In an age where NASCAR fans are clamoring for more short tracks, Speedway Motorsports looked at the opportunity provided by Atlanta Motor Speedway and its aging asphalt last year and made a bold decision: They went in the opposite direction.
After last summer's race won by Kurt Busch, SMI finally tore up Atlanta's worn-out track surface -- 25 years after it was last repaved and reconfigured.
When NASCAR returns to the 1.5-mile track in Hampton, Georgia this weekend, it might as well be a brand-new track. A track designed to produce the racing seen at the much larger tracks, Daytona and Talladega.
To do this, SMI didn't just put down a fresh coat of pavement.
It raised the banking in the turns from 24 to 28 degrees.
It widened the frontstretch from 55 to 61 feet, while narrowing the backstretch from 55 to 42 feet and the turns from 55 to 40 feet.
The NASCAR Cup Series will compete on the track with the same 510 horsepower, 7-inch rear spoiler rules package used at Daytona and Talladega.
Simply put, this isn't your dad's -- or even your grandfather's -- Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The only Cup drivers who have tested on the reconfigured track are Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, and Ross Chastain. They took part in Goodyear tire test there in January.
"It's a clean slate," Busch said during the test.
"Right now with the grip level in the asphalt, it really is a fun situation of just trying to get the car as low as we can, as trimmed out as we can. Once we got out in there in a group, the pace picked up by over a second with having the cars draft together. Things were amplified way more than we expected when had just three cars. You can imagine what 30, 40 of them will do."
His brother, Kyle Busch, has some thoughts.
"Atlanta is going to be crazy," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said in a media release. "You are going to see a lot of pack racing with some guys two-wide and maybe three-wide, and we'll have to see how wide the track gets in the time we have on it."
"Really paying attention and watching some of the Truck Series and Xfinity Series racing earlier in the weekend. It's going to be helpful to see what we'll have for Sunday."
Unlike the last three Cup race weekends, teams will have a traditional 50-minute practice session to prepare.
That's okay with three-time Atlanta winner Kevin Harvick.
"Atlanta is a race where you have some actual practice, so that's a good thing," Harvick said in a media release.
"It's another element that you have to add in there with the grip level of the race track and the new asphalt and everything that comes with that, and where to run on the race track. So, you have things that are just going to chew up time on practice day as far as learning what you need to do from the driver's seat, and that progression of the race track definitely affects the handling of the race car."
"There are just so many challenges in the beginning of the year with new racetracks and new cars and logistics and you just have to be very open-minded. You have to take it one step at a time and not get too frustrated with everything that's going to be going on because there's going to be a lot to digest."
The NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway begins Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on Fox.
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