dr Diandra: Atlanta is a chance for Trackhouse to pick up steam again

Today’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a chance for Trackhouse Racing to regain the momentum it lost last week.

Daniel Suárez arrived in Phoenix with three top 10 finishes, including a top five. He was penalized several times in Phoenix for speeding: he raced in the pit lane. He then had to do a straight lap and was speeding in the process (citing an error in the team’s pit lane calculation). Suárez fought his way back into the lead lap but finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain had two top 10 finishes and a 12th place – leading the overall standings. Chastain was sixth as he approached the final restart but found himself in the wrong place which was somewhere close to Denny Hamlin. Chastain finished 24th.

Aside from Trackhouse regaining his momentum, a win could also slow down the Hendrick Motorsports attack.

And a Trackhouse win would give Chevy five wins out of five.

Trackhouse’s finest next generation superspeedway

My last post highlighted underdogs with the potential for a strong finish in Atlanta. In the 2022 Superspeedway overall average, Chastain ranks sixth and Suárez ninth.

But superspeedways are not created equal.

Atlanta offers the same style of pack racing as Daytona and Talladega—but Atlanta is a full mile shorter. Everything goes faster. Drivers don’t have the time to think and plan that long straights allow.

Aside from asking more of the driver, a car that works on the bigger speedways might not drive well enough for Atlanta. Balance is much more important this weekend.

These differences directly contribute to Trackhouse’s strengths.

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The chart below shows the average finishes of Atlanta drivers in yellow and Talladega & Daytona in blue. The chart only covers 2022 because that’s all the data we have for the next-gen car. I only accepted riders with an average of 15.5 or better in Atlanta.

Chastain and Suárez average finishes around 20 in Daytona and Talladega. However, when it comes to Atlanta, Chastain and Suárez are first and second with average scores of 2.0 and 5.0.

Chastain finished second in the spring and summer races at the redesigned track. These placings are despite being involved in two accidents in each race. Suárez was fourth in the first race and sixth in the second.

Trackhouse puts up fast cars in Atlanta. Chastain qualified second in the second race and seventh in the first. Suárez qualified 13th in the first race and seventh in the second.

But speed is not the only factor. Both drivers completed both races despite accidents. They also won (or didn’t lose) positions in the last 10% of each race.

The competition

Chastain and Suárez aren’t the only drivers looking to get back on track in Atlanta.

It’s hard to gauge how dangerous Kyle Busch is because he changed teams this year. He averaged a 26.5 at Atlanta last year with Joe Gibbs Racing but had a brilliant run at this year’s Daytona 500.

If you’re wondering about Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he’s averaging a 31.0 at Atlanta, with DNFs at both races.

Trackhouse’s biggest competition in Atlanta comes from Hendrick Motorsports. Trackhouse always placed just behind HMS in Atlanta last year.

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William Byron, coming to Atlanta with back-to-back wins, won the first race in Atlanta in 2022.
Chase Elliott won the second.
Chastain led the second most laps in the first race in Atlanta. Byron led the most.
Chastain led the third most laps in the second race in Atlanta. Elliott dropped the most, followed by Byron.
Suárez’s 46 points at the spring race is (with Ryan Blaney) the third most points earned at a race in Atlanta in 2022.

Chase Elliott takes first place with a perfect 60 point race.
Second is William Byron with 52 points.

But 2023 brings new circumstances. At this point last year, neither Chastain nor Suárez had ever won a Cup Series race.

Elliott will not be competing in Atlanta this year due to a broken left leg. His replacement, Josh Berry, earned his first top 10 last week. But Berry has only collected two races in the next-gen car. None are on superspeedways. He finished 33rd and 2nd in the Xfinity Series in Atlanta last year.

Alex Bowman comes to Atlanta with a 21.0 track average, while Kyle Larson’s average is 21.5. Their average 2022 scores at Talladega/Daytona are 15.7 and 22.75, respectively.

Excluding Elliott, Byron is the highest-ranked HMS driver in terms of Atlanta average finish at 15.5. In addition to the spring win, a fall in the summer race relegated him to 30th place.

But Louvergate puts HMS drivers at an even greater disadvantage. Her crew chiefs are serving four-week suspensions, although HMS has appealed the penalties. Hendrick has a deep bank, but any interference causes hiccups.

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This year, Trackhouse has a huge advantage over Byron at this race: no driver wants Byron to win. It’s better for everyone if no rider accumulates too many points, stage points or playoff points. Chase Elliott proved that last year.

But to win in Atlanta, the Trackhouse drivers must address issues that have plagued them in previous seasons.

Suárez has a history of speeding penalties and has a knack for giving them too late in the race to recover from them. Getting a pass-through penalty in Atlanta likely means losing several laps if a driver has to serve it in green conditions.

Chastain’s aggressive driving has made enemies. Chastain dropped 18 positions after last week’s standoff with Hamlin. But even a rider who chooses not to work with Chastain can quickly send him to the back.

Source : nascar.nbcsports.com

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