Weight of Atlanta Weekend Still Lingering For Playoff Hopefuls
In seasons past, it was easier for teams and drivers in NASCAR's top division to bury races in their collective memories. But with the sport's current points and playoff format, no race can be taken for granted, making every race of the season, including the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, one that drivers may look back on and lament if they end up missing out on the NASCAR Playoffs.
In short, a driver's missed opportunity to seal an early-season victory somewhere like Atlanta could come back to haunt them, an element that shines a brighter spotlight on AMS, which makes it a critical race not just for teams, but for fans to keep a very close eye on.
During a season that has been marked by a number of first-time winners, the pressure has been turned up a notch for top drivers in the series, some of which contended for a title in NASCAR's top division last season. As it stands now, just six spot remain in the NASCAR playoffs. Among the drivers who have not yet won? All four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, in addition to Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray.
In fact, of the top ten finishers in this year's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, six of them have yet to qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs with a win. Perhaps no driver had a day more worthy of a victory only to come up short at Atlanta than Harvick.
He dominated the race, leading a staggering 292 of 325 laps, only to have his shot at a win undone by a late pit-road penalty. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott, none of whom have made their way into Victory Lane yet this season, finished inside the top five here in March. Adding to the list of drivers who have not yet gotten a win in 2017 but finished within the top-ten here are Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray. Logano is in need of another win as a result of his Richmond victory being ineligible for playoff points due to a penalty infraction.
There may be a 26-race fight to get to the NASCAR Playoffs, but drivers and fans could very well point back to Atlanta as a race that might have altered their playoff chances.