Atlanta Motor Speedway heats up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series
Highspeed action this season has the NASCAR Xfinity Series thrilled for some more great racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway as part of a double-header Saturday that will feature the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race, the Vet Tix Camping World 200, at 1:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) directly followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the EchoPark 250, at 4 p.m. ET (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Atlanta Motor Speedway has hosted 28 NASCAR Xfinity Series races dating back to the inaugural event in 1992 (won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon). The 28 Xfinity races have produced 17 different pole winners and 17 different race winners. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch leads the Xfinity Series in poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway with six. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins (five), top fives (11), top 10s (13) and laps led (973) at the 1.54-nile track. Joe Nemechek is the only former Atlanta race winner (2001) entered in this weekend’s race, and fans will be guaranteed to see a new Xfinity Atlanta pole winner this weekend as none of the former series pole winners are entered.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has the oldest surface the NASCAR Xfinity Series competes on all season, which has made for great racing and has several drivers excited about this weekend’s challenge.
“The old age and grittiness of the surface in Atlanta makes for great racing because the tires fall off and the cars will start slipping and sliding around,” said JR Motorsports Noah Gragson heading into this weekend at Atlanta.
“It’s another one of those places that’s kind of slick and worn out, and I love that type of track,” said Chase Briscoe. “It plays into my dirt-racing background, and it’s just a lot of fun to be on those low-grip tracks.”
This season’s Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the EchoPark 250, will be 163 total laps that will be broken up into three stages. The first stage will end on Lap 40, the second stage will end on Lap 80 and the final stage is scheduled to end on Lap 163.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has been the home to four drivers getting their first NASCAR Xfinity Series win – NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (1992), Mike Skinner (1999), Jamie McMurray (2002) and Carl Edwards (2005). Twenty-six of the 36 drivers entered this weekend are looking for their first series win. Atlanta has also been the track four Xfinity drivers got their first series career pole, including the first pole by a female competitor in NASCAR national series history – Shawna Robinson (March 12, 1994), Tim Bender (1997), Ryan Newman (2001) and Chase Elliott (2014).
Standings leader Harrison Burton continues record rookie streak
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Harrison Burton continued to make history last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, notching his fourth consecutive top-five finish to start the season in as many races. This is the seventh time in series history a driver has started the season with four top fives and Burton is the first and only rookie in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to accomplish the feat, and the sixth driver all-time; joining Sam Ard (1984), Kevin Harvick (2005), Carl Edwards (2009, 2010), Elliott Sadler (2012) and Kyle Busch (2014). The series record for the most consecutive top-five finishes to start a season is eight, by Kyle Busch in 2014. In fact, Busch is the only driver to make it to five straight top fives to start a season.
With a win (California) and four top fives to start 2020, Burton has a grasp on the series standings lead by three points over second-place Chase Briscoe. This weekend will be Burton’s series track debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and though Burton is off to a record pace, adding a little extra pressure this weekend is the fact the No. 20 JGR team won this race at Atlanta last season with driver Christopher Bell. Bell dominated the event, leading 142 of the 163 laps (87%).
On the bright side, Burton isn’t a complete stranger to Atlanta Motor Speedway, he made his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series debut at the 1.54-mile facility for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season – starting second and finishing in the top 10 (eighth).
“I have some experience at Atlanta,” said Burton. “I’ve ran the Trucks there, ran really good last year in the truck. I think I was running second most of the race to Kyle (Busch). I felt like I was a 10th faster than the field and he was a 10.5 faster than me. But that was a good race for us. I finished eighth or so, just had a bad restart at the end. Ran up front all day. So, I have some experience at Atlanta.”
4 For 4: Xfinity winners aplenty
Since going to the ‘select a series’ format in NASCAR in 2011, this season is the first to see four different NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contenders visit Victory Lane in as many series races to start the year.
Last weekend at Phoenix, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones added his name to the 2020 wins list, joining his JGR teammate Harrison Burton (California), Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe (Las Vegas) and JR Motorsports’ Noah Gragson (Daytona). All four Xfinity drivers have now virtually locked themselves into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs by virtue of their victories.
Looking ahead to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, padding their points and adding more wins to the boxscore should be their goal going forward.
Harrison Burton will be making his series track debut this weekend attempting to defend both his driver standings lead and his rookie standings lead. Gragson made his Atlanta track debut last season, starting fourth and finishing ninth. Brandon Jones has made four series starts at Atlanta with an average finish of 11.5, and Briscoe has made two series starts with an average finish of 15.0.
Who keeps the Xfinity Series’ different winner streak rolling?
The two names jumping to the top of most lists when asked, ‘Who is closest to a win this season?’ are JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric. Both put up wins last season and made it deep into the Playoffs, and now both are back this season running strong.
The high-level skills of veteran Allgaier are a consistent theme in his performances on track, and this season has been no different. The 33-year-old from Riverton, Illinois, has run up front leading the most laps (140) and winning the most stages (three) of any Xfinity driver this season. In fact, he has led laps in every race this year, but only has one top-10 finish in four starts to show for the effort. Now, Allgaier is ninth in the series driver standings, 38 points behind the standings lead, but Atlanta Motor Speedway could be the track where he finds Victory Lane. In nine starts at the 1.54-mile raceway he has posted two top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 11.0. Interestingly, he put up his career-best performance at Atlanta last season, starting seventh and finishing third.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Atlanta,” said Allgaier. “Our JR Motorsports Camaros have had a lot of speed this season and this No. 7 team has been stout every week. We’ve led a lot of laps and won some stages, now we just need to put it all together and get that victory. I feel like we’ve got a great chance to get it done this weekend.”
Austin Cindric’s breakout season last year was just a precursor to what he hopes this season can be. The 21-year-old from Mooresville, North Carolina, has already been impressive this year collecting two top fives and three top 10s in his first four starts. He’s third in the standings, the highest ranked driver without a win yet this season, just 21 points back from Harrison Burton in the standings lead. This weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway should be a continuation of his early success this season. In two starts, he has two top 10s and an average finish of 8.5 – best among the drivers entered.
Both drivers have a chance to keep the NASCAR Xfinity Series different winners to start the season streak alive. The record for the highest number of different winners to start a NASCAR Xfinity Series season is 13 back in 1988; followed by 1987 with 10 different winners, then 2018 with nine and 1998, 2006 with eight.
The 1988 and 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons are tied for the series-most different winners for the entire season with 18 each.
Georgia On My Mind: Sieg and Jones are amped to compete at their home track
Two drivers from Georgia entered in this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the EchoPark 250 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), are extra revved-up about racing at their home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway – RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg from Tucker and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones from Atlanta.
The 32-year old driver Ryan Sieg and his family-owned organization, RSS Racing, are based in Tucker, Georgia, Sieg’s hometown. The team is run by Ryan’s father, Rod Sieg, and the duo have competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2013 when they made their series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This season Sieg is having a career-best start, in four races he has gathered two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 6.75 – second-best behind series standings leader Harrison Burton’s 2.75. Sieg and Burton also are the only two drivers that have completed 100% of their laps attempted this season.
“It definitely makes you feel good to get some top fives early in the season,” said Sieg following Phoenix. “We’re super excited to get to Atlanta and race there.”
Sieg heads to Georgia this weekend seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 33 points back from Burton in the standings lead. Sieg has made six series starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway posting a best finish of 11th in last season’s race.
Following his first win of the season last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, the site of the Championship 4 Playoff finale later this season, is Atlanta, Georgia’s own Brandon Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing. Much like Sieg, Jones is also having a career best start to his season posting a win, two stage wins, two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 10.2. Not to mention, he won at Phoenix by out-racing arguably one of the best to ever compete in the series, his JGR teammate Kyle Busch.
“We are coming off a huge win at Phoenix Raceway and our 19 team is really excited about our 2020 season,” said Jones. “We have a lot of momentum and we are headed to my home track at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta has not always been one of my strongest tracks, but neither was Phoenix. Our team is up to the challenge that the track brings with the old surface which makes saving tires part of the strategy. Our No. 19 Toyota Service Centers team has spent a lot of time over the off-season preparing for Atlanta; we probably put in 200-laps around the track using Toyota’s simulator. It’s a fun race and the Atlanta fans are great. I think if we get our Supra dialed-in to run the bottom of the track, we will be the team in Victory Lane.”
Jones has made four series starts at Atlanta posting an average finish of 11.5; including his career best finish of fourth at the track last season.
Loop Data stats point to Chase Briscoe as the driver to beat in Atlanta
Scrolling through the facts and figures in this week’s NASCAR Xfinity Series pre-race Loop Data packet and it’s easy to see whose name is atop most of the key statistical categories heading into this weekend’s EchoPark 250 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Atlanta Motor Speedway – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe.
Briscoe is currently second in the series driver standings, just three points behind Harrison Burton in the standings lead after posting a win (Las Vegas), two top fives and three top 10s on the year.
The 25-year old grabbed the checkered flag at the first 1.5-mile track (Las Vegas) on the Xfinity schedule earlier this season, and the loop data says Briscoe could be the one to beat come Saturday. He leads the series in driver rating (112.9), average running position (5.953) and fastest laps run (98). He is also second in laps led (110) and fourth in laps in the top 15 (92.5%, 619 laps) at Atlanta.
Briscoe has made two series starts at Atlanta, posting an average finish of 15.0. But the Indiana native can find solace knowing his SHR organization won in an alliance with Fred Biagi in 2018 with driver Kevin Harvick and finished second last season with Briscoe’s then teammate driver Cole Custer at Atlanta.
NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.
Getting to know EchoPark – Last week Atlanta Motor Speedway announced EchoPark Automotive (“EchoPark”) as the proud sponsor of its upcoming NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday, March 14, 2020 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“It takes great partners to do what we do, so we’re beyond thrilled to have EchoPark as our title sponsor,” said AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison.
Launched in the fall of 2014, EchoPark currently has nine locations and has transformed how consumers buy pre-owned cars, offering one to four-year old vehicles priced 20-40 percent below new car pricing. All vehicles come with a clean CarFax history report and 190-point inspection.
This year’s EchoPark 250 will be the first NASCAR race sponsored by the organization and is a part of Atlanta’s NASCAR double-header following the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race, the Vet Tix Camping World 200, earlier that day.
“We’ve been a member of the Atlanta community for years with several Sonic Automotive dealerships and look forward to sharing our EchoPark experience with guests when we open our doors later this year,” said David Smith, CEO of Sonic Automotive, Inc. and EchoPark Automotive, Inc. “We are excited to be the title sponsor of this NASCAR Xfinity Series race and believe fans will thoroughly enjoy the race weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.”
Approaching Milestones – Mike Harmon Racing’s Joe Nemechek is just two starts away from becoming just the sixth different driver to make 450 or more NASCAR Xfinity Series starts. He currently has 448 Xfinity Series starts dating back to 1989. … Motorsports Business Management’s driver Chad Finchum will attempt to make his 75th NASCAR Xfinity Series start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Playoff Bubble update – Brandonbilt Motorsport’s driver Brandon Brown jumped from 13th to 12th, the final Playoff transfer spot, in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, leap frogging DGM Racing’s Alex Labbe. Brown sits four points ahead of Labbe heading to Atlanta; followed by Josh Williams (-8) in 14th and Myatt Snider (-12) in 15th.
Fun Stat of the Week – Seven of the last 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series races have been won by the driver who has led more than 100 laps (70%); including 2019 (Christopher Bell, 142 laps), 2018 (Kevin Harvick, 141), 2016 (Kyle Busch, 119), 2015 (K. Harvick, 101), 2014 (K. Harvick, 159), 2013 (K. Harvick, 132) and 2011 (Carl Edwards, 101). The three drivers to lead less than 100 laps and win were Kyle Busch in 2017 with 26 laps led, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2012 with 16 laps led and Jamie McMurray in 2010 with 48 laps led.