There are six 1.5-mile ovals on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2022. While Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of those six 1.5-mile ovals – 1.54-miles to be exact – the racing there is now much different than at its five counterparts.
During the last offseason, Atlanta underwent a facelift with new pavement to replace the worn-out surface and increased banking in the turns from 24 to 28 degrees, with the track width varying from 55 feet to 40 feet. The frontstretch width is now 52 feet while the backstretch and turns at each end of the track are set at 42 and 40 feet wide, respectively.
The first race on the newly configured layout in March showed fans a completely different type of racing than they were used to seeing at Atlanta, and unlike any of the other 1.5-mile ovals on the schedule. While Atlanta is a mile or more shorter in length than Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway’s 2.66-mile oval, the changes made the racing Atlanta look more like it does at those two superspeedways.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crunchy Cookie Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), will head back to the new-look facility south of Atlanta to take on the still new track surface and configuration, and the kind of racing it brings. While it’s designed to facilitate more pack-style racing, there are still countless other unknowns thanks to the layout and the fact it’s just the second time the NextGen car has raced on the new configuration.
Long before the track underwent major changes, Atlanta was where the winning for Busch began with JGR in 2008. That was his first year with JGR, and he headed to Atlanta for the fourth Cup Series race of the season aiming to bring home the maiden victory for the team’s two new partners – Mars Wrigley with its SNICKERS brand, and Toyota. After leading a race-high 173 laps, Busch broke through for the first time in NASCAR’s top series for Toyota, which was in its second year of Cup Series competition and its first with JGR. Busch added an Atlanta Cup Series win in 2013 to go with eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10s over his career there.
So, as the Cup Series heads back to new-look Atlanta this weekend, Busch and the M&M’S Crunchy Cookie team know that while the track is listed as a 1.5-mile oval, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. He hopes to be able to figure out how to get up front and stay there in order to bring home his third Cup Series victory at Atlanta and first on the new configuration.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Crunchy Cookie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Was Atlanta a lot like you expected before the first race after the new pavement and changes there?
“It was just as crazy as I expected. It literally got a facelift with a whole new track surface and layout and everything. Old Atlanta, you had the old asphalt and really had fast lap times to fire off, and then you had a lot of (tire) fall-off where lap times go down throughout the run. That led to having some guys come up through the field and others drop through the field, whether or not they were fast early in the run or slow late in the run, or vice versa. Back in the spring, it was more like what we expected it to be, like a Daytona or Talladega speedway race. We saw a lot of pack racing with some guys two-wide and maybe three-wide, and saw how wide the track got in the time we had on it. We’ll take what we can from the spring race there, what we did well and especially what not to do. Hoping we can figure out how to run up front and contend for the win with our M&M’S Crunchy Cookie Camry TRD.”
What are your memories of racing at Atlanta?
You gave Toyota its first Cup Series win by scoring a victory at Atlanta in March 2008. What do you remember about that?
“Running in Atlanta and being able to put Toyota in victory lane for the first time, that was special for me and for Joe Gibbs Racing and everybody. Certainly, that was neat. We’ve been fortunate to be able to put Toyota and Mars in victory lane a lot more times over the years. With it being the last year for Mars in NASCAR, it’s fun to look back at that win and see all that we’ve accomplished since then. It was really neat to get SNICKERS and Toyota to victory lane, but also having been able to sustain that with a lot more wins since then with M&M’S, Skittles, Doublemint and all the Mars Wrigley brands being able to go out there and win with them over the years.”