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.
— 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.