Column: NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Set To Venture Into The Unknown Of Atlanta Motor Speedway

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – HAMPTON, GA – Atlanta Motor Speedway takes center stage this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series stars arrive for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

NASCAR last raced at 1.54-mile Atlanta on July 11, 2021, and since then, the track has been repaved and reprofiled, with the racing surface narrowed from 55 to 40 feet in the corners.

Banking in the turns was increased from 24 to 28 degrees, the steepest incline of any intermediate speedway on the NASCAR circuit.

The new configuration should make for exceptional high-speed racing, prompting the sanctioning body to mandate a superspeedway competition package for the fifth event on the Cup schedule. Horsepower in the Next Gen race cars will be reduced to approximately 510, down from 670 at so-called open-motor tracks.

But for one of the most anticipated races of the season, the actual character of the racing remains unknown. Will fans see the type of pack racing typical of Daytona or Talladega, or will they see a hybrid of superspeedway racing and the type of competition that characterizes intermediate downforce tracks?

“I have no clue on this one, actually,” said Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. “I watched a couple laps of the test that they had, and I’ve heard people say that we’re going to be wide open and speedway racing on a mile and a half, and it’s gripped up. We’ll just have to see what that really is like.”

Ross Chastain, who participated in a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta in January, leans toward a pack racing prediction.

“It’s like a superspeedway—it really is,” Chastain said. “The transitions are a little sharper than Daytona and Talladega, but its smooth enough and has enough grip to that we’ll be OK. It’s Daytona minus a mile.”

To anticipate the racing at Atlanta, Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, has been studying the Daytona 500, the first superspeedway race with the Next Gen car.

“We’re looking heavily at what we learned at Daytona earlier this year, and there was a team test and wheel-force test in Atlanta since the repave,” Daniels said. “You can’t expect it to be like a normal intermediate track-type race…

“I think the race on Sunday will start out looking like a superspeedway race. But because of the tighter corner radius compared to Daytona and Talladega, there is going to be much more of a requirement for the car to handle well, and that could lead to the pack breaking up and it becoming more of an intermediate track race.”

Larson led 269 laps in last year’s spring event before being overtaken by race winner Ryan Blaney with eight laps left. Blaney’s victory was the fifth straight for Ford drivers, before Kurt Busch won the July race in a Chevrolet.

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