The disputed finish to the Daytona 500 put a slight damper on the start of the season, but the enthralling Speedweeks indicates 2015 will be a year to watch in NASCAR.
There was three-wide racing that seemingly went eight rows deep. Some of the biggest names in the sport sat atop the leaderboard at different times throughout the day. At the end, it was Joey Logano who held the lead when the yellow flag waved to end the illustrious race.
All of this came after some shakeups for two of the biggest teams in the sport after the Busch brothers were unable to race. Kurt Busch was replaced by Regan Smith following his indefinite suspension being upheld. Matt Crafton filled in for Kyle Busch after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver suffered a broken leg during the Xfinity race.
With all of this change across the sport, there is a lot of team news to report. Ahead of the Atlanta race on Sunday, here's a look at the full race information, team news and top drivers for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Georgia
When: Sunday, March 1
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|2015 Sprint Cup Standings|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||42||0||1||1|
|8||Martin Truex Jr.||37||0||0||1|
Latest Team News
One of the biggest questions heading into Atlanta is: Who will occupy the vacant seats from the Busch brothers? Smith and Crafton filled in admirably for Stewart-Haas Racing and JGR, respectively, but would they stay in those roles moving forward?
For Smith, the answer was yes—for now. With Kurt Busch still suspended, it will be the Xfinity runner-up from last season who will steer the No. 41 car again on Sunday, per NASCAR.com. Smith voiced his thoughts on getting the opportunity at Daytona on Twitter:
Regan Smith @ReganSmith
Appreciate the 41 guys wheel their car today. Hate that we couldn't get up the the front and challenge at all. Disappointed but had fun.2015-2-22 23:02:47
Smith's last Sprint Cup race in Atlanta saw him finish 14th, which was a career high. After posting a sixth-place result there last September in an Xfinity race, Smith should be capable of competing again on Sunday.
The other ride, however, was a little more uncertain until Tuesday night.
Joe Gibbs weighed a few different options for the future with Kyle Busch's status remaining uncertain. On Tuesday, Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer reported JGR officials had met with David Ragan at their headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina.
Gibbs confirmed the report and spoke about having Ragan take over, via Utter:
Jim Utter @jim_utter
JGR confirms @DavidRagan to fill in for Kyle Busch in the Sprint Cup Series2015-2-24 23:01:22
Jim Utter @jim_utter
Joe Gibbs: "We are fortunate to be able to have someone of David’s caliber behind the wheel while Kyle recovers."2015-2-24 23:03:02
In the meantime, Atlanta Motor Speedway has responded to Busch's Xfinity crash by improving the SAFER barriers for this weekend's race. Jay Penell of Fox Sports reports a statement was released noting the track will extend the protective wall at the exit of Turn 1 and add a tire barrier to the inside of Turn 4.
Drivers to Watch
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports
Often the forgotten member of Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne has a chance to be the first member of the team to earn a win this year.
Over his career, Kahne has only won three or more races at two tracks—Charlotte and Atlanta. Though he's slipped in recent years with Hendrick, he recovered last year with a win at AMS after two straight seasons of finishing outside the top 20.
Given a three-year contract extension this offseason, Kahne had some of the pressure taken off. However, he did note that he was worried about it last season, via Nate Ryan of NBC Sports:
As far as my performance, I wanted to be better and do better. When I didn’t at times, things crossed my mind like, ‘Man, what is my problem. Can I not figure this out?’ Things that maybe Jeff (Gordon) mentioned had crossed his mind over the years.
But it’s racing. I love it. I know I can do it. I know if we put the right situation together, we’re going to win a lot of races still.
A great way to relieve even more of that pressure would be driving to Victory Lane again on Sunday. It would lock up a spot in the Chase much earlier this season and likely secure a chance for Hendrick to have all four drivers in the postseason again.
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing
Making the switch to a new team has been a blessing for several drivers in recent years. Matt Kenseth finished second in points after his switch over to JGR. Last year, Kevin Harvick won a title in his first year with SHR.
Now behind the wheel of a Gibbs machine, Carl Edwards is hoping to find similar success.
Even with the recent results from other drivers, Edwards felt some anxiety after moving over to JGR.
"I feel that right now and I'm actually nervous and I think that's good," Edwards said during media day, via Tom Jensen of Fox Sports. "That's a motivator and for me it's an opportunity right now. I'm way outside of my comfort zone and that's good. Hopefully it yields good results."
So far, so good. Edwards didn't have a great result in Daytona, finishing 23rd, but he was still competitive throughout the race. Heading to Atlanta, he has a much better shot at earning his first win with Gibbs.
Similar to Kahne, Edwards has three victories in Georgia. However, his last win was back in 2008. Since that point, Cousin Carl has four top-five finishes, including his most recent run last September.
Looking to make a statement with his new team, expect the No. 19 car to run up near the front on Sunday. If he can keep a clean car on the 1.5-mile track, look for Edwards to pull out his first backflip as a JGR driver.
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing
So, things didn't get off to a great start for Kyle Larson at Daytona. Then again, he really hasn't found a lot of success at the superspeedway yet in his young career.
Oh, has he ever succeeded at intermediate tracks, though.
As a rookie in 2014, Larson finished with a flurry of top 10s and competed for wins at myriad intermediate tracks. In his 12 points races on that style of track last year, Larson compiled seven top 10s, including an eighth-place result in Atlanta.
Fans can expect similar results for Larson on Sunday, with the possibility of his first victory coming in Atlanta. After all, it would be a fitting start for a driver who seems destined to make the Chase in just his sophomore season at the Sprint Cup level.
Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.