The NASCAR Xfinity Series makes its first “return” trip of the season, racing for the second time in 2021 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Credit Karma Money 250 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Justin Allgaier is hoping for an Atlanta season sweep. He beat NASCAR Cup Series regular Martin Truex Jr. in March for the Atlanta victory and has been among the hottest fulltime Xfinity Series drivers of late, finishing in the top-five in three of the last four races – including runner-up work at both Texas and Nashville. The 1.5-mile Atlanta track has been particularly good for the driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. He has seven top-10 finishes in 11 career starts, including the last four races there.
Allgaier’s JRM teammate Noah Gragson is another driver with a good history at Atlanta. He’s had an inconsistent year with a series high six DNFs, but Gragson has never finished outside the top-10 in three Atlanta starts, including a runner-up finish in 2020 and fourth place this March.
The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet has yet to win a race this season, but, has answered an uncharacteristic streak of three DNFs with four top-10 finishes in the last four races. He sits 10th in the championship standings with nine races remaining to set the 12-driver Playoff field.
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric leads all fulltime series drivers with four wins in 2021, but has two finishes outside the top-10 in the last four races. Although Cindric has not won previously at Atlanta – his best finish is seventh in 2018 – he has been particularly strong at 1.5-mile tracks, where he has four top-five finishes this season. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford has led laps in 16 of the 17 races to date. His 534 laps out front nearly 200 more than the next best total (Daniel Hemric’s 345).
These drivers expect good competition this weekend from Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, who sits second to Cindric, in the championship. Allmendinger earned his first career NASCAR oval victory at Atlanta last year and shows up this week with seven top-six finishes in the last eight races, including a win at Mid-Ohio. In two Atlanta starts he has a win (2020) and a fifth place (2021).
Similarly, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Hemric has continued to turn in the top-10 results. He was runner-up to Busch at Elkhart Lake, Wisc. last week. In four Atlanta starts, he’s never finished worse than 11th.
Of course, the biggest challenge on the grid for fulltime series drivers this weekend is Kyle Busch, who has literally been perfect this season in the Xfinity Series winning all four races he’s competed in. This weekend marks the last Xfinity start for the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and he’d love to tie up his 2021 work with a victory circle ending. He won his last two Xfinity Series starts at Atlanta – in 2016 and 2017 – and has five more runner-up showings in 13 career Xfinity races at the track. Three times he’s led at least 100 laps.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!