If there’s another first-time winner this season, who will it be and why do you think so? – Bart B., Clarksville, GA
The possibilities are (almost) endless. The first names that come to mind are Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace. Seeing that Chase Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing clearly have a lot of work left to be competitive, those two are at the top of the list.
Reddick’s second-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway was dazzling, but too little, too late. And his dejectedness post-race told you all you needed to know: that was his best shot. Not to say that Reddick, Richard Childress Racing and the No. 8 team will be able to contend for wins in the future this season, but Miami was their chance.
For Wallace, their start to the season hasn’t been ideal. Zero-top 10 finishes and a best result of 16th (in each of the past two weeks). But raw speed at Phoenix Raceway and even more at Daytona International Speedway showed some promise for 23XI Racing. Two more superspeedways (Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona II) before the playoffs and a trip to Martinsville Speedway, where he has a Camping World Truck Series victory, loom.
The same chances are out there for Briscoe (none better than the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race this weekend) and other drivers like Matt DiBenedetto, who may need to enter “win now” mode due to their slow starts to the season and gaping points hole.
But to answer your question, Bart, I’ll go out on a limb and say there won’t be another first-time winner this season. The parity has been large throughout the first six races with six different winners. And I don’t think that’ll necessarily change anytime soon, but some former winners will start to come back into focus (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, etc) and some winless drivers will remain just that as the 2021 season rolls on.
Atlanta’s surface is loved by most drivers (and fans), but the racing there as of late hasn’t been all that great. How much longer until a repave happens at the track? – Donny, D., Des Moines, IA
The age-old question rages on. And as the incomparable Bob Pockrass pointed out, NASCAR goes from its oldest surface (24 years old) to its newest (temporary) at a Bristol that’s covered in dirt. But Atlanta Motor Speedway’s asphalt is as old as I am (yes, I’m serious), and six drivers who competed on it Sunday weren’t born at the time of the last repave.
The tire falloff is paramount, more than anywhere else on the NASCAR circuit. Hell, Harvick got a flat tire under caution (even though it was a problem with the valve stem, just let me make my point, okay?). But the problem that lies within AMS is the dreaded weepers when Mother Nature decides to show up and wreak havoc on the party.
The track’s General Manager Brandon Hutchison said that they’re looking into a repave and have been for a handful of years now. But nothing will happen before their second date later this summer.
“We’re looking at it, evaluating it. It will be sooner rather than later, but we don’t have an exact timeframe at this point,” Hutchison said.
Todd Gordon, race-winning crew chief, repeatedly said, “don’t repave,” after the win. Some of that is the adrenaline from the victory talking, I’m sure, but some of it probably stems from the fact that older, worn-out surfaces are crown jewels in motorsports.
Tire conservation is still an art at places like Atlanta, and that’s partly why Ryan Blaney was able to close in on Kyle Larson late for the win. It’s also why Harvick has been incredibly dominant at the track over the last few years.
Would it make sense to repave in advance of the NextGen car’s first race at the venue? Possibly. But as long as it’s not a safety hazard, it’s not causing delays and the racing isn’t nap-worthy, Speedway Motorsports Inc. should (and probably will) wait as long as possible to repave (and reconfigure).
Thing is, though, that’s probably sooner rather than later.