As the NASCAR circus hits the road to head towards the first leg of the series’ West Coast Swing, it’s time to do what I do best: stop and think. My favorite part of the NASCAR schedule is when I can get in a good rhythm of watching races all weekend, talking about said races on Monday and Tuesday, and by the time the teams show up to the track on Thursday, I’m chomping at the bit to see cars making laps again. Fortunately, folks, that leaves us with Wednesdays to shift gears from the past weekend to the next and in this case, it’s Atlanta to Las Vegas.
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
It goes without saying that Stewart Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick is now at least part owner of the long-heralded Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kevin “Happy”/”El Toro”/”The Closer” Harvick dominated every lap that he ran this weekend in both the Xfinity and MENCS cars. Harvick led an absurd 181 out of 325 laps and had little to no competition en route to his emotional win on Sunday. Emotional is not usually a word associated with Kevin Harvick but the moment got to him on Sunday night, and rightfully so, as it sank in at how far he’d came since his first career win 17 years prior.
While Harvick stunk up the show on Sunday, the racing throughout the pack was some of the most unique stuff we’ll see on the schedule. Atlanta’s old, slick, worn out racing surface challenged the drivers and forced them to literally wrestle their race cars for 500 straight miles. It was tough to see how hard the drivers were working inside the car for most of the standard swooping TV shots. Luckily though, every few times Fox changed the camera, we could really see how uncontrollable the cars were. Later in the race, Fox showed an onboard shot of a car following closely behind Kasey Kahne. This shot gave us the pleasure of watching Kahne run completely sideways through turns 3 and 4 while losing zero ground on whomever we were riding along with. My friends and I rewound it and watched it no less than 5 times because it was that awesome. Annnnnnnnnnnd that might explain why I’m single.
What We’ll Take With Us
While Atlanta Motor Speedway brings plenty of its own unique challenges to the table, it’s time we make 1.5 mile racing great again. I’ll be the first to say that I haven’t felt genuinely excited for a 1.5 miler race in a long time but that was totally washed out this weekend and the race delivered. it reminded me that 1.5 mile tracks can bring their own style of racing action and while we might not see side by side racing 10 rows deep every lap, the tire degradation and driving styles do make for solid racing. While I have admittedly been anti-1.5 mile tracks in the past; I fully think that when each track can develop somewhat of an identity, the intermediate tracks will gain more popularity and ultimately elevate NASCAR as a whole.
Looking Ahead To Las Vegas
As the teams head west, don’t let the Toyota teams’ lack of dominance at Atlanta fool you; they’re gonna pick right up where they left off last season. The difference this season though is that they have some worthy competition. As the Ford teams have learned more about their Fusion bodies, they’ve turned that into speed, while the Chevrolet camp has brought a new body to build around. At Atlanta, that new Chevy Camaro showed great short run speed when Ryan Newman jumped out to an early lead after qualifying on the front row but that speed didn’t last for 500 miles as the highest finishing Chevy was Kyle Larson in 9th place.
I’m in no place to tell you what’s entertaining and what’s not entertaining about a race weekend but I am cautiously optimistic about this weekend’s race. Between the manufacturer arms race, new faces in new places, and the fact that this is the 3rd of like 40 race weekends in a row, I’m pumped to keep the NASCAR train rolling this Sunday.