Drivers Expect Experience to Reign Supreme in Atlanta

By: Cole Cusumano
Photo By; John Harrelson | Nigel Kinrade Photography
AVONDALE, Ariz. — After an entertaining and wildly successful West Coast Swing, the NASCAR Cup Series is gearing up for action down south at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Joey Logano won an impressive two out of three races from the trio of western tracks, so his fellow competitors should be looking forward to a change in scenery — but not in the ways they will be getting it this weekend.
For starters, rain is expected in Hampton, Georgia for the next eight days including Sunday as there is no break from the showers leading up to next Saturday. It is unclear if NASCAR would postpone the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 entirely due to continuous precipitation, but another factor may make the decision easier.
The Coronavirus is the pandemic sweeping the nation and it has affected the sports world tremendously. The NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA basketball tournaments have all ceased operations and will not be in competition indefinitely until the illness is reassessed at a later date. NASCAR will be one of the only professional sports leagues to continue competition, but without spectators in the stands for both Atlanta and Homestead-Miami Speedway next week.
Over the next two weeks, the sport will only provide access to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race. It’s going to be an abstract and eerie site for the drivers to see, but the show must go on and now there is an added element of uncertainty to racing at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is now set to celebrate its 60th anniversary marred by a plethora of unfortunate circumstances.
One team looking to turn things around is Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing cohorts. Since the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry captured his second-consecutive Daytona 500 victory, nothing has gone right. Instead they’ve had to watch the likes of Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports significantly out-duel them over the events.
“I feel that’s one of our better tracks, I’m not sure why our results aren’t showing that,” Hamlin told POPULAR SPEED. The Virginia-native won in the Peach State back in 2012. Since then, he’s only added two top-five finishes over the last seven years. “It’s definitely a driver’s race track – one where a driver can make up a little more than what his car can give him. It’s just managing the experience of knowing a race-winning car’s feel for that track. Knowing that is a big advantage.”
In addition to being one of the older tracks on the circuit, the same can be said for the racing surface itself. The Atlanta track has not been repaved for almost 23 years and as a result, the 1.5-mile speedway has a ton of characteristics that the drivers love.
“If you are a race car driver, you get up on the wheel and are slipping and sliding around, you work your ass off there – that is what you look for in a race track,” Clint Bowyer added. “Coming from a dirt background, the harder you drive her the faster she goes. The harder you work, the faster it goes. With the speed you’re going and the aero platform you have, it’s very easy to overdrive the car and blow through the grip in the tires.”
Much like we saw tire conservation play a huge role at Phoenix Raceway, you can expect more of the same in Atlanta. Being that the track surface is so old and abrasive, it lends itself to much more wear and tear on the four Goodyear rubbers and the car itself.
“Your tire management used to come from your throttle pedal,” the driver of the No. 14 explained. “Now your speed and everything else are all wide open, so your tire management comes through the way you and your team get the balance on your race car instead of you and your car doing the managing with the throttle pedal. You don’t lean on the wheel unless you have to and if you have to, you better not have to for very long.”
Bowyer is coming off of his first top-five finish since September of 2019. Visibly more outgoing and open in the garage area than last season, the Kansas-native may have hit his stride at the perfect time. He finished third and fifth in the last two races at the 1.5-mile track, and he hasn’t placed below 11th over the past three years.
Last season, it was Brad Keselowski who drove to victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 after Kyle Larson led a race-high 142 laps. Both the driver of the No. 2 and No. 42 had highly competitive runs in Arizona; it will be interesting to see if this translates to Atlanta.
Race No. 5 of the 2020 season is set to take place on Fox at 2:00 p.m. ET from Atlanta Motor Speedway. Again, NASCAR will only allow authorized personnel to attend the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 due to COVID-19, but you can catch all of the action on Fox.
Should anything change on the status of the race or the sport, we will update you as soon as possible.

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