NASCAR drivers, fans excited for second go-around at Atlanta Motor Speedway

William Byron leads the field during the QuikTrip 500 earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Quaker State 400, set for Sunday, will be the second race at the revamped track. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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William Byron leads the field during the QuikTrip 500 earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Quaker State 400, set for Sunday, will be the second race at the revamped track. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Quaker State 400, set for Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, will be the second race at the revamped track.

Reviews from the QuikTrip 500 in March generally were positive, with drivers citing the excitement of the event and fan experience. William Byron won that race, which featured more than 27 wrecks and 46 lead changes. Byron described it as “mentally and physically taxing,” but it was a hit with fans.

“Atlanta was a pretty fun race,” said Daniel Suarez, who recently became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race. “Very different Atlanta than what we have (had) in the past. … (The track was) different. I think it was a very fun race. I mean, when you’re fast, you have fun all the time. So maybe I’m a little biased. But, yeah, it worked out very good for us (Suarez finished fourth in March).”

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The Quaker State 400 comes during an important period because the season is now past the halfway point. Chase Elliott, a Dawsonville native who always receives hometown support when racing at AMS, leads the Cup standings with 624 points. Behind him are Ryan Blaney (591), Ross Chastain (589), Kyle Larson (553) and Joey Logano (551).

Elliott, who led the QuikTrip 500 with 72 laps to go, finished sixth in the race. He’s finished in the top seven of his past two races in Atlanta, but he’s still seeking his first home-track victory.

He expects to attack the Quaker State 400 differently than the QuikTrip 500, but Elliott said he expects everyone to be better prepared having experienced the new track.

“I think it’ll be exciting again, and teams will be better prepared,” Elliott said last week. “We were just getting our season started, everybody was short on cars, so now everything is a bit more caught up, and we’d like to think we’re more knowledgeable on the setup side of things. I’m sure everyone will be better and have a better understanding of how that race played out and how to be successful.”

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On the reprofiled narrower track, Elliott added: “It’s different. But I think from a fan’s perspective, everybody really enjoyed it. It was an entertaining event. Speedway racing isn’t something I’m always a huge proponent of, but I feel like for what we had in Atlanta, to go from that to the kind of event we had in March, I haven’t heard one fan who was at the race or someone watching on TV say they didn’t have fun watching or attending. That, to me, tells the story.”

The race is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, which is expected to be a typical summer scorcher in Atlanta. Elliott, despite being accustomed to the conditions, admitted he’d prefer the race at a different time.

“I wondered why we’re doing it in the middle of the day in July,” Elliott said. “We need to ask our friends at NBC, I guess, why that’s the case. They need to spend more time in Atlanta in July. Maybe they’d think about putting it at night – for us, but more importantly, for the people watching – down the road.

“Speedway racing isn't something I'm always a huge proponent of, but I feel like for what we had in Atlanta, to go from that to the kind of event we had in March, I haven't heard one fan who was at the race or someone watching on TV say they didn't have fun watching or attending. That, to me, tells the story."

- NASCAR driver Chase Elliott

“I think it’s great we have two races here. This is a great track to have two events here in the heart of the Southeast. But I definitely think we should reconsider those things. It’s going to be hot; you just have to be hydrated and prepared. That’s about all you can do. And embrace it.”

Kurt Busch won last year’s Quaker State 400. Elliott, Blaney and Chastain are the betting favorites at plus-1,000, per DraftKings odds. Blaney won the QuikTrip 500 a year ago, while the other two haven’t won in Atlanta.

Tickets to the Quaker State 400 are available on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s website.