As the Georgia 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck series race – the tail end of a NASCAR twinbill at Atlanta Motor Speedway set for Feb. 27 – looms just three weeks away, a handful of rookies got the chance to get their feet wet on the aged, historic 1.54-mile track at AMS in a two-day rookie test that wrapped up this afternoon.
Five drivers – William Byron, Chris Bell and Cody Coughlin from Kyle Busch Motorsports, Grant Enfinger from GMS Racing, and Austin Wayne Self from AM Racing – turned laps, preparing for the rapidly approaching season and the challenge of driving competitively at AMS in the second week of the 2016 schedule. Combined, the five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookies have a total of just 16 truck races under their collective belt. None have raced in NASCAR at Atlanta.
Important seemed to be a theme among the drivers to describe the opportunity to get some seat time on one of the truck series circuit’s toughest tracks.
“I think it's really important, and for me especially, because I don't have a lot of experience,” said Chris Bell during a midday break Friday. “Thankfully, last year, I got to go to quite a few different styles of race tracks and got to go to a couple of mile-and-a-halves that helped me when I came here for this test. Hopefully we can use what we've learned here and go on to the race.”
Enfinger, who drove full time in the ARCA series the past two seasons and hasn’t driven a NASCAR truck since 2012, saw the opportunity to get track time ahead of the season crucial to a strong start.
“It's very, very important to us,” said Enfinger. “There is still a little uncertainty about what all we're doing this year, so we need to start out with a bang. We want to be fast at Daytona, but this is where it really starts, in Atlanta. We want to be good when we unload, and I think we've made a lot of progress with that.”
While the test is the first time Byron has turned laps on the 1.54-mile Atlanta track in a NASCAR setup, he’s no stranger to AMS. Just a few short years ago, Byron was a familiar face in AMS’s Thursday Thunder racing series, driving a U.S. Legends car on the quarter-mile Thunder Ring in 2013 and winning that season’s Young Lions Division championship.
“It feels really cool, because I used to walk around the big track when I was here for Thursday Thunder. It's obviously a different deal, going this fast in a truck versus a Legends car, but at least I got to visualize the track a few years ago,” he said. “It's really a dream come true to be out here on a mile-and-a-half race track, going 180 miles per hour.”
Last year, Byron claimed the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship as well as Rookie of the Year honors, and he already has his sights set on a national touring title.
“The guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports have a great season planned, and we're going to try for a few wins this year.”
For Byron, Bell and Coughlin, driving a truck for team-owner Kyle Busch is a gigantic opportunity to add their names to a long list of highlights for KBM. All their boss, Kyle Busch, has done since his first foray into NASCAR in 2001 is win 44 NCWTS races, 76, XFINITY Series races, 34 Sprint Cup Series races and two series championships as a driver, including last year’s Sprint Cup Series championship. Add Erik Jones’ NCWTS championship last year, and KBM enters a class of its own.
“It's great, really, just because their technology is so far ahead,” said Byron. “I've never been with people that work so hard and are committed to what they do.”
Said Bell, “It's really cool. It's an honor to be here at Kyle Busch Motorsports, being able to hopefully back up what Erik (Jones) did last year with a driver championship and the past couple of years for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ owner championships.”
Like most drivers, Atlanta Motor Speedway’s track itself left a lasting impression for the rookies seeing it for the first time.
“I like it, because it's big; it's fast, but it's also worn out, so it's got character,” said Enfinger, who also ranks among the Thursday Thunder alumni now driving in NASCAR. “This is one of those places if you hit it right, you're going to have a good day, and if you hit it wrong, it's going to be a long, long day. We race at some other tracks that are similar to it, but nothing is quite the same as Atlanta.”
“It doesn't have a lot of grip, so it's interesting the balance between getting the truck the way you want it and also guessing what the race is going to be like around other trucks,” said Byron. “It's going to produce an exciting race. It's going to be awesome.”
“It's pretty fast,” Bell noted. “We've seen a couple of different track conditions, and it has definitely affected the trucks, so hopefully, we can learn what to do to our truck when the track gets a little hotter and when it gets cooler too.”