Atlanta Motor Speedway… What comes to mind when you hear those words? A race plagued by weather? Boring? SMI’s next demise? For me, I hear the words abrasive and tire management. That is what happened this weekend for the Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500. It was an exciting race that went 209 laps caution-free at the start. Drivers were on wheel, turning right to go left.
Ed Clark and his team at the Atlanta Motor Speedway did a better job this year marketing the event compared to last season. Clark and his team had more time to market the event to the Atlanta fan base, which struggles to support their own sports teams. The weather was something that plagued last year’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500. The “Chamber of Commerce Weather” for the race weekend was a factor for many of the fans in attendance for the weekend. Attendance for the event was better than the year’s prior. Fans loved the new ticket packages being offered by Atlanta.
I was able to attend the double-header on Saturday between the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race. All three races were filled with great unknown. The first ever use of the new caution clock for the Camping World Truck Series, and the new low-downforce package for the Sprint Cup Series were used for the first time at Atlanta.
On Saturday, fans were treated to the second edition of the NASCAR Double-Header at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race was considered “boring” to the fans around me in the stands. Kyle Busch won for the first time at the Atlanta Motor Speedway ending the win streak of Kevin Harvick at the 1.54-mile track. Fans were treated to the battle of Kyle Larson trying to close the gap on Kyle Busch in the final laps. After the Heads Up Georgia 250, fans had roughly thirty minutes to reprogram their scanners, reapply sunscreen, and refuel on beverages and food.
The Great Clips 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway was a rather eventful race. Trucks that were dominate throughout the whole race crashed allowing John Hunter Nemechek to capture his second career Camping World Truck Series win. The caution clock expired twice during the race. Fans enjoyed the idea of the caution clock because without it Matt Crafton would have continued his dominance at Atlanta. Fans cheered when the caution clock expired for the first time on lap 28. At the beginning of the race, the time remaining on the caution clock was not available on Sprint Vision, but after about 10 minutes, fans could see how much time was remaining. The second caution clock provided for an “amazing restart”, according to some fans. Matt Crafton and Daniel Suarez were turned coming off of the second turn by Suarez’s teammate, Christopher Bell, red-flagging the race. Fans cheered when Crafton and Suarez were able to walk away, and booed when they saw that Christopher Bell caused the accident. When it looked like Bell was on his way to victory, he had a tire go down and he hit the wall coming off the fourth turn. The impact to the wall was loud enough where fans with scanners could hear the impact. Fans were excited when John-Hunter Nemechek held off Cameron Hayley to win.
Atlanta Motor Speedway does a good job of getting fans to renew their tickets for the next season. When a fan renewed their tickets for 2017, fans were able to receive a QuickTrip Gift Card, Spy Sunglasses, and a Brookstone tool. Fans who renewed are placed in the AMS Insider’s Club. This club allows for fans to have preferred parking in the front three rows of the unreserved lots of the speedway, a coupon book up to $40, and over 750 exclusive prizes. I was an AMS Insiders Club Member for this weekend. I was able to go into race control and the Performance Racing Network Booth as one of the prizes. Fans were able to see how a radio broadcast works from the booth perspective, and how race control is run during the event.
The Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 showed a great step in the right direction for the low-downforce package. Tire management was key in the race and drivers were forced to manage their tires with perfection. After about 35 laps, drivers were planning their stops to get four fresh Goodyear tires. Drivers were able to pass throughout the field, no matter where they were on the speedway. The leader was not able to run away with the lead in clean air. Drivers were able to battle for the lead, unlike other 1.5-mile events. NASCAR Overtime also played a role into the race. However, I had to explain to some fans about the new overtime line. The anti-climatic finish allowed for Jimmie Johnson to win. Fans were amazed that the drivers with dirt backgrounds struggled with the new package. Cars that were fast in practices throughout the weekend, struggled during the race.
For the first time ever, the Supercross and NASCAR world will collide in Atlanta, GA for their respective seasons. On Saturday, four drivers will compete in an intermission period during the Monster Energy Supercross event at the Georgia Dome.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer, and Greg Biffle will compete in the Holeshot Challenge. Danica Patrick will hold the 30-second board before the start of the event, and Jimmie Johnson will drop the gate for the challenge. When the gate is dropped, drivers will race to the holeshot line towards the first turn and whoever crosses that line first will be crowned the winner. Three different brands of motorcycles will be used during the event. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., hosted by Ryan Dungey, will ride a KTM 250 SX-F. Clint Bowyer, hosted by Dunlop, will ride a Kawasaki KXF 250. Ty Dillon will ride a KTM 250 SX-F. Greg Biffle will ride a Honda CRF250F provided by Freewheeling Motorposts of Douglasville, GA.
"Many of NASCAR's best drivers grew up racing motocross and have a deep appreciation for Monster Energy Supercross and what these athletes do on a weekly basis," said Todd Jendro, Vice President Operations - Two Wheel, Feld Entertainment. "The holeshot is one of the most important and intense aspects of the race, and the Holeshot Challenge is designed to illustrate that element in a fun and entertaining way."
"This is an exciting and unique opportunity to return to my first passion in motorsports," said Bowyer. "My family traveled the country for many years chasing amateur national championships, and I've been a lifelong fan of Supercross. I actually went out and bought a bike to practice for this, and I hope some of those old reflexes come out to shine this Saturday night. It's going to be fun!"
Once the events of the day are done at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, many NASCAR drivers will make the 45-minute trek to Downtown Atlanta. On Sunday, many Monster Energy Supercross drivers will arrive at the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500. You can catch all the action from Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Georgia Dome all day long on Fox Sports 1.
This marked the first career Sprint Unlimited win for crew chief Mike Wheeler atop the pit box as a rookie. “I’m so happy for (Mike Wheeler) to start one-for-one with a good win at Daytona.” Hamlin said. “This win couldn’t be possible without my teammates. Matt (Kenseth) sacrificed so much pushing me at the right time. Total team effort just like Kyle’s (Busch) championship. We win as a team and this was a Joe Gibbs Racing win.”
Although the field of 25 drivers battled loose race cars all night, it wasn’t until the final laps of the race where things started to get intense. With three laps to go, caution came out, which would lead to NASCAR’s version of overtime. Hamlin and the No. 22 of Joey Logano were racing in a dead heat before the yellow came out again. Although the field had already crossed the ‘overtime’ line, before the final ‘big one. Hamlin was then able to coast to the checkers with Logano finishing second.
Although Logano had to settle for runner up, he was still pleased with his performance in the 79-lap race. “I had a great Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion and we kept working our way up from the back and it was hard for us to get that lead,” Logano said. “We were so close, right next to the 11 when they started crashing there. It’s a good start for the weekend and I’m proud of what we did.”
Paul Menard took home a third-place finish for Richard Childress Racing. The driver of the No. 27 Peak Antifreeze/Menards Chevrolet struggled with speed but was pleased with the way his car drafted. “It was a lot of fun,” Menard said. “I picked some wrong lanes and some right lanes, and in the end, the middle worked pretty well. It was a wild race."
Although Jimmie Johnson started on the pole, the No. 48 team’s luck didn’t continue as Johnson was involved in a crash at lap 43. “I could see the hole closing up. I was trying to get out of it and I avoided crashing the two guys that closed the door on me but I got hit from behind and that’s what sent me down through the infield,” he explained. “I was just trying hard. I was trying to see what I could get away with and what I couldn’t by being aggressive.”
Although the driver of the Lowes’ Chevrolet wrecked, he still believes he and his team learned a lot for next week’s Daytona 500. “This car isn’t like the other car,” he said. “But being in the car and trying to set up passes and getting onto pit road; all those things were really helpful.”
- Denny Hamlin
- Joey Logano
- Paul Menard
- Kyle Larson
- Casey Mears
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Kurt Busch
- Austin Dillon
- Brad Keselowski
- Greg Biffle
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will now prepare for the Daytona 500 with qualifying tomorrow at 1 PM ET on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM.
Matt Kenseth is the defending race winner and is one of the eligible drivers for this year’s exhibition race. By leading 21 laps, Kenseth captured his first Sprint Unlimited win and the second for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. Kenseth, a Wisconsin native, went on to win five Sprint Cup Series races and finished 15th in the final Sprint Cup Series standings.
While there are 25 drivers who are eligible for the non-points event, two of them will not be seen on the 2.5-mile track. With Tony Stewart injured and Jeff Gordon retired, their spots will be filled based on the 2015 Sprint Cup Series driver points standings. At the moment, the drivers eligible for the provisional spots are Casey Mears, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Sam Hornish Jr., David Ragan and Trevor Bayne.
To determine starting spots and pit selection for the race, selected fans were paired with crew chiefs for a random draw. The draw took place this afternoon in the Sprint FANZONE at the Alert Today Florida stage. Tomorrow's race will consist of two segments with a competition caution at lap 25.
Ones To Watch
-Kyle Larson begins the new season with a new crew chief. Larson lead the first Sprint Unlimited practice session in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
- Brian Vickers is subbing for Stewart in the No. 14 Mobil One Chevrolet in both the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 events. Vickers himself has been on hiatus for health problems of his own for the past year.
- Martin Truex Jr. is last year’s runner up in the Sprint Unlimited. After a phenomenal rest of the 2015 season, he enters his third year with the Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team. The No. 78 team also made a manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Toyota during the offseason.
Start time for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona is 8:00 PM ET on Saturday, February 13. FOX (local), MRN and SiriusXM Ch. 90 have the coverage.
Martin Truex Jr. had many moments all throughout the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. One of those moments for the New Jersey native was the opportunity to compete in the final four at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and ending one of his biggest seasons in NASCAR yet.
Truex has overcome many struggles over the last two years. The driver was let go from Michael Waltrip Racing after NAPA left the team at the end of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season because of the Richmond fiasco. After moving to Furniture Row Racing, Truex finished the 2014 season 24th in points while he went through some personal struggles outside of racing involving his girlfriend Sherry Pollex. While she battled with ovarian cancer, Truex was having a battle of his own on the track.
The 2015 season would turn around even more for the driver. Truex started out the season strong and eventually captured his first win since 2013 at the Pocono Raceway. The win also led Truex into the Chase and eventually into the final four at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex would later become the Cinderella story of the year, joining Jeff Gordon’s last ride and Kyle Busch’s comeback story.
Despite being seen as the Underdog throughout the Chase, Truex not only found retribution for incidents that occurred over the last two seasons, but also took Furniture Row Racing -- a one car organization -- into the Chase and competing against some of the “powerhouse” teams in the Cup Series.
“Super proud of our season and really proud to come this far to come from 24th in points last year to 4th this year is a pretty big step, and I don't think most people realize just how big of a deal it is and how hard it was for us to get that far,” said Truex.
While most teams operate within the vicinity of Charlotte, Furniture Row Racing operates out of Denver, Colorado. Although the team had an alliance with the Richard Childress Racing organization, the team doesn’t necessarily operate the same way as RCR. With a single-car organization, Truex doesn't have teammates to rely on for information or to compare race strategies like some of his competitors.
“I mean, we were definitely up against a lot here. The odds were against us for sure. You know, obviously really proud of everybody, like I said, and you know, we didn't come here saying we were going to be okay finishing fourth. We came here and really tried everything in our power, everything we knew how to do, to put together our best performance. It just wasn't in the cards for us,” Truex said.
While Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team found the speed and consistency in 2015 under Chevrolet, the team will flip the switch to Toyota and form a new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. All four JGR drivers won races in 2015 and went on to score the championship with Kyle Busch this past weekend. Forming the new alliance will give the small team even more motivation going into 2016.
“I think this is great motivation for us for next year. I think that with the things we have coming and going to Toyota and teaming up with JGR and all that stuff, I think the future is bright for this team, and we're keeping all our guys together, and hopefully this is our first season battling for a championship but not our last. I really feel strong that this is a special group of guys, and if we can keep that together for hopefully the rest of my career, I'd love to drive for them,” Truex said.