The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series put on a wild race last Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, but now they move on to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a doubleheader race with the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
One could assume that a race on a 1.5-mile track like Atlanta will be tame, but that assumption could very well be wrong. All that has to be done is to take a look back at last year’s race. It was a race filled with teammates wrecking one another, and a driver cutting a tire down while leading late in the race.
Christopher Bell is one driver looking for redemption in this year’s running of the Active Pest Control 200. Bell was on the side of two dramatic moments in last year’s race. He caused a wreck with just under 30 laps to go following a chaotic restart, and that wreck just so happened to take out teammate and race contender Daniel Suarez. A few laps later while leading, Bell cut a tire down and went hard into the wall. He could sniff the checkered flag last year, but finished 26th after coming up eight laps short.
The theme of this year’s race might just be Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott are all entered in Saturday’s race, and all have a very real chance of winning, which will make it hard on the truckers. Busch will drive the No. 51 Toyota for his own team while Dillon pilots the No. 99 Chevy for MDM Motorsports, and Elliott wheels the No. 23 Chevy for GMS Racing, last year’s champion and last week’s winning team.
Elliott isn’t the only driver out of GMS Racing’s stable, and he surely isn’t the only one who can win, either. Alex Bowman is wheeling the No. 24 this weekend in place of Justin Haley who is still too young to race 1.5-milers. Bowman has yet to win a race in one of NASCAR’s top-three divisions, but after being close all too many times, a win has to be on the way. Elliott and Bowman’s teammates Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala are just as able to win. Sauter, last year’s champion, has never won at Atlanta in the Truck Series, but he has won six of his 13 races on 1.5-mile tracks. Grala enters Atlanta with momentum from his surprise Daytona win, so he might be able to keep that momentum up.
Another driver looking for a win at Atlanta is defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek. Nemechek was able to take advantage of Bell’s tire misfortune to lead the final eight laps of the race and win his first of two races in 2017. Admittedly, it will be tough for Nemechek to back-to-back, but after a fourth-place finish at Daytona, momentum might be on his side.
Since Atlanta proved last year that it can provide some surprises, other drivers to keep an eye on include sophomore driver Ben Rhodes, young Chase Briscoe and even Parker Kligerman. Kligerman finished 8th in this race last year, and is driving for Henderson Motorsports, a team that finished just one spot behind him with Caleb Holman at the wheel.