Super Late Models
Byron Back in Victory Lane at Hickory Homecoming
Mar 19, 2022
By the end of the weekend, there will likely have been three drastically different types of races on the new Atlanta Motor Speedway surface.
The Cup Series race on Sunday is ultimately the one that will decide how the weekend is remembered, and what to do with the collected data moving forward, but the Camping World Trucks and Xfinity Series roster will have some considerations for their respective packages as well.
After all, the Xfinity Series will return alongside the Cup Series for a doubleheader in July and the Truck Series will surely be racing at the Hampton, Georgia half mile for years to come.
Ty Gibbs outdueled Austin Hill in double overtime to win the Xfinity Series race on Saturday night while Corey Heim beat Chandler Smith with a maligned assist from their shared Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate John Hunter Nemechek.
Both races resembled something out of Daytona International Speedway -- albeit under much tighter confines. The rules packages for both divisions featured superspeedway restricted engines but intermediate track aerodynamic configurations.
The Cup Series, meanwhile, will use the exact same engine and aero layout used last month during Florida Speedweeks at Daytona.
Even though drivers generally don’t favor superspeedway racing or any kind of rules package that eliminates throttle response, the feedback from contenders on Saturday were nuanced and open-minded.
For example, Atlanta Motor Speedway required a new layer of asphalt no matter what after last summer. It was last repaved in 1997 and was starting to come apart. Any resurfacing would take almost a decade to age into its ideal conditions.
Drivers generally like worn-out grip limited racing surfaces but that takes years of usage, rain and humidity. Without the increased banking and superspeedway package, the racing would have been uneventful and single groove according to AJ Allmendinger of Kaulig Racing.
"I hate this type of racing and always will," Allmendinger said. "But I'm sure it put on a great show for fans and on TV. With that said, if we were to run this race with our regular package, it would probably be terrible. Quite honestly, with these repaves, that's what happens.
"It's a Catch-22. I hate this kind of racing but it's probably better racing tonight than with our regular package because we would all be single file on the bottom and not passing each other."
Unlike Allmendinger, Riley Herbst of Stewart-Haas Racing loves Daytona and Talladega, but wishes this experiment was done to another intermediate and not Atlanta.
"I love it, but I wish it was at a different race track," Herbst said. "We could have done it to a different track, and it would have been awesome. I never even ran that well here at Atlanta on the old surface, but I enjoyed it that much. I do miss it, but this kind of racing is cool because handling comes into effect."
Austin Hill of Richard Childress Racing had two specific points of feedback:
"There's pros and cons to it," Hill said. "I thought it probably put on a really good show for the fans. I was really frustrated early in the race when everyone was riding against the wall like they do at Daytona and just trying to get a train going.
"I was on the bottom trying to make something happen and it wasn't working. We're here to race so let's race. It's like these guys were too scared to get off the wall, and I don't blame them for wanting to not lose spots or whatever, but I do think we could make some tweaks to make the package better."
One, if they are going to aim for a superspeedway style race, Hill believes the cars likely needed more drag and the ability to better line up bumpers and bump draft. Two, and more than that, Hill misses throttle response at his home track and wishes NASCAR could find a middle ground between their standard intermediate package and the one used on Saturday night.
"If we could go get it to where we could push better," Hill said. "Or, and really this, give us a little more power. And not our full 650 or whatever we have horsepower, but just meet in the middle so we have to lift and put it in the drivers’ hands more. That would make the racing better."
Myatt Snider compared it all to Daytona from back in the day.
"It was interesting, but I think of old Daytona because handling did come into play as a run went on," Snider said. "We had a lot of questions going into today, and we answered a lot of them, but Atlanta is still fun."
This was not the race defending Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes anticipated heading into the weekend.
"It’s unique," Rhodes said. "I’ve never seen anything like it on a mile and a half. I’m sure the racing was fine, and the fans enjoyed it. It was really chaotic. It’s chaotic in the front, but when you’re in the back, it’s really hard to pass because the track is so narrow.
"Any move you make is chaos because you’re getting side drafted here, and you’re loose there, and it was really hard to keep the truck under you. It’s good racing as long as the fans like it."
Even though Zane Smith opened this year with a win at Daytona, it’s not his first choice for an intermediate track experience.
"This racing is hard to like," Smith said. "It’s better than I thought."
Is it fun though?
"It’s fun when you’re (Heim) and you’re in victory lane," Smith said. "But when you’re on the bottom and getting freight trained, that sucks, majorly. I probably had more fun in the beginning but the damage we got just made it really difficult."
Ty Majeski, like most of the field, thought the Truck Series race would play out similar to Michigan – single groove and single file.
That didn’t happen.
"You could run from line to the wall today," Majeski said. "That made it fun for us and fun for the fans. It wasn’t super edgy like repaves usually are, and overall, it was a mix between a superspeedway and a newly repaved mile and a half.