William Byron Wins At New Look Atlanta

Not all drivers were fans of plans to revamp Atlanta Motor Speedway. The old track was wide and fast and worn out. Drivers liked the racing surface. But it didn’t make for much in the way of entertaining racing so AMS tore it up and replaced with a higher banked, narrower track that provided plenty of side by side action and lots of cars wrecking.  If that’s your jam, then you loved the race on Sunday.

If you are like Kyle Busch, you hate it.

The Folds of Honor 500 took over 3 hours to run and was a race of attrition. The pack racing on the 1.5 mile track is what fans normally see at Daytona or Talladega. Well, not quite. The racing surface leaves room for only two side in the corners and barely three wide on the straight away.

The race saw Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe, Willian Byron and Tyler Reddick up front early on but that was to change. With drivers practicing the lost art of the slingshot and pushing nose to tail several rows deep, it didn’t take long for there to be casualties. Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch were early victims of the pushing. The new car doesn’t recover well when it gets pushed loose and Kyle Busch was pretty ticked off. He nevertheless returned to action but the damage to his car was required pit road visits that put him several laps down. Busch made short work of his return and parked the car on lap 171.

The race had a record 46 lead changes as cars battled side by side, trading the lead lap after lap. Most drivers that led laps were short leads but Byron got to the front and stayed there, even after successive restarts. He wound up leading 111 laps in the end and led the final 10.

For me, the race was pretty good but had too many wrecks and limited passing in the pack of cars. Many of the wrecks were caused by flat rear tires which was either a by-product of the track surface and the new tire or teams had way too much rear camber set in. The new tires have proven to be a bit problematic, in my opinion, due to either the new rear suspension and all the things associated with a new rear end suspension, the new low profile tire and single hub, or a combination thereof.

I guess we’ll have to wait until we see how the teams figure all this out as the season goes along. But in the meantime, there have been 5 races and 5 different winners. Jeff Gordon postulated from the booth that the old adage of “win and you’re in” may not be enough this year. That means more than 16 winners. I am not sure if I am willing to go quite that far, but the early racing sure points to having a lot of different winners this year.

Good on ya, mate

  • William Byron (P1) for surviving that race
  • Ross Chastain (P2) for overcoming a lot of challenges and leading 42 laps
  • Kurt Busch (P3) for a gritty Top 5 for Trackhouse Racing
  • Daniel Suarez (P4) is learning how to run up front and lead laps
  • Corey Lajoie (P5) for his first career Top 5
  • Chase Elliott (P6) led 29 laps but wasn’t as fast as Byron
  • Chris Buescher (P7) was in the right place at the right time
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (P8) came from deep in the field and led 5 laps
  • Joey Logano (P9) led 12 laps but got caught up in an accident that slowed him

So you had a bad day

  • Austin Dillon (P35) and Ty Dillon (P36) wrecked on the same lap
  • Kyle Busch (P33) was as petulant as I have ever seen him
  • Austin Cindric (P32) can’t buy a decent finish after winning the Daytona 500
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (P31) led 22 laps but was victimized by pack racing
  • Kyle Larson (P30) is having a tough year
  • Denny Hamlin (P29) is also having a tough year
  • Tyler Reddick (P29) looked like a worthy adversary early on
  • Christopher Bell (23) led 16 laps and looked pretty stout
  • Kevin Harvick (P21) struggled, got to the front and then BOOM
  • Greg Biffle (P20)? I didn’t even know he was racing this week
  • Ryan Blaney (P17) once again led laps but couldn’t finish

Next up

For road course fans, it’s back to Circuit of the Americas in Texas. Chase Elliott is the defending race winner and has been king of the road courses as of late. Winning those powered him to his first championship and he hasn’t let up. The wild card in all of this is, again, the new car. I expect the car to perform well if teams can handle the rear suspension at the season’s first road course. Watch for the usual suspects in Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and even Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe. I fully expect to see some young talent run up front this week. I haven’t seen the entry list yet but I also wouldn’t rule out AJ Allmendinger if he is running.

Drive fast, turn left and keep the shiny side up!

Leave your thoughts on the new Atlanta surface and this weekend’s racing below!  Read more of my columns here!

(Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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