Race Capsule: History and a new horizon at Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was saw history, strategy, excitement, and suspense blend for an intense second race of the 2016 season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The day started with Kurt Busch (4th) on the pole after brother Kyle Busch (3rd) saw his fastest qualifying time disallowed Friday - he started in the back. Ku. Busch held the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy up front for about the first quarter of the race, but then the Toyotas came to
Martin Truex Jr. (7th) and Matt Kenseth (19th) led for 34 and 47 laps respectively in the race's midpoint. But during the third green flag pit stop sequence of the day, NASCAR penalized Kenseth's No. 20 team for the fuel man properly using
Somehow the field managed to avoid wrecking or dropping debris for the first 210 laps, the longest green flag run in a long time. This caused many to fall laps down and never be able to recover, but there still was constant passing through the field, including for the lead - very exciting to watch. But some fans in the stands say they had trouble keeping up with what was happening to each driver when and what lap they were on. (This is why having a scanner, Fanvision, or radio to hear PRN and the PA feed is a must have at races). The long green flag periods also kept drivers like Kenseth from bouncing back from trouble.
Kevin Harvick (6th) looked to be the heavy hitter next, leading the most laps on the day at 131. The new low downforce package on the cars seemed to suit Harvick's constant AMS pursuit of the bottom line around the track. Harvick had the race won until last year's winner, Johnson, took a swing for the fences.
No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus made the call with about 49 laps to go to pit for fresh tires earlier than the rest of the field and gained not only with that gutsy
Harvick immediately began eating the deficit and got it to six seconds with 10 laps to go. But Harvick bobbled in a corner and Johnson picked up his speed to seemingly win the race. Ryan Newman (24th), who is not Johnson's best buddy on the
The field only gets one extra attempt at a GWC and an attempt is official at Atlanta Motor Speedway when the field crosses a line in Turn 3. Johnson led the field to green and quickly got in front, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2nd) and Kyle Busch (3rd) shooting out of the pack like a cannon. Harvick spun his tires on the start and fell
As the leaders worked through Turn 3, Aric Almirola (15th), David Ragan (32nd), and Landon Cassill (36th) got together and wrecked hard on the back straightaway. NASCAR kept the race green until Johnson got around to the start-finish line and then threw the yellow, ending the race.
Johnson's career-win 76 ties Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 7th all-time and the six-time Sprint Cup Series champ is now just one Cup championship shy of both Earnhardt and Petty's all-time lead.
The top 10 were: Johnson; Earnhardt Jr.; Ky. Busch (drove from 39th to only about 18th, but got back on the lead lap and surged forward); Ku. Busch (faded after leading early, but stayed on lead lap all day); Carl Edwards (hung in the top 5 most of the day at one of his favorite tracks); Harvick (doomed by a bad pit stop and a bad final restart); Truex Jr. (one of the day's best cars, lost spots on final restart); Chase Elliott (after starting 24th, was day's biggest surprise in first Cup Series start at AMS...more later); Brad Keselowski (hung between 12th and 8th most of the day, Team Penske seems to be struggling some with new Fusion nose); Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (former dirt track star flourished in new low-downforce package at track that dirt drivers like).
Johnson and Denny Hamlin (16th in race) each almost assuredly will be in the 2016 Chase for the Cup. Johnson now has five Cup wins at AMS, just one behind Bobby Labonte for most amongst active drivers.
Cautions may not have broken up the 329 laps but three times at AMS, but NASCAR's new rules package, combined with the multi-groove, tire-eating surface at the Hampton, Georgia track made for a very entertaining race. See you next year.
RaceTweet: Harvick dominates, but Johnson and Knaus outfox and outlast the field to win the #FOHQT500 @amsupdates. Elliott impressive in 8th. #GAdrivers
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - This award should go to Harvick, who easily led the most laps and had the best car on the day. But Johnson and co. made the daring call to take just two tires
North Korean Missile Dud: Denny Hamlin - I'm not bitter about this because I wrongfully picked him in my NASCAR Fantasy League. But the No. 11 just didn't have the steam expected from them at AMS. The Daytona 500 winner started 12th, made a huge swing into almost the top 5 in the opening laps, then fell back far. He actually rode at the tail of the lead lap midway through the race with teammate and leader Kenseth drafting him for 30 or so laps. In the end, he finished 16th, two laps down. That's a bad finish to the real start of the season. However, with a spot in the Chase already, Hamlin and crew chief Mike Wheeler may have been experimenting with their setup. The other Joe Gibbs Racing cars were mighty fast.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Joey Logano - Logano started a poor 26th in the
Ghost Driver: Kyle Larson - Year number three on the Sprint Cup tour has gleaned a top 10 in the Daytona 500 for young Larson, but then a disappointing result at AMS. Larson started 20th and finished 27th Sunday, never showing a fighting chance. Larson runs well at tracks like Atlanta and almost beat Ky. Busch in Saturday's Xfinity Series (NXS) event. That makes this finish even more lacking.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Casey Mears - This Germain Racing team will probably own this category again in 2016. Mears kept the No. 13 out of trouble Sunday and outran many of the big dog teams to place 14th and only a lap down Sunday. Tire and chassis issues doomed a good finish for Mears in the Daytona 500, but they have had a fast GEICO Chevy both weeks.
Wheel of Misfortune: Ryan Newman - Newman caught heavy damage a week ago in Daytona, but still finished 11th. Sunday, Newman started 4th and ran in the top 10 most of the race. He was the only driver all race to cut a tire, surprisingly. He pitted early under that
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Atlanta Motor Speedway - This goes to the track, not a driver this time. The weather was perfect, which often has not been the case in recent AMS history. The stands were about
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: This is not meant to criticize whom NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France endorsed Monday, but the idea that he endorsed anyone is perplexing. As many, including WSB's Jamie Dupree, reported Monday, France, Bill and Chase Elliott, David Ragan, and Ryan Newman all appeared at a Donald Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia to pledge support for the Republican
Just last week in Daytona, DIS president Joie Chitwood III said that he and NASCAR did not want the Daytona 500 to be a campaign stop. With Super Tuesday just ahead, no candidates appeared at Sunday's AMS race. There were no campaign-sponsored cars - nothing. NASCAR seemed to be separating itself from the intense political atmosphere everywhere else.
In the past, some NASCAR luminaries have not always trended Republican. Some in the France family have donated to Democratic campaigns. Congress has investigated team owner Rick Hendrick for his being pardoned by Bill Clinton after a roundabout donation to the Clinton Library years ago. But generally, drivers have kept political views to themselves.
NASCAR even distanced itself from Trump in 2015, moving its Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series banquets from a Trump-owned resort in Miami. This is because of a major protest by Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis over Trump's rhetoric.
What changed? Three Georgia drivers (the Elliott's and Ragan) endorsed the day before the election in Georgia - makes sense. But why France? The only answer, besides sudden personal conviction about a candidate, is for publicity. Riding the Trump train may be controversial, but it's highly popular and highly visible. Really, NASCAR should stay above the weeds on this, but one can't argue right now that almost everyone is buzzing about the weeds.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott really turned heads in Sunday's 500, lasting to an 8th-place finish on the lead lap in a grueling race. Team owner Rick Hendrick and teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and winner Jimmie Johnson sang young Elliott's
Unadilla's David Ragan ran
Saturday's Xfinity Series race was much like the Cup event - long green flag runs. Kyle Busch started from the pole and won and most of the Georgia drivers struggled. Brandon Jones started 19th but get inside the top 10 and hung around for 11th-place at the end. Ryan Sieg started an impressive 8th, but fell back and finished 16th, a lap down. Garrett Smithley made only his second-career NXS start and bested both of his JD Motorsports teammates in 24th, four laps down. Chris Cockrum had a handful all day, almost wrecking early and placing 29th, 11 laps down.
Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race at AMS was an exciting affair for Watkinsville's John Wes Townley. He started 2nd and led Friday's second practice. He struggled in the back of the top 10 most of the race, but a couple of crashes and restarts got him to 2nd again on the final restart. Just like the start of the race, Townley couldn't get going on the outside line and finished 7th. Austin Hill's first race with his family-owned No. 20 team was a solid 12th-place effort. Smithley ran the No. 63 for the Mittler Bros. and stayed out of trouble to place 18th - they cut a tire in the final practice and it got stuck on the wheel. Korbin Forrister missed his second-straight race in the Lira Motorsports No. 59 entry.
NXS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch started on the pole and dominated, but Kyle Larson almost caught him. It was Busch's first career NXS win at AMS.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Matt Crafton or Christopher Bell should have won, but their wrecks handed John Hunter Nemechek his 2nd-career win. Youngest AMS winner.
Next: Those slackers in the NCWTS are off until Martinsville race weekend. The Sprint Cup Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The Xfinity Series precedes them Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FS1. You can hear both races on radio on PRN stations or the PRN app and on Sirius/XM satellite radio. The new low-downforce package will really see a test on a track at LVMS that has