Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After last Sunday’s barn burner of a finish in the Daytona 500, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads to Georgia for this weekend’s running of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With a track surface that is old and worn, having not been repaved since its reconfiguration in 1997, Atlanta always gets rave reviews from drivers who enjoy slipping and sliding around on the worn out asphalt. The track has been unpredictable when it comes to which driver will end the day in victory lane as nine different drivers have found victory lane in the last 10 races.

In addition to the unpredictability of the track’s surface, a new curve ball has been thrown the way of the drivers and teams this year with the introduction of the new aerodynamic package that makes its debut on a 1.5-mile track.

Building off the package that was used in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last season and in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the basic package will be split into two groups depending on track size, with specific features for each.

Every race next season will feature a rear spoiler measuring eight inches tall by 61 inches wide, a larger front splitter, and a bigger radiator pan that tapers from 37 inches down to 31 inches. On top of that, there will be two different size tapered spacers in play (1.18 inches or 0.922 inches) depending on the track.

The smaller spacer, which takes the horsepower down to 550 from the current 750, will be used at all tracks larger than a mile, along with aero ducts in the front end of the car designed to direct air out the front wheel wells.

At Atlanta this weekend, the aero ducts will not be in play. The same when the Cup Series visits Pocono, Darlington, and Homestead later in the year.

A handful of teams have tested the new package at Atlanta and elsewhere, but until we get in real race conditions, no one is completely certain what we will see on race day.

By the Numbers

What: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 2 of 36

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, Georgia (Opened: 1960; Reconfigured: 1997)

When: February 24, 2018

TV/Radio: FOX, 2:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.54-mile quad-oval

Banking: 24 degrees in turns; 5 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 325 laps, 500.5 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 85 laps each, Final stage – 155 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

2018 Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started third, 181 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds – 11/15/1997)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 102.8
  2. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 99.4
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 96.4
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 96.2
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 95.5
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 94.3
  7. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 93.5
  8. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 92.7
  9. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 84.8
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 82.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“As we go to Atlanta and start compiling that notebook in the very first practice and put the cars on the racetrack, obviously our history in Atlanta is pretty strong,” said Kevin Harvick. “And we know what we’re looking for in the racecar and how it should handle and so there’s the downforce-versus-drag conversation. How much downforce can you take out of the car and make the thing survive? How much handling will come into play? The restarts are going to be crazy. Are you going be able to get close enough to actually bump draft? Can you actually stay hooked together?

“There are just so many questions to answer that we don’t have any answers to other than theory. And, at this particular point, we just need to race to really start crossing things off the list and have a direction to know what we’re working on past, you know, the theory that we’ve put into everything to put on the track at the beginning of the year.”

Last Time at Atlanta

Back in 2001, Kevin Harvick had big shoes to fill, stepping in for the late Dale Earnhardt in the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing and breaking through for his first win in dramatic fashion at Atlanta in just his third start.

Fast forward 17 years and Harvick was making a return to victory lane at that same track after a dominating day behind the wheel of his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Starting in third, Harvick shot out to the lead like a bullet from a gun, only to find himself running into trouble on pit road during the stage break. When the air hose came loose from the pit gun of his front tire changer, Harvick was forced to make a second trip down pit road to make sure all of his lug nuts were tight, relegating him back to 16th.

Despite the setback, it was classic Harvick for the remainder of the race, retaking the lead 32 laps later. Even as other drivers tried different strategies to best Harvick and his team, they still remained the cream of the crop on the day eventually leading 181 laps out of a possible 325.

After taking the checkered flag, Harvick whipped his car around to perform a victory lap with three fingers out the window – a throwback to when he did the same thing in tribute to Dale Earnhardt back in 2001.

“I’m just so proud of everybody on our team,” said Harvick. “That was the first win in my career and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool.  I’ve been waiting a long time to do that.

“We’ve had so many days where we could do that here, but I just want to thank everybody from Stewart-Haas Racing, Jimmy John’s, Busch, Ford, Mobil 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers, Morton Buildings, Textron Off Road, Liftmaster, everybody who puts this car on the race track and for five years it’s been so fast at this particular race track and a lot of other ones.  I love racing here and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane finally.  It took a while.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, February 22

  • MENCS Practice (11:35 am to 12:55 pm – No TV – Livestreamed on NASCAR.com)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:10 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, February 23

  • MENCS Final Practice (Noon to 1:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, February 24

  • MENCS Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2:00 pm – 325 laps, 500.5 miles – FOX)

 

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.