Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp looks to bounce back from a tough Daytona 500.
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It’s race day at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Following are five bold predictions for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (FOX, 12:30 p.m. ET), Race No. 2 of 36 on the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
5. Denny Hamlin won’t go 2-for-2
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Sure, Hamlin was the fastest in "Happy Hour," but history proves it’s very difficult for a driver to open up a season with back-to-back wins. The last driver to do it was Matt Kenseth in ’09. Before that, the last driver to do it was Jeff Gordon in ’97. For Hamlin to win on Sunday would be a remarkable achievement coming off an exhausting whirlwind weeklong media tour that followed his Daytona 500 triumph.
After a dismal Daytona 500 performance that saw Hendrick Motorsports fail to put a single driver in the top 10, the 11-time Sprint Cup champion organization placed three of its cars in the top five in final practice at Atlanta, as Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott held down positions 3-5, respectively. The Hendrick bunch is simply too good to have another outing that mirrors Daytona.
3. The racing won’t disappoint
Aside from Kyle Busch having his Atlanta pole run negated by an issue in post-qualifying inspection, these are good times for Toyota. On the heels of Busch delivering the Japanese manufacturer its first Sprint Cup title last season, Toyota came out of the gate swinging at Daytona by placing four cars in the top five and winning The Great American Race for the first time, thanks to the last-lap exploits of Hamlin. Expect another strong day from the Toyota bunch, especially after Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. finished final practice 1-2 on the speed chart.
1. There will be at least one really hard wreck
Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at AMS produced not one but two downright vicious hits as both Matt Crafton and Christopher Bell clobbered the outside wall in separate incidents in the final laps. Of course, who will ever forget a few years ago when Brad Keselowski’s car went airborne and tumbled violently here after a bump from Carl Edwards? It might not be a restrictor-plate track, but Atlanta’s 1.5-mile layout is wicked fast, which by nature makes it prone to produce wrecks that can look downright frightening.