Reconfigured Atlanta Passes Test

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 21 2022

The racing at Atlanta was super speedway style. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

HAMPTON, Ga. – Using immediate fan reaction as an indicator, Speedway Motorsports got it right.

When SMI officials announced last summer plans to redesign Atlanta Motor Speedway, it immediately drew the ire of many marquee NASCAR drivers.

Their beef was two-fold: how could SMI expect the best stock drivers in the world, who would  be in the midst of working out the kinks in the Next Gen car, to compete on a narrow 1.5-mile track with 28 degrees of banking that figured to produce Daytona-style side-by-side racing for 500 miles?

The competitors were also miffed because SMI and NASCAR never consulted them about the track redesign. In fact, the drivers learned about the radical changes through a press release.

Kevin Harvick, one of the most vocal proponents of the old Atlanta abrasive, worn-out racing surface offered this in July:

“I don’t think (track changes) worked out very well for Texas,” he said. “I don’t think it worked out well for Bristol and I don’t think it worked out well for Kentucky.

“I don’t think any of those were very good. So I think if you just keep winging it and don’t get the drivers’ input, you’re just going to keep getting the same conclusion.”

After Kyle Busch won the final Xfinity Series race on the old AMS surface last summer, he sarcastically said “I sure am glad to win on a real Atlanta race track, because the next one is going to be shit.”

Fast forward to Sunday night and you could easily make the argument Atlanta could remarket this joint as Daytona North.

The hype following Saturday’s thrilling Xfinity and Truck Series races coupled with ideal weather on Sunday created a fever pitch of anticipation that something special was in store for the near-capacity turnout of fans.

And Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 delivered by producing a record number of lead changes and spectacular racing throughout the day. In the process, it left the Cup garage littered with battered, high-priced machinery.

The inaugural, speedway-type race on a 1.5-mile track was greeted afterwards with mixed reaction throughout the garage.

After climbing out of his No. 45 Toyota, a mentally-taxed Kurt Busch immediately began lobbying for a change when the series return to Atlanta this summer.

“I hope we go back to unrestricted horsepower here in July,” he said, referencing the low-horsepower and high-downforce package the Cup teams ran this weekend.

Asked if he’d be in favor of Busch’s suggestion which would create more separation between the cars, race winner William Byron chuckled and said “I doubt (NASCAR) is going to change it after the way this race turned out.”

AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchinson labeled Sunday’s 500 an “amazing event.” But don’t expect a run on the redesign of 1.5-mile tracks on the NASCAR circuit in the immediate future.

“Yeah, let’s not go and repave every 1.5-mile rack in the country,” second-place finisher Ross Chastain said. “I believe Atlanta can be its own thing and people can get excited about it.

“But if we put 28 degrees of banking on every 1.5-mile track, that’s not our future. As a competitor, we want to lift. I’m fine with doing this a couple of times because (Atlanta) is a cool place.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 21 2022
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