GFT Facts & Stats Friday: NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle
8 min readFeb 23, 2024

23 February 2024
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News

HAMPTON, GA — This season Atlanta Motor Speedway returns to the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time since 2019. Previously, the historic 1.54-mile track served as the follow-up event to the season-opening DAYTONA 500 from 2015–2019, but this is the first time the track has hosted the second race of the season since being reconfigured to run the superspeedway package on the cars. In total, Atlanta Motor Speedway has occupied 30 different positions on the NASCAR Cup schedule since joining the series in 1960.

Go Full Throttle Racing News Facts & Stats Friday for the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Image Credit: GFT Digital)

From 1960–2010, Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted multiple NASCAR Cup Series races during each season; starting in 2011 the series began only visiting Atlanta once a year (2011–2020). The 2021 season was the first time since 2010 that the series visited the facility more than once a year. Also, from 1987 to 2000 Atlanta Motor Speedway held the final championship race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway, and it hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race on July 31, 1960. The inaugural Cup race was a 300-mile/200 lap event that had 45 competitors and was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts from the pole position in a 1960 Pontiac. Cotton Owens led the most laps that day (52), but Roberts took the lead with just 13 to go to grab the victory.

Pole starting position has its benefits in Atlanta

In total, there have been 119 NASCAR Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960, and 16 of the 119 events have been won from the pole or first starting position — tied with the fifth starting spot as the most proficient starting positions on the grid with 16 wins each (13.45%).

Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the spring NASCAR Cup Series Spring 2023 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Image Credit: Getty Images/NASCAR)

Last season Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the spring NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway from the pole position, becoming 15th driver to accomplish the feat. Heading into this weekend, 53 different drivers have won at least one pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series, and 26 drivers have posted multiple poles at the 1.54-mile track. Five of the 53 NASCAR Cup Series Atlanta Motor Speedway pole winners are entered this weekend.

All the NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity at Atlanta Motor Speedway begins this Saturday, February 24 with Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 11:30 a.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The repaved Atlanta Motor Speedway — the “intermediate Super Speedway” (Image Credit: Atlanta Motor Speedway)

Atlanta front-runners to watch this weekend

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with nine victories (1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000). William Byron (2022, 2023), Brad Keselowski (2017, 2019) and Kyle Busch (2008, 2013) lead all active NASCAR Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway with two victories each.

In total 48 different drivers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta, seven of the 48 are active this weekend.

Byron looks to become sixth driver all-time to open season with back-to-back wins

Hendrick Motorsport’s driver William Byron just won the DAYTONA 500, the biggest race of his career, and now has the chance to become the sixth different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to open the season with back-to-back wins; joining Lee Petty (1954), Marvin Panch (1956), David Pearson (1976), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Matt Kenseth (2009).

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA — FEBRUARY 19: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and crew celebrate in victory lane after winning he NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Looking ahead to this weekend at Atlanta, Byron is the most recent winner at the newly reconfigured 1.54-mile track, grabbing the victory last July. The North Carolina native, Bryon, has made nine series starts at Atlanta, leading 173 laps and posting two wins (2023, 2022), two top fives and three top 10s.

Several drivers are hungry for their first win, Atlanta could deliver

Atlanta Motor Speedway has been the home to the first wins of some famous names in the sport, like the recently retired Kevin Harvick, who has joined the FOX Sports TV booth this season. In total, six different drivers have won their first NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

This weekend at Atlanta, 15 different drivers are still looking for their first win in the NASCAR Cup Series — (in alphabetical order) — Josh Berry, Harrison Burton, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Kaz Grala, Daniel Hemric, Carson Hocevar, Corey Lajoie, B.J. McLeod, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith and Josh Williams.

Hendrick Motorsports has 17 wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway

One organization stands way out front on the list of organizational NASCAR Cup Series wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and that is Hendrick Motorsports with 17 wins (2023, ’22 sweep, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’11, ’07 sweep, ’04, ’03, ’00, ’98, ’95, ’91, ’89) at the 1.54-mile track. Sitting in second on the list Wood Brothers Racing with 12 wins (1993, ’81, ’79, ’76, ’73 sweep, ’71, ’69, ’68, ’67, ’65 sweep), and just in their review is Joe Gibbs Racing in third with 11 wins (2013, ’12, ’08, ’06, ’03, ’02, ’01, ’99, ’98, ’97, ‘96).

Next Gen car performance stats so far in 2024

Mix up a little high-speed Daytona action, accompanied with an ultra-competitive superspeedway package on the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car, and you get some of the stellar racing we saw last weekend. Below are some of the statistical highlights from the season-opening event:

· The 2024 DAYTONA 500 produced 20 different leaders — the third-most lap leaders in the prestigious race’s history; behind the 2011 (22), 2010 and 2023 races (21 each).

· The 2024 DAYTONA 500 produced 41 lead changes at the start-finish line — the 11th-most lead changes in the race’s history. The Next Gen car has produced consecutive DAYTONA 500s with 40 or more lead changes — 2023 (52) and 2024 (41).

· The 2024 DAYTONA 500 produced 267 Green Flag Passes for the Lead — the most for the DAYTONA 500 since the inception of the stat in 2005; surpassing last season’s record of 204 Green Flag Passes for the Lead.

· The 2024 DAYTONA 500 produced 11,922 Total Green Flag Passes — the fourth-most for the DAYTONA 500 since the inception of the stat in 2005; behind the 2015 (12,677), 2014 (11,977) and 2016 (11,959) races.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Update: Smith leads the rookie bunch coming out of Daytona

This season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year class have all made their first start of the season last weekend at Daytona, and its Spire Motorsport’s Zane Smith that posted the best finish (13th) of the group and currently holds the rookie standings lead.

The DAYTONA 500 was a mixed bag for the 2024 Sunoco rookies, Kaz Grala and Carson Hocevar were caught in a multi-car incident on Lap 5 of the race and were relegated to 38th and 40th-place finishes, respectively. Zane Smith won the Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award for finishing the highest (13th) and Josh Berry was next highest finishing rookie in 25th.

Looking to this Sunday, Josh Berry has made one start at Atlanta, posting an 18th-place finish in this race last season. The other three rookies — Hocevar, Smith and Grala — will all be making their series track debuts at the 1.54-mile track this weekend.

Upcoming Milestone Starts in the NASCAR Cup Series

Below are some milestone starts drivers can achieve in the NASCAR Cup Series in the next few weekends.

Daniel Hemric will reach his 50th Cup start at Las Vegas, Tyler Reddick will reach his 150th Cup start at Phoenix-1, Christopher Bell will also reach 150 Cup starts at COTA.

Veteran NASCAR Broadcaster Doug Rice (Image Credit: PRN)

PRN Broadcaster Doug Rice to serve as Grand Marshal at Atlanta, additional dignitaries announced — Legendary award-winning NASCAR broadcaster and Performance Racing Network (PRN) President and Lead Anchor Doug Rice will give the command to start engines on his final season in the broadcast booth at the Ambetter Health 400 on Feb. 25. Rice will serve as Grand Marshal for the NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the first of 15 of Cup events that “Doug’s Last Lap” will encompass in the 2024 season at venues across the nation.

“I’m tremendously thrilled to be the Grand Marshal for the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” said Rice. “Getting to give the command to start a Cup race checks a huge box in my career.”

Rice developed a passion for radio broadcasting as a young man listening to Atlanta Braves games and has since become an iconic voice in the world of motorsports. Over his 36-year career in NASCAR broadcasting, Rice has called play-by-play on 210 NASCAR Cup Series races, immortalizing countless historic racing moments.

Additional dignitaries that will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend include, Two-time Georgia Country Female Artist of the Year Mary Kate Farmer who will perform the Star-Spangled Banner, Eric Izquierdo of Intouch Financial Group will waive the green flag as the honorary starter.

Fans who attend will also have a chance to see a pair of F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing out of Langley Air Force Base as they perform a flyover above the speedway.

And the pre-race entertainment will be performed by Georgia native Jon Langston, with his blend of Southern soul and modern-country on Sunday. Before Langston’s performance, DJ EU will be spinning sound and fun atop the pre-race stage.

NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, February 25 at 3 p.m. ET

The Purse: $9,137,793

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (260 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 260)

*NASCAR News Wire Service contributed to this report

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association