1. Is it time to unionize?
Between angst over Atlanta’s reprofiling of the track and details that had trickled out over the past week leading into Atlanta, this much was clear: Many of the biggest names in the sport felt that their voices were not being heard and were none too pleased about it.
Even Kevin Harvick noted that a result of lack of driver feedback into Atlanta’s new look was the result of Sunday afternoon’s media session not including many questions about that day’s race.
Series champion Joey Logano had similar thoughts.
“I do think we’re a great resource to use, that doesn’t mean you have to use all our opinions of what makes a great race and all that. But I think when you put all of us in a room, you can come up with a lot of cool ideas and different things. None of us are in the room, apparently.”
Drivers expressing frustration is all well and good, and it was remarkable to see the drivers so outspoken as a collective group. After all, as drivers, their life is on the line each time that they get in race car, and they obviously have skin in the game here.
What was missing?
A volley back from NASCAR. Minus a brief statement earlier in the week regarding data from the much-discussed Next Gen Car test, there was no out-front reaction from NASCAR.
The sport’s past is laced with tales of Big Bill France brandishing a pistol as a means of showing who was in charge, and he used that heavy hand to tamp down any talk of the drivers in the series unionizing.
But if the drivers don’t feel that they are being valued despite putting their lives at stake each week, what’s to stop them from walking away?
In the end, sound bites won’t make an impact. Things like a driver sitting out a race and risking playoff eligibility will.
2. Will we ever see a track like Atlanta again?
There was plenty of lamenting about Atlanta’s racing surface meeting its conclusion before and following Sunday’s Quaker State 400. Part of that? Its uniqueness. You can try to simulate the type of racing that AMS produces, but there’s simply no substitute for 20-plus years of aging in the heat of the south. Certainly, SMI has engineers that will likely try to replicate the effect of a worn surface, but it just can’t be done the way that mother nature has done the job.
“Slick, worn-out places are fun. As a race car driver, places that you can move around, manipulate a race car based on how you drive it are places that you enjoy going,” Alex Bowman said. “The worn out bumpy places are the places that we enjoy.”
So is there a track that gives us a racing like Atlanta? Maybe Darlington at times, as cars skate through turn four a bit like we saw at Atlanta. And at Homestead-Miami Speedway, cars also slide around a bit (there’s a reason why Tyler Reddick was strong in Atlanta and Homestead), but the truth of it is that Atlanta has and will forever be one of a kind and will be sorely missed.
3. Why the lack of rain gambles?
It’s all a moot point now, but as the halfway point of Sunday’s race approached, rain appeared imminent, and the field was in the midst of green-flag pit stops at the time. Just two cars, however, rolled the dice in hopes of being in the lead in the event of a torrential downpour that would end the race early.
Predictably, as any driver in his situation would, race leader Aric Almirola’s astute analysis over his team radio was that it was pouring rain. It all ended up being a non-factor as the rain was not enough to halt the race, and eventual winner Kurt Busch made his way back to the lead a few laps later.
Other than Almirola, Ryan Preece was the other driver of note trying to stay out longer in hopes of stealing a win. For Almirola, it would have been a huge win, vaulting him into a playoff spot automatically and not having to sweat out points standings. And if Almirola had faltered? Preece would have done likewise.
It seemed a bit odd for so few to take that chance, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
4. Has JGR closed the Hendrick gap?
As this year began, Hendrick Motorsports did its best to make intermediate tracks their personal playground, with William Byron and Kyle Larson winning at Homestead and Las Vegas and Larson leading the most laps in March at Atlanta. But is the gap between Hendrick and another of the sport’s top teams shrinking?
Since Larson’s June 20 win at Nashville Superspeedway, in which Byron was third and just one JGR driver, Christopher Bell, was in the top 10, the Gibbs camp has made some headway. Bowman was the top Hendrick driver at Atlanta, finishing fourth, while Gibbs took the second, third and eighth spots with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Bell, respectively.
The Hendrick camp, with its driver roster and experience, is still plenty formidable, but the jabs levied by the Gibbs drivers could be huge as the season powers forward.
5. Should we see Ty Dillon race again this year?
Ty Dillon made no bones about the fact that after Saturday’s fifth-place NASCAR Xfinity Series finish, he has no idea when his next race will be. That came after his second finish within the top seven for Our Motorsports this year. Dillon, as a result of multiple factors, has become a driver on the outside looking in for the most part. In four races in the NASCAR Cup Series this year with Gaunt Brothers Racing, his best showing was 19th on the Daytona road course. He began the year with a golden opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing on a limited Xfinity schedule, only to post a best finish of 14th and failing to finish twice, once a result of a crash and other by way of a mechanical issue.
But with Dillon’s most recent success, it begs the question: Has he done enough to warrant an upper-end ride? The answer is yes. Our Motorsports has shown that it has the equipment to compete with the top NXS teams. Saturday, for example, had Dillon and his teammate for the day, Brett Moffitt, in fifth and sixth place. This is a team that can hold its own at 1.5-mile tracks too, as shown by Moffitt finishing eighth this year at Texas and Tyler Reddick being 12th at Las Vegas.
“It’s been different, it’s been tough, a lot of grinding and just trying to get an opportunity,” Dillon said. “When you do something for so long and you’re not sure if it’ll continue, it gives you perspective. I’ve never been hungrier inside a race car, I’ve never wanted it worse, I’m giving more effort not being full time, and hopefully someone will realize that and give me an opportunity.”