By David Morgan, Associate Editor
When the NASCAR Cup Series takes the green flag in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, it will also be taking a step off into the unknown.
Atlanta’s aging racing surface, which had been in place since 1997, held together as long as possible, but the 260 laps around the 1.5-mile track last July were the last on that particular surface as the track underwent a repave and reconfiguration for the 2022 season.
Almost as soon as Kurt Busch crossed the line to take the win, crews moved in to begin Atlanta’s massive overhaul. 163 days later, the track’s facelift was complete.
The 24-degree banking in the turns was increased to 28 degrees, making the banking the highest among intermediate tracks in NASCAR. The straightaways remain banked at five degrees. In addition, the racing surface was narrowed from 55 feet to 40 feet in the turns, 52 feet on the front stretch, and 42 feet on the back stretch.
Following a December test, additional adjustments were made, including smoothing out the transition off of Turn 4 onto the frontstretch by adding 320 feet of wall and SAFER barrier to create a flatter curve. The frontstretch was also widened by removing and paving over portions of the infield grass, as well as reinforcing the catchfence.
“Anticipation has been building for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 since the moment we announced the reconfiguration,” said Executive Vice President and General Manger Brandon Hutchison. “The excitement and the unknown surrounding the upgraded and enhanced all-new Atlanta Motor Speedway has been unrivaled.
“Every step we’ve taken in this project has been to deliver a new, entertaining type of racing for the fans—something they’ve never seen before. From start to finish we’ve had great people involved in realizing this vision for the next generation of Atlanta Motor Speedway. We can’t wait to see NASCAR’s best take on this all-new track!”
When the Atlanta project was first announced last summer, some drivers were fiercely against changing the track into its current form. Now that race weekend is upon us, only time will tell whether their pushback was warranted.
Teams will have just one 50-minute practice on Friday to get their cars dialed in, followed by qualifying on Saturday, and the main event on Sunday at 3:00 pm on FOX.
By the Numbers
What: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 21 of 36
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, Georgia (Opened: 1960; Reconfigured: 1997/2021)
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.54-mile quad-oval
Banking: 28 degrees in turns; 5 degrees on straightaways
Race Length: 325 laps, 500 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 105 laps each, Final stage – 115 laps
March 2021 Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford (Started 10th, 25 laps led)
July 2021 Winner: Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet (Started eighth, 144 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds – 11/15/1997)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 100.5
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 97.6
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 97.5
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 96.9
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 96.2
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.7
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 94.5
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 92.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.0
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 82.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Ross Chastain. “It’s odd to see it in person because I know what Atlanta looks like in my brain. When I went out onto the track and it is narrower, and the apron is very wide, and they moved the frontstretch down by about 20 feet so you can short cut it on the flat. They’re probably going to have to do some sort of double yellow line rule if the same problems arise of the guys trying to re-merge and then crashing in the corners like at Talladega and Daytona.
“Most of your superspeedway wrecks are at the end of the straightaway, down the back or down the front into turn 1 or turn 3. Big energy comes from eighth place up through the pack and someone towards the front gets turned. If you make it through, you have a chance to win. If there’s not a double yellow line, I think we will crash in the corners.
“I was able to tandem with three cars, back up to the guy behind me, the energy would push us up to the leader and stay on him for half of a lap. Now if I have more energy pushing me, I think I could stay on him longer. It’s Daytona minus a mile, but you do have to turn the wheel in the corner. Daytona you don’t turn the wheel, you just hold it. The frontstretch is flat at Atlanta, Daytona and Talladega have a little bit embankment.”
Last Time at Atlanta
Anytime the Busch Brothers are dueling it out for the win, it’s always a classic and last July at Atlanta was no different.
Kurt Busch led a race high 144 laps, but in the closing stages of the race, it seemed his younger brother Kyle was going to get the best of him to claim the final win on Atlanta’s aging race surface.
After Kyle cycled out in front of Kurt following the final round of green flag pit stops, a helping hand from his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate played a major role in allowing Kurt to get back in the fight. Chastain held up Kyle long enough for Kurt to be within striking distance, with the two Busch Brothers dueling it out for a number of laps before Kurt retook the lead for good with 25 laps to go.
Kyle had one final shot at Kurt with less than 10 laps remaining, but was unable to make the pass, ultimately falling 1.237 seconds behind Kurt when the checkered flag fell.
The win was the first of the year for Kurt, propelling from outside the top-16 in points to a Playoff berth in his final season driving for CGR.
“Hell yeah, we beat Kyle! I taught that kid everything he knows; he should be grateful,” Kurt said as he celebrated the victory.
“What a battle. What a genuine, awesome, old-school racetrack, and I just asked the track today, last time here on your old asphalt, can I have an old guy win, and she answered. Thank you, Atlanta Motor Speedway!
“This has been one of those years where I knew we were going to have our back up against the wall with trying to get above the cutoff line and race hard and race smart, and to have GEARWRENCH in Victory Lane, this is their last race of the year, they’re with us all year, and with Monster Energy, I couldn’t have two great primary sponsors. What a Chevrolet today, hell yeah!”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern
Friday, March 18
- NCS Practice (5:05 pm to 5:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Saturday, March 19
- NCS Qualifying (12:30 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, March 20
- NCS Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3:00 pm – 325 laps, 500.5 miles – FOX)