For all the hype of the new rules package that was predicted to give us more on track drama, the race at Atlanta looked pretty much like any other old race at Atlanta.
Brad Keselowski won the race after starting 19th and not having much time to practice. He and his wife contracted the flu which kept him out of the car up until race time. Keselowksi took a few laps in final practice and that was it.
With Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch early favorites, Keselowski surprised nearly everyone with his tenacity and grit. The race featured long green flag runs and ended with only 17 cars on the lead lap. Larson and Harvick won the first two Stages but a speeding penalty bit Larson and Harvick battled a tight car much of the day eventually ending up in 4th. Kyle Busch had no laps on his back up car and was never really able to get it dialed in the way he wanted. But a 6th place finish after starting last was a decent day.
Several drivers saw right front tires fray towards the end of the race showing that Harvick wasn’t the only one pushing and abusing their tires on the rough track surface.
The biggest challenge NASCAR right now is proving its new rules package is going to make for better racing. Aside from the first few laps on a restart, there was little side by side racing and the two leaders were putting a 4-6 second gap between them and the third-place car. Don’t get me wrong, there was some battling for positions in the field behind the top 10, but that isn’t what fans come to see nor does it make for compelling TV – on the rare occasions when they showed those battles.
Atlanta is just one race, but it is a mile and a half track and those dominate the schedule. Crew chiefs gathered a lot of data this week and will be creating new log books every week. We need to see how this package plays out at Las Vegas, Texas and California and then at Phoenix, Bristol and Richmond. If the majority of the races get tighter, then Atlanta was an oddity. No one really knew what to expect and to sell tighter racing the very first race wasn’t smart.
Some bright moments in the race was the work of Daniel Suarez finishing 10th, Chris Buescher finishing 9th after starting 30th, Ryan Blaney leading 41 laps and looking like a winning car until he had a tire issue, Ryan Preece running well until he had issues on pit road and Aric Almirola starting on the pole, leading 36 laps and finishing 8th, continuing his good run from 2018.
I am looking forward to seeing how the new package runs at Las Vegas.