After a significant reconfiguration of the Atlanta Motor Speedway that was first used last season, the NASCAR Cup Series will return to that venue for the first of two 2013 visits this weekend. While the two races held here in 2022 showed that the type of racing had changed from previous visits to the historic track, it may be this season that will show what the racing will be like going forward.
Prior to the 2022 season, AMS had its banking increased from 24 to 28 degrees in the turns while the racing groove was narrowed. The aim of the changes was to create super speedway type racing like that seen at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Super Speedway.
Until the most recent reconfiguration, Atlanta had not been repaved since 1997. As a result, the surface in its last years had become very abrasive which brought tire wear into the equation. Speeds would drop off significantly throughout each run between pit stops as new tires, obviously, brought about higher speeds but worn tires caused cars to slow. More than that, speeds had dropped off sharply from year-to-year because of the changes to the surface.
Geoffrey Bodine won the pole for the race held on a newly paved surface back in 1997 with a speed of 197.478mph. Aric Almirola set fast time in Cup Series qualifying in 2019 with a lap of 181.473 to show just how much speeds had fallen off as the asphalt aged. Of course, other factors aside from the pavement play a role in speed. Rule changes, weather conditions, and improvements in technology influence how much time it takes for a car to circulate around the race track.
All that said, the question is will Atlanta prove to actually race like a super speedway. The two races held there were not necessarily great races nor were they terrible. The ‘Good Race Poll‘ conducted by Jeff Gluck of The Athletic showed that the first Atlanta race received a 68.5% approval rating from respondents which put it in the middle of the pack for 2022 races.
There was in fact some pack racing on the 1.5-mile track last year on the new asphalt.
However, the track which measures one mile shorter than Daytona and Talladega has now had two races on it since the reconfiguration and a full summer to bake under the hot Georgia sun. How much will that curing of the pavement impact the competition this time around?
If the new design allows for pack-type racing to continue even as the racing surface ages, Atlanta could produce exciting racing for years to come. On the other hand, if the now year-old surface along with greater familiarity of drivers and crews with the track and the Next Gen car causes the cars to spread out during each run, this will simply be a high speed track with little passing ultimately decided by a pit stop competition.
One year into the renovation, we will see what happens this weekend.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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