Minter: Debris From ‘The Wreck’ Hid Big Stories
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Hampton, Ga. – “The Wreck” at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday wound up overshadowing everything else that happened there that day, which is what is to be expected when wrecks are used as one of the main tools to promote NASCAR racing.
Among the stories that were shuffled aside Sunday night was the amazing performance by the Ford drivers from the Richard Petty Motorsports camp.
While many tended to write off the team, with its instability of recent seasons on top of a switch from Dodge to Ford, the RPM drivers were a major force at Atlanta.
Kasey Kahne in the No. 9 led the most laps but got shuffled back to fourth at the finish.
“The track changed quite a bit the last 50 laps, and we just didn’t keep up quite like we needed to to win the race,” he said.
Just behind him at the finish was Paul Menard, in one of his best runs ever in a Cup car. His crew opted for two tires on the final stop, which put him front and center for the run to the checkered flag but at a disadvantage, tire-wise, on Atlanta’s worn pavement.
Still he hung on for a top five and is now ninth in points.
“These guys work their tails off all during the offseason, and it was a lot of fun out there (Sunday),” he said. “All of our cars were fast this weekend….I think Richard Petty Motorsports is back.”
And to back up his point, he pointed out that it was another RPM driver, A.J. Allmendinger, who followed him across the line at the finish and was met on pit road by his team owner, Richard Petty, who made his way there to congratulate the driver of the team’s flagship No. 43.
Matt Kenseth’s best-ever run at Atlanta was pretty much overlooked. He finished second, giving him two top-five and four top-10 finishes in the first four races of the season, a remarkable streak given that he swapped crew chiefs, from Drew Blickensderfer to Todd Parrott, after the season opener.
He’s now second in points, just 26 markers behind Kevin Harvick, who languished at the back of the pack most of the day before rallying to finish ninth.
And Steve Addington, the crew chief who was no longer good enough for Kyle Busch, took the other Busch back to Victory Lane at the same track where he got his first Cup win as a crew chief back in 2008 with the younger Busch.
“It’s a good feeling to know your driver wants you to go to work for him,” Addington said in a statement that showed a lot of class but still made a strong point.
And how about Scott Speed, 10th at Atlanta and 12th in points and tied with Jeff Gordon points-wise.
There were some at Atlanta who likely were relieved that most of the post-race attention was diverted to Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski.
Among them was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started on the pole but never led a single lap and had to race hard at the end just to finish 15th,
And then there was Goodyear, which came to Atlanta and tested in January and decided on a new left-side compound only to see a rash of blown tires.
On another day, Ryan Newman’s post-race quotes would make the headlines.
“Goodyear’s got some work to do,” he said. “It’s a safety situation. We popped [a tire]. There are a lot of guys who popped one. It was too sensitive for the guys who didn’t get it right. The guys who had their cars just right, yeah, they didn’t have any issues. But either way, they’ve got a little bit more work to do here.”
He disagreed with the suggestion that the tire situation was improved overall from previous AMS races, where tire issues have been more troublesome.
“No, we blew tires today,” Newman said. “Last time we didn’t blow tires.”
And he didn’t agree with Goodyear engineers who attributed the blow-outs to aggressive chassis set-ups.
“That’s what they always say, right?” he said.
And the AMS folks were probably just as glad that the empty seats on Sunday were barely mentioned afterward. But that story could have been turned into a positive one, as even with Georgia mired in a recession and local unemployment continuing to climb and unseasonably cold weather – it snowed on Tuesday of race week – ticket sales were still up over last year’s Kobalt Tools 500.
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment