The Top Five: Breaking down the Atlanta race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway…

1. Answer blanks

If it was possible to learn even less than we expected at Atlanta, that’s what happened. There were zero answers to anything, and nothing conclusive was revealed that would help shed any light on how this season will unfold.

For example:

— How did the new rules package perform? Trick question! That was only part of the new rules package, and Atlanta’s worn-out surface only offered a reflection of future races if you like looking in funhouse mirrors.

“This is a one-off race,” Clint Bowyer said. “There is no track we go to anymore that is as slick as this and as hard on tires.”

— Who was the fastest car? Debatable! Kyle Larson led the most laps and was great in clean air, but only finished 12th after he had to restart in traffic. Martin Truex Jr.’s chance at a win was denied because he couldn’t pass a lapped car for a long time. Kevin Harvick had bursts of speed but faded, and Brad Keselowski was a top-five car who capitalized on the timing of a caution.

“I got out of the car and I was like, ‘How did the 2 win?'” Erik Jones said. “I don’t think today is a good judge (of speed). It was an odd race.”

— Who is in trouble? No one! Yeah, Hendrick Motorsports’ top finisher was 15th, so that’s a bad day. But when everyone drafts at Vegas next week, Hendrick might be just fine. It’s definitely not a Chevy problem, because the Ganassi cars looked good. So who knows? I don’t. You don’t. They don’t.

As much as I’d LOVE to jump to conclusions about everything — the racing, the championship favorites, the potential playoff misses — there really aren’t any answers to be had.

That’s frustrating in some ways, but in other ways it keeps the intrigue going while the predictable racing — which was hated so much when the Big Three dominated last summer — is kept at bay.

2. Atlanta still Atlanta

If you didn’t know there was anything different about the cars, what would you have noticed about this year’s racing at Atlanta compared to last year?

The cars did seem noticeably slower from the press box view, and they also seemed to hang together on restarts a bit longer. Other than that, it looked like a typical Atlanta race — wild restarts followed by strung-out racing, long green-flag runs and an exciting finish out of nowhere.

The rugged surface makes it such a quirky place, I’m not sure there’s any form of stock car racing that would look any different over the course of 500 miles. I don’t care if it’s the Gen 5, Gen 6, Gen 7 or the Gen 12 (assuming the Gen 12 isn’t flying cars); Atlanta is just Atlanta, and if you show up expecting anything more, you’re going to be disappointed.

3. Keselowski guts it out

Do you remember the last time you had the stomach flu or food poisoning? Remember how it felt?

Whoa, whoa, whoa…I didn’t ask for details! Keep it to yourself, geez. No one wants to hear about that, and I’m surprised you would think this is the appropriate place to share your story.

Anyway, I’m guessing it was unpleasant for you. So it’s actually quite hard to even imagine someone racing for 500 miles — let alone winning the race — on the day after that happens.

Good for Keselowski, whose win was certainly surprising based on both his health and his car’s performance in qualifying (which was also ill).

A scientist or psychologist needs to come to NASCAR and do a study on why drivers seem to elevate their game when battling illness or pain. From Keselowski’s broken ankle win at Pocono to Denny Hamlin’s victories in 2010 and 2015 after knee injuries to Tony Stewart’s legendary poopy pants win at the Glen, drivers seem to be able to focus and perform even when not feeling well.

I’m guessing it has something to do with adrenaline and concentration masking the discomfort, but it’s quite fascinating no matter the reason.

4. Saving money on hearing aids

Remember the whole controversy about how NASCAR was considering reducing the noise of the engines? Well that actually happened as a side effect of the lower horsepower engines, and the result is actually quite pleasant.

The pedestrian tunnel at Atlanta requires people to walk down steps right next to the track, and I took that route Sunday while traveling from the press box to the infield late in the race.

In the past, I can remember having full ear protection in that spot and the cars somehow still being ear-piercing. But today it was noticeably more tolerable — so much that I experimented with not using any ear protection to see what it sounded like. Honestly, it was no problem.

Were the engines still loud? Oh, for sure. They just weren’t painfully noisy, which isn’t something I missed. So far, the volume with the 550 horsepower package seems to be “loud, but not too loud.” That’s not a bad thing.

5. Media Matters

You probably didn’t notice — because there’s no reason you would, really — but this weekend was the debut of a new media model NASCAR is trying. For the most part, it went great.

That’s important for fans because you’ll end up getting more content and exposed to more storylines when the media speaks with the drivers more often. In addition, reporters get exposed to more opinions and insight, which helps shape our understanding of what’s going on.

Some of the new media features include increased interview opportunities on Fridays, a requirement that every driver stop in a media bullpen after his qualifying lap, the fastest driver from each manufacturer speaking after final practice on Saturday and the top 10 drivers coming to a bullpen on pit road after the race.

That’s wayyy more access than the media was getting a year ago at this time, and NASCAR has now made such things mandatory. It’s not something you may be aware of on a weekly basis, but hopefully you’ll notice through the coverage from the outlets you regularly follow.

24 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Atlanta race”

  1. I thought it was a really good race for a mile and a half. I enjoyed watching Harvick vs Larson in stage 2 was great and stage 3 was tame but intriguing IMO

  2. Cars still gave a good sound and rumble in the grandstands. They don’t have that piercing sound like before but still loud and felt. Smell still the same lol I know that probably sounds dumb but I love going home from Nascar smelling like racing fuel and burnt rubber

    1. Doesn’t sound dumb at all! I love sitting in the first row getting covered in black rubber dust! 😂

  3. I was there live watching the racing all 3 days. Was the new package better? Absolutely YES….Was it Dramatically Better? NO. Assuming Vegas is even better next week, then my vote is to NOT Repave AMS and NASCAR work on adding the Aero Ducts to the AMS cars in 2020. But if they re-pave…..I will still be there.
    As to the increased media access……as a fan that follows a lot of sites on Social Media…..I didn’t notice any change and would not have know it you had not told us.

    1. It was somewhat hard to tell exactly what the crowd looked like as you rarely get straight on views of the grandstands but how was the crowd size compared to last year?

      1. Richard and Hugh Grey were about the only two there Lol
        Next Sunday log onto the nascar web site and watch live view
        From their camera angle yesterday
        I’m guessing less than 50% of the seats were taken
        Sad sad sad for a one race event a year

  4. Thought it was a downturn from last year. Truex not being able to get around a lapped car is all you need to know. It makes dirty air even more of a problem. You need no spoilers, no stupid splitters.

  5. The race was maybe a c- no better of a grade than that. With the HP cut to 550 they ran like xfinity çars with no power to pull themself off the corner or when they had to back off the throttle to keep from running over someone the car could not respond until the RPM’s got back up.

  6. I’m just gonna…… wait. and. see.

    As for the media having more access, I’m happy to hear that. If I recall right I read a few different articles where y’all were getting less access and not happy with the powers that be.

  7. No skill. Where were the cars sliding around loose, struggling for a way to hook up on corner exit?

    The cars were tight – aero tight. Passing was less than last year by the numbers. Passing for the lead was practically non-existent.

    Also, Jeff, I am going to call you out on something… You can’t say “well, this isn’t the whole package.” That is untrue, it IS the package for Atlanta, Darlington, Pocono, and HOMESTEAD which will determine the “champion.”

    If you want to say this is different from what we may see at Vegas, Charlotte, etc. that is fine. But make no mistake, this portion of the rules is important.

    But, for me, I won’t be partaking. I’ll be there for the short tracks and road courses. I’ll give the super high downforce a chance at Phoenix and Dover… but the low horsepower/no skill racing? I can’t in good conscience support it. Not what I signed up for when I became a fan in 2002, and I’ve endured through the poor leadership and missteps, the terrible car designs, and the gimmicks. Time to draw the line.

    1. I love it when people “draw the line.” Nobody draws the line. The next weekend comes up and the race is on and you watch the race. We all watch the race.

      1. Well said Joe, what NASCAR needs is more positive fans. I read some of the twitter replies on the NASCAR twitter feed, I was shocked by the negativity coming from so called “fans”. Times change, drivers retire and rules change, most people who have ignorant attitudes are middle to old age people whose heads are stuck in the past.

    2. The NASCAR story line after Daytona: Daytona was a one-off race…Atlanta will show us what the new “package” will do for the new year…

      The NASCAR Story line after Atlanta: Atlanta was a one-off race, tune in next week to see what the new rules will Really do for the new year…

      The NASCAR story line after Vegas: We really didn’t see how the new rules package will affect the season…tune in next week and see what the new rules package will do for the new year…

      Wash, rinse, repeat…

      I still laugh when they don’t call the “tapered spacer” a “restrictor plate”. It still restricts horsepower, noise, speed…

  8. Went into the season / new racing package with an open mind. It remains the same today. Yesterday’s race was improved from a few of the previous ATL races making it more “viewable” for this fan.

    With a change in leadership (NASCAR) we will probably continue to see subtle tweaks and improvements overall.

  9. I’ve got an open mind because to me, the racing has been pretty great every season but we need more butts in the stand and tv viewers so I accept this change.
    Overall I was surprisingly optimistic throughout the whole race, the restarts were fantastic and everyone says there won’t be any driver skill but I disagree. Kyle Busch drove through the field while not many other drivers could. I think the skilled drivers will still be up front because they will find ways to drive these cars with this particular package better than the mediocre drivers. Can’t believe JTG Chevs were faster than the Hendrick Chevs though. Time for HMS to get their heads out of their assess and get in the fight on a regular basis. Looking forward to what the race will look like in Vegas.

  10. It’s great that NASCAR is forcing drivers to be available to the media at various times. Is there any way that NASCAR can force FOX and NBC to cover the entire field during the race and report any issues that any driver encounters? That would be great for fans.

  11. Atlanta showed PART of what we will see at other tracks. With a worn out surface, and a track that eats tires, Atlanta should race like the old Darlington…you race the track, not the competition. What we saw, was just a glimpse of what could have been.

    – Tires made all the difference as times would slow way down during a run. Without the driver able to adjust the track bar, it caused more cars to be comers/goers during a long run.

    – The teams with the most resources will continue to be fastest. Small teams better hope they can compete at places like Las Vegas.

    – DOWNFORCE IS THE DEVIL IN RACING. The more downforce you have, the easier the vehicle is to pilot which makes the drivers happy. The cost is the racing is worse.

    With the cars stuck to the track with a high spoiler, the cars were slower overall, with higher corner speeds, because off throttle time was reduced, due to the ability of the car to maintain speed via downforce….at a worn out track like ATLANTA!

    Now got to Vegas, and any other 1.5 mile recently paved speedway….the cars essentially will not have to lift throughout the run. Moreover Goodyear will have to bring tires with extremely hard compounds to withstand the G forces placed onto the tires by the downforce. This will result in tires not slowing down or losing grip throughout a run. Essentially the car will be able to maintain speed throughout a fuel run….or more. Furthermore, the cars will have little speed differentiation between the entry, middle, and exit corner speeds. With no speed differentiation, the angle of entry into the corner will narrow…and result in single groove racing.

    – NASCAR teams are spending $150k for a 550hp engine. Comparatively a WS16 LS based 5.3L LLM/SLM engine makes 550HP at 6500RPM..and costs $11k. If NASCAR was really about reducing costs, this is a great place to start.

    – The spin from the complicit NASCAR media “partners” i.e. FOX…is appalling. FOX’s coverage has been terrible all year. DW is just a caricature of himself at this point. Gordon needs to be the centerpiece, but his ties to HMS are too much to ignore. There are 36-40 cars on the track….but if you missed it, 1/2 the field barely was mentioned.

    – I give Gluck credit. He has been consistent with his approach, and cautious with making determinations.

    – My prediction for Vegas is: -250 to be a shit show/ +200 to be a GREAT race. Essentially look for Dega/Daytona racing on a 1.5 miler, but without long enough backstretch for the cars to get a run. Cars will likely form a single line and draft. There will be a “Big One”. Track position will mean everything.

  12. Quick takes –

    – That Atlanta has needed to be repaved has been grossly obvious for years and drivers’ “character” argument is a hoax. An effective draft on good durable pavement opens up the passing needed.

    – Let’s not kid ourselves- Chevrolet is still in trouble. The program fell badly in 2018 and it’s obvious it is not getting better.

    – During the Vegas test someone recommended a softer tire. That’s not what the sport needs – it needs the tire to have a better footprint on the surface.

  13. I’m happy for Jeff and what’s left of the Nascar media corps to have a “new media model” allowing them to do their jobs. But as a former motorsports reporter, and later a track PR staffer whose job it was to connect reporters with drivers, I say shame on Nascar for taking this long to fix the problem. For too many years the sanctioning body allowed driver reps and teams to set availabilities and access, with “availability” being a 10-minute hauler scrum and “access” being a firm no to any request for a one-on-one interview opportunity. Those were the high-on-the-hog days when everyone could get away with brushing off the media. Now, with plenty of empty seats in media centers, the policies are changing? Sorry if I’m not giving Nascar a standing ovation, or any ovation.

  14. Wow! The media thing was news to me! That’s awesome! Glad NASCAR is allowing y’all to have more access to give the fans more as well!
    Can’t wait to see what LV looks like with the WHOLE package. Though Atlanta was pretty good. Obv not the best race ever but usually Atlanta is not that kinda race anyway. So it def wasn’t hurting anything with the one off package.

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