agreements and whatnot that you’ve just got to make sure that you’ve got all the protection that you need. Because charter agreements are a big deal to us,” he added.

    The hiring of Kessler as an advisor to NASCAR’s race teams is a major development, as Kessler’s claims to fame in his legal practice include the establishment of free agency in the NFL as well as the establishment of financial stipends for Division I college football and basketball players among other cases.

  • Kaulig Racing announced Thursday that Derek Kraus will drive their No. 16 Chevrolet in six Cup races this season, starting with the third race of the season at Las Vegas followed by both Phoenix races, the spring races at Kansas and Darlington, and Gateway in June. Kraus, who ran full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series from 2020 to 2022, drove part-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig last year while also serving as the team’s simulator driver. He gained some Cup experience at Richmond last July, when he practiced and qualified the No. 16 in fill-in duty for A.J. Allmendinger.

Ambetter Health 400 starting lineup

  1. #34 – Michael McDowell
  2. #22 – Joey Logano
  3. #8 – Kyle Busch
  4. #38 – Todd Gilliland
  5. #5 – Kyle Larson
  6. #12 – Ryan Blaney
  7. #17 – Chris Buescher
  8. #2 – Austin Cindric
  9. #14 – Chase Briscoe
  10. #3 – Austin Dillon
  11. #24 – William Byron
  12. #19 – Martin Truex Jr.
  13. #11 – Denny Hamlin
  14. #4 – Josh Berry (R)
  15. #10 – Noah Gragson
  16. #21 – Harrison Burton
  17. #48 – Alex Bowman
  18. #23 – Bubba Wallace
  19. #45 – Tyler Reddick
  20. #41 – Ryan Preece
  21. #1 – Ross Chastain
  22. #20 – Christopher Bell
  23. #99 – Daniel Suarez
  24. #6 – Brad Keselowski
  25. #54 – Ty Gibbs
  26. #31 – Daniel Hemric
  27. #47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  28. #9 – Chase Elliott
  29. #71 – Zane Smith (R)
  30. #16 – Josh Williams
  31. #51 – Justin Haley
  32. #7 – Corey LaJoie
  33. #15 – Kaz Grala (R)
  34. #42 – John Hunter Nemechek
  35. #77 – Carson Hocevar (R)
  36. #78 – B.J. McLeod
  37. #43 – Erik Jones

Pick to Win

Christopher Bell (+1400) — Maybe this would have been more of a solid lock if we were still talking about the slick, worn-out Atlanta of old, but Christopher Bell has been a factor on the final lap of both Atlanta spring races since the track’s reconfiguration. Bell crossed the finish line second in 2022 only to be penalized for passing below the out-of-bounds line, and last year gave Joey Logano the push he needed to win the race on his way to finishing third. Bell is coming off of a win in his Duel race and a third place in the Daytona 500 during Speedweeks, and given that I’m banking on him working the draft well again and being at the front at the right time.

Which drivers have the inside track to winning at Atlanta, and which longshot has a chance to burst out of the pack and get to the front? Visit SportsLine now to see the 2024 NASCAR at Atlanta picks and best bets from auto racing hanicappers Phil Bobbitt and Steve Greco





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