Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – HAMPTON, GA – Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice answered a lot of questions about the nature of racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
With NASCAR’s superspeedway competition package in place for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the 1.54-mile track (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)., Cup drivers quickly gravitated toward drafting in large, organized packs.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. topped the speed chart with a lap at 186.616 mph, edging Kyle Busch (186.390 mph) and Christopher Bell (186.321 mph).
“What you saw in practice is really what you’re going to expect,” said Stenhouse, who laid down the fastest time on his 41st and final lap of the session.
“I didn’t think the speeds were going to be as fast as they were… One mistake and you’re going to wipe out just about the entire field, if it’s at the front.”
Both Stenhouse and Bell expect white-knuckled, close-quarters competition in Sunday’s race.
“I found myself holding my breath several times,” Bell said. “It’s a full-blown speedway race, for sure. It’s going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, I can promise you that.
“It was full-blown chaos, and we’ve got 500 miles of it tomorrow.”
Ryan Blaney’s comfort level in new Next Gen car is growing
There’s no arguing that defending Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 winner Ryan Blaney has shown excellent speed this season.
He simply hasn’t had results that reflect the strength of his cars.
Blaney’s fourth-place finishes at Daytona and Phoenix sandwiched results of 18th and 36th at Fontana and Las Vegas, respectively.
As the season has progressed, Blaney has grown more comfortable with the feel of the new Next Gen race car, but he’s still learning its nuances.
“I still feel like everyone is still getting comfortable,” Blaney said. “There are always things you can learn, no matter what car it is for how long you’ve driven a certain race car, but I feel like my comfort level is pretty decent now. You’re still learning things every single week, but going to three very different tracks on the West Coast, you kind of understood what the cars liked, what they wanted, what they didn’t want, what you could or couldn’t do in them.
“So that was a big help having those three races out there at different tracks, and you’re still learning on what changes do what and how much to change, and raceability of those things… They drive and they race really well, so that’s been nice. You’re never going to be fully comfortable, but you’re just trying to get a little more comfortable than everybody else quicker.”
Kurt Busch hopes to go from last to first at Atlanta
On July 11, 2021 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch took the lead from Kyle Busch with 25 laps left and beat his brother to the finish line by 1.237 seconds.
Within hours of Kurt Busch’s victory, track workers at the 1.54-mile speedway began demolition work for the ultimate repaving and reprofiling of the layout.
The result, completed in December, included new asphalt and banking in the corners increased from 24 to 28 degrees. As fast as the track promised to be, NASCAR adopted a reduced-horsepower superspeedway package for Sunday’s maiden NASCAR Cup Series event.
Busch, a four-time winner at Atlanta, was the last driver to win on Atlanta’s degraded asphalt. He would like nothing better than to be the first to win on the transformed venue.
“That would be a dream come true in a sense with this situation,” Busch said Saturday before Cup practice. “Any time you can win—I would call this—an inaugural style event, it’s labeled for a long time.
“The old track and the character here, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss it after racing on it for so many years, but this is a brand-new AMS, and this is a brand-new type of feel and sequence on what it’s going to take to win. In the driver’s mind, and in a team’s mind, this is hyped up as an inaugural event.”