NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Ventures into the Unknown at Atlanta
Mar 15, 2022
Not unlike their Cup Series counterparts, NASCAR Truck Series drivers are also venturing into the unknown this weekend with their debut at a reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway designed to race like Daytona or Talladega.
First year ThorSport Racing driver Ty Majeski expects pack racing of some kind but isn’t entirely sure how it will look once he takes the green flag on Saturday afternoon.
"I think it's going to be, you know, Daytona style plate racing with half the amount of room," Majeski said.
That's because Atlanta, even with its increased banking from 24 to 28 degrees is still 1.54 miles -- while Daytona and Talladega are 2.5 miles and 2.66 miles respectively. However, the fresh pavement and reduced horsepower should keep trucks packed together.
If that's better or worse is TBA.
"Anytime we go to a repave, it's always single groove and unfortunately, that's just kind of the nature of the beast," Majeski said. "With NASCAR putting the fins on the rear spoiler and the restrictor plate on the engine, that's going to create high drag, low horsepower and we're going to be pack racing."
Now a second-year driver for Niece Motorsports, Carson Hocevar isn’t expecting a traditional superspeedway event nor an intermediate race. He has something else in mind.
"Oh, I don't know," Hocevar said. "I feel it's going to as if Knoxville and Daytona had a baby. It's going to be different."
He cited Knoxville because that race last summer featured drivers immediately trying to force their way to the bottom because it was the optimal way around the track. It resulted in a very tedious, crash-filled affair. Similarly, Hocevar thinks the bottom will be the way around new Atlanta with so little power and so much drag and downforce.
"I don't know what it's going to be like -- maybe single-file around the bottom, trying to side draft each other on restarts," Hocevar said. "Maybe like Michigan."
At the same time, NASCAR will be enforcing a double yellow line rule, which is essentially track limits or out of bounds below the bottom line of the racing groove. The straightaways are also quite wide before funneling into the much narrower corners.
"We didn't need to be going six-wide into Turn 1 and fight for a groove," Majeski said. "So that was probably not a bad call on their end. So, we'll see. A little bit of an unknown for everybody but I think we have a pretty good package going into Atlanta."
With drivers potentially needing to work their way to the bottom, and NASCAR enforcing out of bounds, Las Vegas winner and Kyle Busch Motorsports contender Chandler Smith says the potential for chaos will be driving into Turn 1 off restarts.
"Hopefully everyone realizes if we go four, five-wide into Turn 1, that's not going to last very long," Smith said. "People have got a give and take and hopefully, people have that patience."
Atlanta Motor Speedway was always considered the quintessential drivers track over the past 20 years. The previous layout produced high speed and increasingly diminished grip over time even for the Truck Series.
"I'm bummed from a Cup standpoint, because I would have loved to see a Next Gen race at old Atlanta especially with how good it seems to race at old abrasive surfaces," Hocevar said. "On the other hand, I'm glad I raced old Atlanta so I can say I did it. I'm bummed because I know how fun that place was."
Smith, 19, grew up less than two hours away from the speedway and watched many of his heroes race over the past decade. He was excited to get a chance to race on the same surface last year, but a mechanical failure eliminated him from contention early.
Now he’s never going to get a chance to have that experience.
"I'm honestly pretty upset about it because all the NASCAR drivers that I looked up to at Atlanta, and I went to every single race since I was a toddler, and they raced there," Smith said. "I was like, 'this is awesome and a dream come true' because I get to race on the same home track my heroes did.
"I never really got to race, you know what I mean? So, I was like, 'well, that was a long day, but I'm looking forward to next next year,' and then they decided to repave it.
"I was 'oh, come on,' so it was just upsetting for myself."
Hocevar wishes they could race without the tapered spacer the restricts engine output.
"It sounds like (the new pavement) is bumpy and that would allow you to move to the top because it's smoother and let you move around instead of stuck to the bottom in dirty air," Hocevar said.
Smith says if Daytona was any indication, new Atlanta has the potential to be wild because the trucks were very loose and almost out of control in the draft. It was indeed a frequent refrain throughout the race last month.
"The runs weren't that big is what (John Hunter Nemechek) told me, but it's definitely going to be a Daytona race, which is really scary for me," Smith said. "And that's because myself and every other trucker at Daytona was swatting flies, all race. We were all sideways from lap one to the very end of the race.
"And now we're going to a race track that we're probably going to be a little bit quicker than we were at Daytona. It's a lot more narrower than Daytona. So, there isn't much room for air to flow as well. So that's just going to make all the handling issues important."
Even though everyone expects wide open throttles, the bumps on the new surface will exacerbate the handling issues.
"I don't know if we're going to see bump drafting," Majeski said. "I assume we will, at least down the straightaways, but probably not in the corners. For a repave it's actually pretty rough so that's another variable as well.
"We're not able to get as aggressive on this package as we are at Daytona and Talladega because of that reason. So, even though it's going be about aero and keeping the drag out of the truck. It's also going to be about keeping the front end on the end on the track as well. So, you have to have some compliance in the front end to keep it working. So, it's obviously about managing all those different parameters that we've set for ourselves. And, I hope we get the truck handling well but also have good speed."
Smith says the restarts are going to be key.
It's going to require pushing and getting track position early, but also not wrecking the entire field going into Turn 1 and Turn 3. It's not the Atlanta of his childhood, but he wants to go back-to-back after winning at Vegas.
"Thousand percent it's going be a bump draft race," Smith said. "There's no question. They purposely did this so the trucks are more grouped together.
"I mean, at old Atlanta you had people that had really good race cars where they'd fire off and they were really good, they'd drive away from the field and never look back. And others would burn up their stuff and fall back, and fans supposedly hated it that everyone wasn't grouped together so NASCAR said 'we'll repave the whole race track,' and it's our job to go race on it."