By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Atlanta Motor Speedway saw the dawning of a new competition package in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and after all was said and done it was Jimmie Johnson taking a late lead en route to winning and tying Dale Earnhardt with his 76th career victory. Without any more delay, here are some of my key takeaways from Sunday’s race.
1) Phenomenal Racing
If you didn’t like what kind of racing was on display then there’s something wrong. The package complemented by lower downforce and greater tire falloff put the race in the hands of the drivers. The variations forced the drivers to take care of the tires – get aggressive early, pay for it late or ease into a run and pick up spots farther into a run. There were 28 lead changes between eight drivers and that came to be with only three cautions all afternoon, proving that you don’t need 20 ‘debris’ cautions to put on a good show.
2) Hendrick Rebounds
I gave the Hendrick camp a ton of flack last week after not putting a single one of their four cars in the top 10 of the Daytona 500. However, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie Chase Elliott came to play today with Johnson grabbing the win and Earnhardt Jr. locking down the runner-up spot after a late race restart. Elliott put in his finest effort thus far in his young Sprint Cup career, racing at his home track, the second-generation star locked down his first top 10 finish. The only thing that left me befuddled was Kasey Kahne running so poorly. All day long he struggled and by the end finished 23rd, which was better than he had ran for much of the time.
3) All That Hype and No Bite
Roush Fenway Racing had a stellar qualifying effort, led by Trevor Bayne with his third place effort, but that all changed on Sunday. Bayne dropped like a rock in the Mariana Trench and ended up 22nd when it was all said and done. Greg Biffle hung around the top 15 all day, finishing 13th. The highlight of organization’s day belonged to Rick Stenhouse Jr. The 28-year-old stayed solidly around the top 10 and ultimately finished 10th, giving fans of the organization some hope that there are good days ahead.
4) Kyle Busch Charges to the Front
After having his time disallowed in qualifying that would have seen him on the pole, Kyle Busch started the race from 39th and methodically worked his way up to finish third. The 2015 Sprint Cup champion won the XFNITY race on Saturday and was one good restart away from backing that up with a win on Sunday. It was impressive to see a different kind of Kyle Busch. Perhaps the competition package and tire wear had something to do with it, but nonetheless, ‘Rowdy’ put in a solid championship-type effort that had previously not been in his arsenal. Always a wreckers or checkers type of racer, Busch appears to have come full circle with his driving style.
As usual I looked to the grandstands to see how the turnout was for such an amazing race, and although it wasn’t the best it certainly wasn’t the worst. The one takeaway from the entire afternoon outside of the racing happened on the final restart – you could hear the crowd roar as the field came to take the green. It absolutely gave me chills because I don’t remember the last time a crowd came together in unison for the race’s final moments. It was so encouraging and hopefully that is something that can become contagious among the masses.
The race at Atlanta was simply spectacular. The racing, the crowd, and the energy – NASCAR has something going and I for one hope they don’t screw with it. The kind of racing we have seen the last two weeks has been refreshing. As the adage goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – well NASCAR, do us all a favor and let the good times roll.
Image: Matt Hazlett/Getty Images