NASCAR Cup Series
Why NASCAR is Sending a Next Gen to Le Mans
Mar 18, 2022
Cup Series drivers were absolutely exhausted after 40 minutes of practice at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway and now they must prepare for three hours of it.
Speedway Motorsports wanted to create a Daytona and Talladega style pack race at the Hampton, Georgia mile and a half and seemingly accomplished that goal based on the early returns from practice on Saturday afternoon.
The Cup Series is using the same rules package from the Daytona 500 in February and it produced full throttle drafting and big packs of cars but with almost half the room as the two superspeedway tracks currently on the schedule.
Talladega: 2.66 miles
Daytona: 2.50 miles
Atlanta: 1.54 miles
Christopher Bell said practice was a mentally and physically taxing experience.
"Daytona and Talladega are two of the easiest tracks that we go to physically just because it’s really big, everything happens slow," Bell said. "It’s pretty low key until the end of the race, where that practice session was 40 minutes of pure chaos. … I found myself holding my breath several times."
Can he make it through 500 miles of that?
"Honestly, I’ll be surprised if we make it that long in the pack," Stenhouse said. "I don’t know. Yes, everyone else is, so I’m going to have to, but it’s going to be unlike anything we have ever seen. I can promise you that."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted the fastest time in practice and was surprised by how fast everything felt. Atlanta now presents Daytona and Talladega style racing but within much tighter confines, requiring quicker reaction times.
"What you saw in practice is really what you’re going to expect," Stenhouse said. "I didn’t think the speeds were going to be as fast as they were… One mistake and you’re going to wipe out just about the entire field, if it’s at the front."
Kyle Busch doesn’t think there will be a third full lane and that’s his most immediate takeaway.
"I feel like the racetrack width is just kind of a hinderance to what you can do getting that top cleaned up and burned in to have a third lane," Busch said. "That would be ideal. Other than that, I would say -- it’s going to be a superspeedway type race.
"Runs happen quicker and bigger. I don’t know if it’s because everything is tighter or what, but it seems like you get runs happening and it’s a big difference from what I remember in Daytona."
Even though it’s a freshly paved asphalt surface, the track is quite bumpy due to a pipe that burst down the backstretch and the natural terrain under the frontstretch tri-oval. Further, the tighter confines of an intermediate track leaves cars tight in traffic into Turn 3.
Busch is afraid that could trigger a massive pile-up on Sunday.
"Turning off into Turn 3 when you are running the bottom and you start to load up into the corner and your front end gets tight and you wash up the track and somebody in the middle is holding you down, holding you tight, you make contact and start a crash," Busch hypothesized. "I feel like that’s where we are going to see a wreck and you might also see some going down the frontstretch.
"It’s kind of rough down there. It’s really bumpy. Cars bounce a little bit. They don’t always go straight, they move, so guys holding guys tight is going to be where we start to see some issues."
It was a sentiment that Stenhouse agreed with, especially since drivers weren’t even trying to press the issue in practice.
"It does get a little tight on entry," Stenhouse said. "In Turn 3, you see a lot of people drift up off the bottom until you catch more of the banking and drive off.
"Two-wide is more comfortable. I think center of the corner, three-wide isn't terrible, but the exit of 2 and the entry of 3 is very narrow. So that's going to be tricky. It will be interesting to see how that plays out."
Stenhouse also thinks the leader will be able to control the lanes because there’s less real estate to defend compared to Daytona and Talladega. The Truck Series race bore that out on Saturday afternoon.
"Daytona is easier to control compared to Talladega because it's so much narrower," Stenhouse said. "You take it another step further with how narrow the track is compared to Daytona. You'll be able to maneuver and block those two lanes so track position is going to be important."
Bell says the drivers who enjoy Daytona and Talladega should generally like Sunday’s race.
"The guys that like speedway racing are going to enjoy what we have and the guys that dislike it are going to really dislike it," Bell said. "It’s intense. That 40-minute practice session was super intense. I don’t think anybody expected the draft runs to be that big, and the pack to be that tight. It was full blown chaos and we’ve got 500 miles of it tomorrow."
Busch says how a driver feels about it will be determined based on how their day ends.
"As far as if everybody is going to like it, I guess we will see how many cars finish," Busch said.
And like Bell, Busch expects to be physically and mentally challenged by the racing at new Atlanta.
"With the tighter confines and being a mile-and-a-half, 325 laps around here is a lot," Busch said. "I think we run 188 at Talladega and 200 at Daytona, so 125 more laps going through the same thing and being packed up – being in tight conditions, you will be, probably more mentally than physically. You are going to be tired after this one."
"It’s going to be a battle."