HAMPTON, Ga.— The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500 for the 2,500 MENCS race. This weekend will also feature the new lower downforce package that will be used throughout the 2017 season.
39 drivers are scheduled to arrive in Atlanta. Notable drivers include Gray Gaulding, who is making his first MENCS start, and the return of Derrike Cope, who last raced in the MENCS back in 2009.
This is also the final race on the old worn out surface that drivers love at Atlanta. The track was last repaved back in 1997, nearly two decades ago.
This will be the 110th race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 50 drivers have won a pole at the track. There have been 43 different race winners. 14 races have been won from the pole position with Kasey Kahne being the last driver to do so in 2006. The race record was set by Bobby Labonte in 1997 at 159.904 mph. Geoff Bodine set the qualifying record in 1997 at 197.478 mph.
Drivers are pumped to return to Atlanta for the final time on the worn out surface.
“It has always been the surface and now that is changing, but the banking. The banking is a big part of it. I think it’s the steepest 1.5-mile we run on. It’s always put up that short run speed and then the age of the surface has given us the character that we all like in the track. But, we are going to be going so fast when we go back there this year,” said Jimmie Johnson, who will be going for three wins in a row at Atlanta.
“Atlanta is one of the most worn-out surfaces that we go to these days, and I always think that the older surface makes for some fun racing, even though the surface may not let us go as fast as you could on newer pavement. At Atlanta, you need to be decent at the beginning of a run, but also good at the end of a run when you are on older tires. It’s often hard to find that balance with your race car because these races can come down to a short run. This weekend will really be the first time that we see the new rules package come into play for the season since it’s not a superspeedway race. I’m looking forward to getting our DEWALT Camry on track this weekend and working on getting a strong run in,” said Matt Kenseth.
“I expect it will be loose and that we’ll see a lot of slipping and sliding. With the way that the new segments are going to blend in, you don’t want to use up your tires too early in the race because you want to save a set, maybe even two sets, for the final 20 laps. You never know when yellow flags are going to come out and that changes the game. If you don’t have tires ready, then you’re going to be in a defensive position instead of offensive,” said Kurt Busch, 2017 Daytona 500 champion.
Teams will hit the track at 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday for the first practice session of the weekend. Teams will qualify at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday, the final practice for drivers will be at 12:00 p.m. EST on Saturday. The green flag will fall for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series shortly after 2:30 p.m. EST on Sunday. All practices will be on Fox Sports 1. Qualifying will also be on Fox Sports 1 and Performance Racing Network. The race will be on FOX and Performance Racing Network.
Over the offseason, NASCAR allowed drivers the opportunity to wear biometric devices on them during the course of an event. Data from these devices has to be stored within the device. The device must be on the approved list provided b the sanctioning body.
Over the course of Daytona Speedweeks, numerous drivers took to social media to showcase what their bodies go through during the course of an event.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, and Kyle Larson are just some of the drivers that went to Twitter to showcase their heart rate.
Comparing heart rate monitoring with two different devices during the same run in the first practice today. pic.twitter.com/PPd9wDPKR9— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 24, 2017
That 10 lap shootout spiked the adrenaline a bit I'd say. ???? pic.twitter.com/pGIpb52c0P— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 24, 2017
HR from the Duel tonight. Almost exactly the same as in the Clash on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/j2e9Nl3ZHH— Jamie McMurray (@jamiemcmurray) February 24, 2017
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finished up 10 days at Daytona International Speedway to kick off the 2017 NASCAR season. Here are five takeaways from the weekend:
- Damaged Vehicle Policy: This is a step in the right direction for NASCAR. For those unfamiliar with the rule, let’s explain. If a car gets in an accident on track, they can attempt to fix the car on pit road for five minutes. If they take the car to the garage, the drivers day is done. However, time on the five-minute clock runs yellow line to yellow line on pit road. This is a great thing for NASCAR. The debate of ruining “sponsorship airtime” is ridiculous. Sunday’s Daytona 500 has ZERO debris cautions mostly in part to this policy. If you cannot fix your car in five minutes, then you probably shouldn’t be on the track. Kurt Busch was involved in accident, but his team was able to fix it in the time allotted to win the Daytona 500. The sample size is only one race weekend, gice it some time.
- Stages: Many fans have said that because of the stages, there were more wrecks all of Speedweeks. That is not the case. Every four to six years, the races in Daytona are considered a “Demolition Derby”. The last time that happened was 2012. If the stages were the cause of all the wrecks, then there would have been wrecks at stage end, but the caution never flew at stage end. So far, stages have been great, but there has only been one race weekend as a sample size. Let’s get through the West Coast Swing before we send judgment.
- Day Racing: The Advanced Auto Parts Clash was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday morning. The race saw action throughout. The track was cool to start, but as the race progressed the track warmed up causing handling issues. In my opinion, day racing provides higher quality of racing because of the challenge it provides the drivers.
- Toyota: Toyota came into the weekend with their typical game plan of working together. That game plan worked for most of Speedweeks until the Daytona 500. On the first pit stop of the day, all the Toyota drivers pitted. However, some of their drivers went a lap down due to pit road penalties. When the Toyota’s pitted all by themselves in the second stage, they were too far apart on the track when they came down pit road. When they exited pit road, it took them almost two laps to get hooked up which put many of them a lap down and involved in an accident. Toyota had the best strategy of all the manufacturers, but their execution was not the best.
- Brian France: Mr. France made an unprecedented comment about competition in the driver’s meeting before Sunday’s race. “But what I don’t normally do, and I’m going to do this today, is bring up a competition issue,” France said. “This is for the drivers. And what I want you to think about. We realize blocking is part of racing. We understand that. We accept that. Do not look for NASCAR … when you block somebody out there, and it’s going to happen today. It causes almost all the big incidents. Do not look for NASCAR … you better hope there’s a Good Samaritan behind you who is going to accept that block, because they have that lane and the right to it. And I don’t often make those statements. But I think it’s important today as we go into our most important event to make that really clear with our competitors.” This announcement scratched heads everywhere. The intent of his message was unclear, especially to Steve O’Donnell. This comes on the heels of many reports that France does whatever he pleases without consulting others.
What are your five takeaways from Daytona Speedweeks?
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch had some strong words for Goodyear following his accident on lap 129 that collected 17 cars.
Busch had a tire going down when he went towards the wall going into the third turn. There was no indication that the tire was going down:
“No. I wished I would’ve. If I would’ve, I would’ve tried to wave off as many guys behind me as I could, but it happened just as soon as we started picking up load into turn three. Just spun around and you know it actually felt like I hung onto it for a long ways and then finally it went. I don’t know if it was a left rear that went down or the right that went down but man, tore up three JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in one hit and also Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.),” said Busch.
As Goodyear enters into the final year of their current contract as NASCAR’s Tire Supplier, Busch talked about the frustration caused by the tires.
“You know obviously Goodyear tires just aren’t very good at holding air. It’s very frustrating when we have that down here every single year we’ve been here. Last year we had it as well too. It wrecked us in practice and tore up a car – a few cars actually were in that as well.”
In response, Goodyear was adamant that their tires do hold air. Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Racing Director, saw that there was evidence of impact on the right rear tire, which they will investigate.
"There's also damage on the left rear, which we feel could have contributed, but again, until you know exactly what it looks like inside [the tire], it's tough to say for sure," Stucker said. "But certainly, both tires were completely intact with regard to components or any obvious issues that we feel could have led to any sort of premature air loss. It was obviously an outside impact or source that created it; we just don't know exactly what yet and which tire."
Goodyear did not see any tire issues throughout Daytona Speedweeks, and believes that Busch reacted in the heat of the moment.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— The Dawsonville Pool Room will not be sounding the siren after the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Chase Elliott was just three laps from scoring his first career victory before running out of fuel.
"It was a disappointing finish to a good day. Just one of those things you can't do anything about. I'm happy with how the NAPA team performed, and we are going to learn from it. I'm proud of how hard everyone worked all week. We're looking forward to getting back at it in Atlanta."
With 25 laps to go, Elliott was leading a single file line around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. As the run went on, crew chiefs were telling drivers to conserve fuel as they were a lap to a half lap short. Many drivers were telling spotters that as the laps wound down, Elliott was slowing down the pace. As the leader, Elliott was using a little bit more fuel than everyone.
Elliott is no stranger to being close to victory. Elliott’s frustration culminates from numerous races in 2016 of being close. Despite the loss, Elliott is excited to head to his home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway.