HAMPTON, GA. – After four races in 2021, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski sat 1-2 in the NASCAR Cup Series points – now, Hamlin and Keselowski are 27th and 18th in points after four races this season.
Hamlin and Keselowski have also combined for just three lead-lap finishes – two by Hamlin and one by Keselowski – compared to the four top-10 finishes they combined after four races a year ago.
The comparisons continue as Hamlin and Keselowski head to Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track being compared to drafting pack speedways of Talladega and Daytona following a repave and reconfiguration to narrower, 28-degree turns – after the July 11 Quaker State 400.
At Talladega, in particular, Hamlin and Keselowski have won two of the last three NASCAR Cup Series races. In the last four Daytona 500s, they have either won or led the most laps – including this year’s 500 where Keselowski led the most laps and earned his only Top 10 this season.
Entering the weekend, Hamlin was unsure of what to expect.
“I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if we are going to be drafting. I don’t think we are going to be tight pack racing,” Hamlin said at Phoenix regarding what he expected for Atlanta. “It’s not going to be Daytona or Talladega, but are they going to be grouped together – how are you going to build your car, all of those things are going to be a question mark and I have no clue what I’m getting into.”
In NASCAR Cup Series practice Saturday, drivers ran packed together in multiple Daytona/Talladega-esque lines for as long as 50 laps or more – and the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series’ racing was shades of Saturday practice.
Denny Hamlin ran the 8th-fastest time – just 0.128 seconds behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s practice-winning time – and had the fastest 10-lap average, on laps through 30 through 39.
Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski ran the 34th-fastest time – 0.514 seconds behind Stenhouse – and had the 29th-fastest 10-lap average on laps 28 through 37.
After qualifying was rained out, the metrics had Hamlin starting 15th and Keselowski starting 24th Sunday.
The tale of the weekend echoes the tale of the season: Hamlin has had speed but no luck while Keselowski has been more hot and cold.
Hamlin qualified well at Phoenix and had race-winning speed at Las Vegas and Daytona but ran into a myriad of issues in each race; whether it be speeding penalties, a spin and transmission issues or a wreck.
Keselowski ran well at Daytona, lost speed after incidents in the top 10 at Auto Club and Las Vegas – and had little-to-no speed at Phoenix.
Hamlin looks strong heading into Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta (3 p.m. ET; TV: FOX, Radio: PRN; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) but Keselowski may have some work to do to capture his superspeedway glories at NASCAR’s newest superspeedway.