We’ve collected a series of quotes from various Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series drivers concerning the upcoming race at Atlanta…
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Mobil 1 Tundra
You have a couple mile-and-a-half races under your belt now. What are the biggest challenges of racing on intermediate tracks in the truck series?
“I think having two mile-and-a-half races under my belt is going to help me a lot going to Atlanta. I think the biggest challenge has been the draft in traffic, going where they’re not, and trying to pass. Passing is really hard, and you have to side draft aggressively. I feel like at Atlanta Motor Speedway that Kyle Busch Motorsports has really fast trucks the past few years there. I’m pretty sure my Mobil1 Toyota Tundra is going to be very fast this weekend.”
How hard is it to not be able to get practice time before a race at a track that is new to you?
“Not having any practice or qualifying makes it very challenging. I love being challenged. It is a little bit hard for me being a rookie and never going to those places. I feel like at Charlotte with a little bit of practice that it would’ve helped us get more grip in the truck, but it is what it is. It is the same for everyone. I try to apply everything I learn from the TRD simulator, and hopefully, we can be really fast and be in good position at the end.”
Are you expecting Atlanta to race differently than the other two mile-and-a-half tracks you’ve raced this year?
“Atlanta is going to be very different because the asphalt is very old compared to Las Vegas and Charlotte. There is not much grip it seems like. You have to find the fastest way around the racetrack – sometimes it’s the outside or sometimes it’s the bottom. I’ve studied a lot of races. I think my crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. is going to make good calls to start the race with, and we are going to have a great Mobil1 Toyota Tundra. I’m just really excited to be back behind the wheel this weekend.”
“This is another new track for me, but I feel pretty good going in to Atlanta. We had a good test there in January and I learned a lot with Dave (Rogers) and my team. We’ve had a good start to the season and keep getting stronger each week. We’re close to our first win and I think we can keep getting strong finishes and put our Monster Energy Supra in victory lane soon.”
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra
How difficult is it for a young driver to just line up and race at a track that you’ve never competed at before in any series?
“It’s a huge challenge for sure – not only is it your first time on the race track, but it’s the first time in the truck and seeing what it needs. Overall, it’s a big challenge, but luckily we have simulator time and a whole bunch of other things to get prepared as much as possible”
Do you find yourself asking Kyle and Rudy more questions going into these races knowing your not going to get time to adapt to the tracks?
“For sure, me and Rudy spend a lot of time together just trying to get better. For Charlotte, we sat down and went over the entire race and what we need to improve on – both him and me. Kyle has been a super-big help. A few months ago, in particular, we talked about Atlanta about restarts and stuff like that because it is a very challenging race track. I’d say for sure this weekend it is going to help me this weekend at Atlanta.”
How different will racing at Atlanta be than the other mile-and-a-halves that you’ve raced so far in the Truck Series?
“Atlanta seems like a pretty interesting race track in the fact that there is not a lot of grip, but there is a lot of banking – I think it’s the most banked mile-and-a-half that we go to. It’s pretty fast, wears out quick and wears out tires. It should be pretty fun to move around and find grip. I feel like it is kind of similar to Homestead in that aspect, which I’ve ran at before, but it’s a mile-and-a-half cookie cutter deal so it’s a little bit different. Really looking forward to getting into my Safelite Tundra and hopefully having a good result this weekend.”
“We are coming off of a significant finish at Bristol Motor Speedway and our 19 team is really excited about heading to Atlanta. We have a lot of momentum going to my home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway. We will have Toyota Service Centers back on our Supra. Last year I was capable of competing for the win at Atlanta but ended up with a top five finish. With all the resources this year that I have been able to utilize; I have a lot of confidence that you will see us fighting for the lead again during the EchoPark 250. Atlanta Motor Speedway brings an old surface which makes saving tires a big part of the strategy. Our No. 19 Toyota Service Centers team has spent a lot of time over the off-season preparing for Atlanta; we probably put in a few hundred laps around the track using Toyota’s simulator. It’s a fun race and we have a little extra bonus this year, because we qualified for the Dash 4 Cash, giving us 100,000 more reasons to win this weekend. I think once we get our Supra dialed in after the first few laps we will be the team you’ll see in victory lane”.
You qualified for the ‘Dash For Cash’ in your first attempt. How excited are you to go to Atlanta and run for $100,000?
“That’s a big opportunity. There is a lot of things you could do with that money. There is a lot of people in need right now, and a lot of situations that I feel like that could be used for which is a really cool opportunity for me. Obviously, you have to treat your guys with some of that as well if you get it. It’s going to be a cool opportunity. There is a lot of good that you can do with that money. Hopefully, we get to do that. The main thing is going and winning. That’s the main goal, and then the other things will follow. That’s our mindset. No different than any other race, other than it’s a bigger payday in the end, which is obviously amazing, and we are pumped that Xfinity is doing that. The biggest thing for us is to just treat it like any other race and be aggressive and go and try to win.”
Kyle Busch – No. 51 Cessna Tundra
What do you have to do to get back to victory lane in the Truck Series at Atlanta?
“We just need to go out and not beat ourselves. At Charlotte, we dug ourselves in a hole more than once and at the end of the day no matter what series you’re racing in it’s hard to come from 22nd to the front late in the race and compete for a win because you end up using your stuff up just getting to the front. We were almost able to do it at Charlotte, but at Atlanta with how much the tires wear it makes it even more difficult if you’re not able to unload with a fast truck and stay up front all race. We just need to have a race that’s as clean as Big Machine Hand Sanitizer and go out and put the Cessna Tundra in victory lane at the end of the day.”
What is it about the inside lane that makes it so dominant on restarts at Atlanta?
“There’s kind of a different color tone to the asphalt. I don’t know if it has to do with the asphalt mix or whatever when they paved that place that now you can definitely tell the difference between the inside lane and that outside lane. Also, the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside – he’s always kind of turning so that’s something to be said for it. Overall, it’s just some places are that way. Atlanta is the worst for the launch. The application of throttle to not spin the rear tires is so crucial there and it’s so easy to do when you’re in that outside lane.”