This week’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a home race for the sport’s Most Popular Driver, 24-year old Chase Elliott of Dawsonville, Georgia. There will be plenty of family and friends joining a huge fandom in the stands and Elliott would love nothing more than to earn his first victory of the season at the venue.
It would be fantastically popular and fantastically important.
Elliott, the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is in third place in the NASCAR Cup Series standings, only 20 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. He’s climbed up the standings with a pair of top-10 finishes in the last two races – fourth in California and seventh at Phoenix last week, where he also won the Busch Pole position.
Elliott has a series best three stage wins. And he’s led laps in three of the four races, including a race best 93 laps at Phoenix. His 70 laps out front at Las Vegas were second only to Harvick’s 92 laps led. Neither of the drivers, however, has won a race. Yet.
Atlanta Motor Speedway certainly is a prime prospect for Elliott to celebrate mightily in Victory Lane. He has three top-10 finishes in four NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, including a best of fifth place in 2017. His worst showing was in 2019 when Elliott finished 19th.
Interestingly, for as good as Elliott’s results have been, he’s never led a lap at Atlanta.
Elliott’s early season success is just one of the bright spots for the Hendrick Motorsports organization in 2020. Three of its drivers are ranked among the top 10 in the standings – Elliott is third, 20 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. Alex Bowman – the Auto Club Speedway winner – is fourth, 26 points out. Jimmie Johnson is fifth, 33 points back and after a hard-knocks start to the season William Byron has broken into the top-20 and is part of a two-way tie with Bubba Wallace at 18th place in the standings
It’s the first time the team has had three drivers ranked in the top 10 after four races since 2015 (Kasey Kahne, fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., sixth and Johnson, seventh).
Bowman has the early season victory and the one top five in four races. Elliott and Johnson each have a pair of top 10s and one top five. And Elliott leads the whole series in stage wins (three) and laps led (186). Bowman also has topped the 100-lap mark in laps led with 113.
And the best news for the organization is the success has been spread out. Elliott’s 17th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 was the best for the team. Johnson’s fifth place at Las Vegas was tops. Bowman won at California. And Elliott (seventh) and Byron (10th) both had top-10 runs last weekend at Phoenix – the first top 10 of the year for Byron.
While more recent Atlanta races have been dominated by two-time winners Harvick and Brad Keselowski, Johnson actually leads the series in the most important statistics. His five victories in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet are most in the field – nearly double that of any other driver (Kurt Busch has three). Twice he won back-to-back races – sweeping the 2007 season and winning in 2015-16. Johnson’s 14 top-five and 16 top-10 efforts are also best among the competition. And he’s tied with Harvick for the top driver rating (100.5).