Larson, Elliott eye Atlanta redemption for hot Hendrick team

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Chase Elliott (9) holds up his trophy after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, July 4, 2021, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have extra motivation to extend Hendrick Motorsports’ hot streak to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Larson’s four wins this season lead NASCAR’s top series. Elliott is the defending Cup champion and carries momentum from last week’s victory at Road America, the seventh win in eight races for the powerful four-car team that also includes William Byron and Alex Bowman.

But chasing a victory at Atlanta has proved elusive.

Larson led 269 of 325 laps and won the first two stages in Atlanta in March before fading late on old tires as Ryan Blaney took an improbable win.

Larson watched video of that race this week, hoping to avoid another heartbreaking letdown.

“I learned a lot in the moment,” Larson said. “I think there’s even more I can learn re-watching it. … You learn from everything, the good races, and you definitely learn from the races you feel like you gave away. So there’s definitely a lot to be learned.”

Elliott, from Dawsonville, Georgia, has never won in six tries on his home track. The spring race was especially frustrating as engine problems left him 38th.

Elliott clinched a playoff berth with his second win of the seasonlast week. A first win in Atlanta, where his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, was a five-time champion, would be special.

“I don’t know that I feel more pressure, but I certainly want to do good,” Chase Elliott said. “I feel that everybody who has a home track or a place that’s close to them, you always want to do good there, and it’s just been a place I haven’t done all that great at.”

Elliott will start on the pole, beside Kyle Busch. The starting lineup was set based on last week’s finish. Larson will start sixth.

AIMING FOR AN ATLANTA SWEEP

Blaney is still looking for a second 2021 win. He believes his return to Atlanta provides a good measuring stick for his Penske team.

“I think this weekend will be a really good idea to see where we stack up, going back to a place where we won,” Blaney said, adding “I think we’ll be good.”

REPAVING PROJECT ON DECK

For one final Sunday, NASCAR drivers can enjoy the old, battered Atlanta Motor Speedway track after years of lobbying to delay the inevitable resurfacing project.

This will be the last race before the track surface, which is 24 years old, is repaved and remodeled. The changes will bring higher banks and a more narrow racing surface.

Drivers who weren’t consulted on plans announced this week say change isn’t good. Some drivers say the tighter turns give more cause for concern than higher banks.

Track officials say the resurfacing was inevitable and fans will approve the new look.

NEXT GEN RACING

Track officials say the planned track changes were made with NASCAR’S Next Gen car in mind. Rodney Childers, Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief for Kevin Harvick, said “old-school racers” describe the conditions provided by the old, patched-up track as “good racing.” He acknowledged some fans don’t agree.

“A lot of people thought those races down there became boring because the runs became really long, they get spread out, the cars that were good on long runs would drive away from the field and all those things,” Childers said.

Childers said the Next Gen car, which debuts next season, is designed “to run wide-open all the way around.”

“You’ll be drafting a lot and kind of become a speedway race in a way. The cars will stay tightly packed together, probably more wrecks and all those things it seems people want to see these days,” Childers said.

ODDS AND ENDS

Larson is the 13-5 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Kyle Busch is at 17-2 and Elliott 10-1. … Five drivers have locked in their spot in the playoffs: Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Busch and Elliott. … Last week’s win was Elliott’s seventh in the last 11 road course races. … Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell and Denny Hamlin would clinch a playoff spot with a win at Atlanta. … There is a 58% chance of scattered thunderstorms, according to weather.com. Even with the clouds, heat will be a factor, with an expected high temperature of 84 degrees.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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