NASCAR Cup Series
OBSERVATIONS: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
The entire off-season has seen discussion surrounding expectations for NASCAR’s brand new aero package. While it won’t be totally on display until next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there was enough action today to wet the taste buds.
Atlanta Motor Speedway produces stellar racing every year, and it showed once again. As the drivers get later into a run, the tires begin to fall off more with the handling constantly changing. The aged asphalt also allows for multiple grooves to be ran around the full 1.54-mile oval, allowing you to see Kevin Harvick pinch the yellow line while Kyle Larson rim rides the top. As a result, you get impressive battles for position throughout the event, and that was once again on display on Sunday.
The new rule package, though, brought forth a new layer with the restarts as drivers went three-, even four-wide at times battling for position as the aerodynamics drew them closer together. The first five laps resulted in fans on the edge of the seat, hoping it was their driver getting the run necessary to make the move.
With no tire fall off at Las Vegas and fresher pavement, it’s supposedly going to be like that all race long, with drafting coming into play. Essentially, it could get very interesting quickly.
Despite the new package, though, the same teams that were fast last year showed speed once again as Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing each had all of their entries in the top-10 at one point during the event. The other side is that Hendrick Motorsports continued to run mid-pack as they did through the majority of last season, while JTG-Daughtry Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing that they lease engines to was in the top-10.
The 2019 Rookie of the Year class was highly regarded entering the season with talent – and for good reason. Both Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric steadily ran in the top-10 throughout the first half of the event, until issues took them out of contention in the closing stages.
For Preece, it was contact on pit road as he glanced down at his tack to double check his pit road speed and ran into the back of B.J. McLeod. Although Preece should have his eyes on the road, you also have to wonder about McLeod considering he had come to a dead stop and he was still five stalls away from his own. To his credit, though, McLeod stated post-race he was going slow due to having a flat tire.
It’s worth nothing this marks the second week in a row a Rick Ware Racing car has been involved in a pit road incident. Hemric, meanwhile, came down pit road late for a tire issue.
Sadly, for the second straight week, NASCAR is facing a degree of high criticism for their decisions throughout the event. Unfortunately, it also deals with Chase Elliott once again.
It wasn’t the day that the Georgia native was looking for, running in the low teens as he battled an ill-handling car. However, as the incident happened with Preece and Hemric, he was on pit road. Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the decision to put just two tires on, allowing Elliott to get off pit road quickly so he could be the first car one lap down and get the lucky dog.
In the series’ eyes, though, they ruled Brad Keselowski was the lucky dog. As a result, Elliott had to take the wave around for the restart, not able to get the two left-side tires, and finished 19th. The frustration was evident from the Hendrick Motorsports driver post-race.
NASCAR has stated that they will share their evidence with Elliott and the No. 9 team proving why Keselowski was the lucky dog.
Additionally, Martin Truex Jr. was originally assessed a penalty for his crew members jumping over the wall too soon, which would’ve saw him start at the tail end of the longest line. Instead, he restarted fourth and turned that into a runner-up finish.
NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said post-race the pit stop was reviewed in the tower and there was no penalty as they could not confirm foot was down early per video.
It’s a little concerning when you hear straight from the sanctioning body that they don’t have enough views of a pit stop to confirm something, especially when they made us to believe their new pro trailer system with less officials on pit road and using video instead would work.
A caution coming out during pit stops is the worse case scenario for NASCAR as it does make a headache for scoring and figuring out the running order coming to the green with the wave around cars. However, that does not mean that they can be making mistakes. Hopefully it’s something that’s cleaned up quickly.
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