There was plenty of time for drivers to get used to NASCAR’s new low downforce aerodynamic package during Sunday’s QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The race began with 210 consecutive green-flag laps, a nonstop stretch that allowed drivers to try some new things – with and against each other. After Jimmie Johnson won in a green-white-checker finish, the reviews were mostly glowing.
“I loved the way the cars drive,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished ninth. “I understand that it takes more than my opinion to make the sport go round, but I thought it was awesome.”
NASCAR changed the aerodynamics of the car to bring less downforce on the car, which makes them drive more freely on the track. If the goal was to bring a driver’s skills more into play, and with that, an increased potential for passing and more exciting competition, it worked for at least one race.
“They just need to keep taking more (downforce),” said Carl Edwards, who was fifth. “This is real racing. We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun.”
The field was strung out during the long green-flag run to start the race, which was run on a rough Atlanta track that hadn’t been resurfaced since 1997. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some intriguing racing going on. Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. exchanged the lead a few times over a five-lap period.
“Out of control all day long, so it was a lot of fun to race like that,” said Truex. “I don’t think it’ll be quite that slick at most tracks. We always know this is the slickest track on the circuit and it’s always going to be handful and then you add less downforce, the tires burn out like they did – it was pretty wild. Sideways on the straightaways is pretty much how you can sum it up.”
Keselowski, runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. and third-place Kyle Busch also went at it pretty hard.
“We were just battling back and forth and ‘slide jobbing’ one another and high lane-ing it and cutting each other off and everything, so it was pretty fun,” said Busch. “This package lends itself to that. (It was) a lot harder than some of us may want it to be, but that makes it good for the drivers and the crew chiefs to have to work together to come out here and build a good package for themselves and a comfortable race car.”
Said Earnhardt: “You don’t want cars that are easy to drive. You don’t want to look at the guy beside you and think, he ain’t got the talent I’ve got but he’s got the same opportunity because the cars are so easy. Everybody thinks they’re the best driver out there, so you want to make the cars as challenging as possible so you take that out of the equation, and it just comes down to talent.”