William Byron arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a ton of momentum working in his favor as he chases several rare feats this week.
Not only is Byron the defending champion at the Ambetter Health 400, he is attempting to become the first driver to win three consecutive Cup Series events since teammate Kyle Larson did so en route to winning his first title in 2021.
Byron is also trying to race the No. 24 to Victory Lane three consecutive times for the first time since Jeff Gordon won four straight races 25 years ago. Gordon would go on to win his third Cup Series championship that year.
An extra obstacle for all four Hendrick team drivers are the penalties levied for the unauthorized modification of the hood louvers in their cars. Byron’s crew chief, Rudy Fugle was fined $100,000 and will sit out Sunday’s race despite Hendrick appealing the penalties.
Byron also lost 100 championship points and 10 of the 13 Playoff points he earned in his victories at Las Vegas and Phoenix, but that doesn’t detract from how well he has been running of late.
“It feels like we’re more consistently towards the front, and we’re leading laps,” Byron said of his hot start to 2023, comparing it against two early victories he recorded last year.
Chevrolet drivers have won the first four races of 2023, and Chevys occupied five of the top six spots in last year’s spring race at Atlanta.
AMBETTER HEALTH 400
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 19, 3 p.m. ET
Defending Champion: William Byron
Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 400 miles
William Byron (+900 at BetMGM)
Byron is riding a pair of victories into Atlanta, where he won the first race on the repaved track last year while using NASCAR’s new superspeedway competition package. Partly due to his favorite odds, Byron has been modestly backed at the sportsbook with 4.7 percent of the total bets and 6.1 percent of the money.
Kyle Larson (+1000)
Larson is coming off a fourth-place finish in Phoenix, where he led 201 laps. However, he has never won a Series event on a superspeedway and has only one top-5 in 36 career starts. That hasn’t deterred the public, which has backed him with the most total winning bets with 11.6 percent, making Larson BetMGM’s second-biggest liability this week.
Ross Chastain (+1200)
Chastain finished 0.145 seconds behind Byron in last year’s race and was the runner-up in both Atlanta events in 2023. Chastain typically runs well on superspeedways, including a win at Talladega last year, and is fourth at BetMGM with 4.8 percent of the tickets and 8.7 percent of the money backing him.
Ryan Blaney (+1200)
Blaney is coming off a runner-up showing in Phoenix for his second top-10 through the first four races. He won this race two years ago, was fifth in the second Atlanta race last year and has four top-5s in his past five starts at the track.
Alex Bowman (+1600)
He doesn’t have a win yet but among full-time drivers, but Bowman boasts the best average finish this season at 6.25. That has vaulted him into the points lead, and Hendrick drivers won both Atlanta races last year. On the downside, Bowman has a 20.6 average finish at superspeedways.
Kevin Harvick (+2000)
Harvick is the sportsbook’s biggest liability at Atlanta, drawing the most money at 17.0 percent and the third-most total bets at 7.9 percent.
Daniel Suarez (+2500)
Suarez handled the new surface well in 2023, running fourth in March and sixth in July. He is coming off a 22nd in Phoenix, but Suarez did finish seventh at Daytona and fourth at Fontana to kick off the season.