Atlanta recap: New cars on an old track

Last year NASCAR announced an updated rules package for the MENCS cars with a wide range of early opinions throughout the garage. After an off-season of speculation and an exciting Daytona 500 the much anticipated day has arrived. While not the same package that will be run throughout the year Atlanta gave us a look into what could be the most unique NASCAR season yet.

The race had an exciting start as pole winner Aric Almirola battled fellow Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the early laps before the field began to sort itself out. Almirola would hold the lead until the race off of a crowded pit road during the lap 35 competition caution.

The restart would again be exciting as the cars would run five to ten laps before spreading out and drivers would begin to battle for individual positions. The restarts may have been the most obvious difference for spectators. The cars also looked slower on track, but it was not as obvious, nor did it affect the competition on track.

Kyle Larson who had beat Almirola off of pit road would lead the next 50 laps to take the green and white checkered for stage one. Larson would then loose his lead on pit road as Kevin Harvick would put his Stewart-Haas machine out front to start stage two. However a bump in the middle of turns three and four would allow for Larson to pass and hold the lead through most of stage two including green flag stops before Harvick found his way back to the lead for the stage two win.

Larson would find his way back to the lead early in stage three. During green flag pit stops on lap 223 Kyle Busch, in his 500th career start, cut a right rear tire bringing out a caution. On the restart Ryan Blaney would jump to the lead with an impressive pass on Harvick.

With 52 laps to go during another round of green flag stops the caution would fly again. This time for a collision on pit road between rookie driver Ryan preece, who was currently in the top 10, and BJ McLeod. This time the field was scrambled with only a few cars on the lead lap and the majority of the field having to take a wave around. On the restart it would be Joey Logano and Kurt Busch, in his 650th career start, out front.

Brad Keselowski who received the lucky dog on the previous caution would battle with Penske teammate Logano before taking the lead on lap 32. In the closing laps of the race several drivers including Logano, and their third Penske teammate Blaney would have right front tire issues.

As the final laps of the race wound down Keselowski began to conserve his tires as a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. closed a two second gap all the way to the number two cars back bumper, but didn’t have anything for him on the last lap.

Keselowski who had been battling an illness with flu like symptoms since Friday had a back up driver ready to go, but pushed through to not only complete the race, but win and punch his ticket to the 2019 playoffs.

The Monster Energey Nascar Cup Series next race is scheduled for March 3rd, at 3:30 ET in Las Vegas for the Penzoil 400.

Thomas Latzkowski