If there is ever a track that doesn’t need to be changed one bit, unless it is absolutely necessary and no other option is available, NASCAR is at that track this weekend. Why change a track that has earned it’s keep, and gives the drivers the exact kind of challenge they need before going into new territory one week later?
Atlanta’s reconfiguration in 1997 raised a lot of eyebrows, especially since when it had two races. The first one on the old layout of being just under 1.5-miles, wide corners and long straightaways already gave it’s challenges. But, going to this 1.54-mile layout, sweeping corners, changed the racing entirely.
Nearly 200 mph was reached in that first race, so much speed NASCAR actually had teams increase the angle of the spoilers to try and slow them down.
Since then, nothing has been done to the racing surface. It has aged, weathered, gained character, and has become a track that is not about speed anymore, but handling. When the green flag waves, that will be the fastest the drivers go in a single run. After pit stops, the restarts will have fast and furious action, drivers gaining as much ground as they can. After a couple laps, the tires are already begging to be taken to pit road and get serviced.
The old surface, the slick groove, has become a tire grinder over the years, and drivers make more arm movements to keep the cars from spinning out as if they were on ice.
This is the exact track that teams needed to be at as the dirt at Bristol looms. Interestingly, the way one would drive Atlanta would have a lot of similarities to being on the dirt, especially considering the surface differences. The Atlanta asphalt is worn, old, and sliding sideways seems to be normal these days after the tires wear out. Drivers have to catch the car before it goes completely sideways, much like running on the dirt since the rear end will be hanging out in order to just ride that cushion long enough to keep in the groove and not jump sideways.
What makes the biggest difference is when drivers are begging for new tires next week on the dirt, they aren’t going to have a chance to get them until a stage break. The special rules, which will be discussed next week, are preventing that from happening.
This week, when drivers are begging for new tires, once a yellow flag flies the pit crews are on the wall as if they are awaiting the arrival of the President.
Tires will be at a premium at Atlanta, the fastest, and possibly the most challenging, track on the circuit. This also is the same weekend that a year ago, NASCAR officially came to a halt, just like the rest of the sports world. Although this event happened later in the year, with a lot different circumstances surrounding it, both prior to teams arriving, and also during the pre-race, the fact is Atlanta is still a difficult and challenging venue.
Dusting off this race is a fact, since this track will collect dust and rubber almost immediately. Someone is going to slide their way to victory in “Hot-Lanta.”