From the high banks of Daytona, NASCAR now moves on in its 36-race schedule this Sunday, as the drivers of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, the XFINITY Series and the Monster Energy Cup Series head 400 miles north to the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway for the only stop of the 2019 season.
Last year, Kevin Harvick dominated the field at Atlanta, as he led 181 laps and cruised to victory lane. Will he be able to get back on track in 2019 after a poor finish to open the season, or will the Stewart-Haas driver continue his early season skid? These are five drivers to watch this Sunday in the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500.
Look up consistency in the dictionary, and you will most likely find a picture of Kevin Harvick. The Bakersfield, California native has compiled at least 20 top-ten finishes in each of his last four seasons on the senior circuit. Last year was a career year for “The Closer,” with eight wins and a whopping 23 top-five finishes. Despite finishing 26th in the Daytona 500, Harvick has won twice at Atlanta in his illustrious career, and is a safe bet to at least register a top ten this weekend.
The seven-time champion is currently in the longest losing drought of his storied career, but if anyone can break out of a winless streak on a moments notice, it is Johnson. When you have won five times at a track and registered 16 top-ten finishes, chances are you will be in the running late in the race for the win. Expect Johnson to have a strong run and possibly snap his long losing streak en route to his 84th win.
At first glance, this pick may seem a bit confusing, but right now, Almirola is having the best stretch of his career, dating back to last year’s fifth place finish in the standings. The driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford won the pole for this Sunday’s race and was also second in the first practice. Almirola has a fast car and may be in a position to pick up his first career win on a non-superspeedway track.
Like Almirola, Bowyer also had a strong qualifying, finishing third while topping the charts in opening practice as well. He has never won at Atlanta, but after a resurgent season last year in which he won multiple races for the first time since 2012, the Stewart-Haas veteran has his confidence back and is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
The 2017 winner of this race is usually near the top of the leaderboard at Atlanta, as he finished second in last year’s race and came home ninth in 2015 and 2016. Paul Wolfe and Keselowski are one of the most dominant driver-crew chief combos in recent memory, and if the Michigan native is able to get his car the way he likes it, he may very well be able to earn redemption for coming up just short last year.