Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta

What happened?

HAMPTON, Ga. – William Byron won his third career NASCAR Cup Series race in a late-race skirmish at a newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway. Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez and Corey Lajoie, who earned his first career top-five result, completed the first five positions.

How did it happen?

With around 10 laps to go, Byron took the lead from Bubba Wallace, and was a sitting duck in front of a massive train of cars — or so everyone thought.

After surviving what had been a melee of a day, the surviving cars rim rode around Atlanta waiting to pounce on the No. 24. A number of drivers behind Byron all tried to make an effort on the bottom lane. All failed.

Like both the Truck and Xfinity races Saturday (March 19), nobody made a move for the lead until the last lap.

Unlike both races, however, said mover Wallace didn’t make it very far. He was stopped short by a hard-charging Chastain, who interrupted the run of the 23XI Racing Toyota by making his own run at the lead. Byron protected the inside line and cut off Chastain.

Wallace was shuffled to the back after a rocky push from Ryan Blaney, which left the top lane open on the backstretch.

Christopher Bell took the low lane underneath Chastain for a run at the lead too — but it was too low. Bell was black flagged for going below the line and relegated to 23rd.

That left the top side free for Chastain and Trackhouse Racing teammate Suarez to use. Despite their combined speed, however, there wasn’t enough time to make a run at the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Who stood out?

Trackhouse Racing led a combined 55 laps today and earned its fourth consecutive top-five result. For a team that earned only one top five in the entirety of the 2021 season, that’s really good.

Not only that, but only one week after the team earned its first ever double top-10 result at Phoenix Raceway, on Sunday the team one-upped itself by earning its first ever double top-five result.

Suarez, who rode near the front for a majority of the race, ended the day with a solid fourth-place finish, matching his best result so far in 2022.

Chastain, however, had a far more interesting day.

In stage one, the Melon Man was leading a train of cars for a number of laps. He appeared to be the stage-winning favorite.

However, after he led his 42nd lap on lap 96, he became the first casualty of three leader tire failures.

Despite the damage, Chastain returned to the race and was actually making his way back through the field. In fact, after not scoring any points in stage 1, Chastain had revived his team effort by the end of stage 2 by finishing in 10th, scoring that extra point.

By the end, both Chastain and Suarez were in the hunt for the lead. On the last lap, the two even hooked up to attempt a draft around leader Byron.

They ran out of time, and Chastain finished second.

Despite not winning, it’s still a superb result for a team that didn’t garner a large amount of success one season ago. For Suarez, its already his second top-five result in only five races this year — one more than all of 2021.

See also
Trackhouse Keeps Digging, Rallies to 2 Top-5 Finishes

For Chastain, it’s his third top five of 2022, which matches the total amount he had in the entirety of last year.

After the consistency we have seen out of Trackhouse so far this year, and despite still chasing that elusive first win, can we really still call them an underdog?

Who fell flat?

It was only Noah Gragson‘s second career NASCAR Cup Series start, and it certainly didn’t go the way he had hoped.

On lap 25, Gragson’s first Cup race for Kaulig Racing ended almost as soon as it started. On lap 25, the Las Vegas native was running 18th when he simply got loose and overcorrected.

There were plenty of crashes throughout the day. However, much of the field found themselves in the wall from a flat tire, a bad push or a simple collision with another car.

For the winner of the Xfinity Series race at Phoenix one week ago, his day seemed to end out of driver error.

Gragson, who is currently leading the Xfinity Series standings, was dejected.

He has still yet to finish his first Cup race.

Luckily for the part-time driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, he’ll still have 13 more chances to do so in 2022.

What did this race prove?

They’ve done it. Atlanta is now a superspeedway.

Whether you like it or not.

It wasn’t a secret that Atlanta Motor Speedway was due for a repave, so when the track announced it was finally going to perform the project at the end of the last race there in July, not many were surprised.

What was surprising was the goal of the reconfiguration: to turn the 1.5-mile oval into a shorter version of the popular, and chaotic, superspeedway behemoths of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

See also
Up to Speed: Reserve Judgement on the New Atlanta Motor Speedway

It’s not the first time NASCAR has tried to bring pack racing into other racetracks. The dreaded 550 horsepower, high-downforce package was created for that purpose. Of course, that isn’t the product it produced.

So, when Atlanta announced they were revisioning the track into a pack-racing circuit, the skeptics screeched, and the eyes rolled.

But after this weekend, those voices are silent.

Despite some tire issues plaguing some of the leaders of the race, Sunday’s 500-miler saw everything you’d expect from a race at Daytona: pack racing, drafting and of course, a high attrition rate.

So, here’s another question — what do we do now?

If there’s anything we can expect out of the result of this race, it’s likely we may see other 1.5-mile tracks become susceptible to reconfiguration.

However, after the 550 rules package left a bad taste in NASCAR fans’ mouths, the Next Gen car has provided a breath of fresh air for them in all its spinning and ill-handling goodness — even if there have been some wheel issues.

The new Atlanta was made for the 550 package, and it seems to be a ghost of an era that many fans would like to leave behind.

Yes, the racing today was something new and interesting, but is it something we want to see for nearly half the schedule? Part of why superspeedway races are so special is their rarity. Daytona and Talladega make up only four events of the 36-race schedule.

Now, it seems Atlanta has joined their ranks, making it six pack-racing tracks throughout the year.

In addition, let’s not forget to ask the drivers and team owners how they feel. After all, they’re the ones paying for millions of dollars in wrecked equipment. There was a total of 27 different cars involved in crashes before the white flag. That’s more than the total of 24 we saw at Daytona.

Atlanta’s remake was something interesting for sure, but perhaps three superspeedways is enough.

Paint scheme of the race

The Team Penske No. 12 Ford Mustang has seen plenty of amazing paint schemes over the last few years since Ryan Blaney began racing the number.

Ever since Body Armor sports drinks began partnering with the team, they’ve put out some great-looking designs to adorn the No. 12.

This weekend was no different.

Along with a solid red scheme with a white top, the new scheme features a white secondary along the bottom of the car and another yellow stripe. The new scheme seems simple, but it seems reminiscent of other classic NASCAR designs.

Better than last time?

A million-dollar question — literally.

Actually, the reconfiguration costs were way more.

Repaving Atlanta Motor Speedway into a pack-racing track meant the racing product looked like something we had never seen there before. With the project completed, everyone expected close racing and plenty of competition near the front of the pack like we had seen for so many years at Daytona and Talladega.

But did it make it any better?

Well, in terms of competition statistics, Sunday’s race at Atlanta wasn’t just better than last time, it was the best ever.

Between 20 different drivers, there were 46 lead changes, both new records for the 62-year-old track.

However, there is a cost to pack racing. Amidst the wild competition and close quarters racing, there were plenty of big crashes.

One of the 10 unscheduled yellows that waved on Sunday was the multi-crash on lap 146. In it were a whopping 13 cars.

In July of last year, there was only one unscheduled caution. Only three cars were involved.

When it comes to the debate on the new Atlanta, there are some who seem to enjoy it.

See also
Up to Speed: Reserve Judgement on the New Atlanta Motor Speedway

And others that do not.

What’s next?

The Cup Series heads west again for the first road course race of the season. The series takes on the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the second time ever.

Cup Series practice at the 3.4-mile road course starts on Saturday, March 26 at 10 a.m. ET and will be followed by qualifying at 11 a.m. ET with TV coverage being provided by FOX Sports 1. The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix will follow on Sunday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and wrote for IMSA in 2020 after graduating with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Sally Baker

Four pack/plate races a year was more than enough for me. Didn’t need another at Atlanta.

Jeremy

Turned on the cup race late – there was about 65 laps or so left – because I was curious about the repave. I watched for 2 laps, 2 LAPS and shut it off. The last thing I want to see is more restrictor plate pack racing.

Anyone watch Indycar in the morning at Texas Motor Speedway? I did, and they put on a helluva RACE! So odd to think open wheel cars are putting out such a superior product in places that should be NA$CAR’s bread and butter.

If this garbage is where NA$CAR is headed, I think I’m done watching any cup race held at 1.5 mile or larger tracks. I just cannot support this.

Hunter

Yep, watched both and you’re 100% correct. Look at the stands though. I know IC isn’t as popular as NASCAR, but I would assume that tons of crashes probably brings in a whole lot more casual viewers than actual good racing does. Right now IC is growing in popularity and NASCAR is waning. They’re doing anything they can to get butts in seats and views on tv even if they know they’re hurting the actual sport and turning away real fans.

Jeremy

One thing Indycar did recently was LISTEN to the fans! The biggest gripe I (and many others) had after St. Pete was that they only did a brief post-race interview with the winner – and that was it. This week, although they took it to Peacock, they did give extensive interviews with most – if not all – of the top 10 plus a couple others. No gimmicks, just good camera time to hear from the drivers. When was the last time NA$CAR listened to its core fan base and made a quick, competent change? I do hope Indycar sticks to doing this for the rest of the season.

The group they have in the booth do a great job at providing race/strategy/driver insight as well as filling in gaps with other interesting/key details that are happening outside the TV camera view.

Joshua Farmer

All I need to see is Victory Lane celebrations again. And since you both above are fair weather fans…just watch IC and stop trashing the best motorsports in the world. (Minus gimmicky stage racing)

WJW Motorsports

You are right. Great race and a nice job by Jimmie.

DoninAjax

I noted in a previous post that the Indycar race started at 11:45 am local time. What a concept.

Bill B

I agree with the others, we do not need more tracks that produce pack racing. Pack racing is exciting for sure because it keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting for the big wreck, but big wrecks are not supposed to be what racing is about. The winner is suppose to be the guy and car that performed best for the entire race, not the guy who managed to avoid the wrecks and be in the right place at the right time. NASCAR won’t be happy until every aspect of the sport is a crapshoot.
Whatever.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
Hunter

While I agree with you wholeheartedly, Byron was actually the best out there by far yesterday. That doesn’t usually happen in super speedway races, but it just so happened to yesterday. Doesn’t mean I the overall point of your comment was wrong though.

Bill B

Agreed. Byron led a ton of laps and ran up front all day. He was lucky to avoid all the wrecks. Most times at tracks like this, a guy with a good car ends up in the garage.
It was a happy accident that a guy that ran up front all day actually won.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
Kurt Smith

Pack racing requires absolutely no skill. You don’t have to brake, you don’t have to know when to get into the gas. You ride around and hook up with other drivers and hope to stay out of a wreck. If Michael Waltrip wins four plate races and nowhere else in 700-something starts, that tells you all you need to know about pack racing. Absolutely anyone can do it.

Phil

For the third week in a row, I will complain about the tires without inner liner causing too many caution laps.
When will Nascar redesign the new wheel/tire combination to accommodate an inner liner?

Bill B

I am guessing that there is no way to accommodate an inner liner with a low profile tire like they are using now. You might as get used to it because I doubt they will admit they made a mistake and change it or go back the traditional 5 lug tire.

janice

are they going to have rain tires available this coming weekend just in case of rain?

Bill B

Good question. I would assume they do because I haven’t heard anything different.

Kurt Smith

If you follow NASCAR because you do fantasy style stuff, as I do, you’re probably someone who tunes in every week so you know best which drivers to pick, as I do. In other words, you’re part of a contingent of fans that are keepers.

At pack racing tracks, which Atlanta is now, it’s absolutely worthless to even waste your time choosing…or watching. (I refused to and went out to dinner with my family instead.) There are now six NASCAR races a year, including the Daytona 500, that I won’t even bother watching. I used to love Atlanta, now it absolutely sucks.

NASCAR’s Facebook page had hundreds of comments with people gushing about how great the race was. I have my doubts that those comments weren’t bought and paid for by NASCAR, but if a demolition derby every week with completely random results is what NASCAR wants (and stories of “Some Nobody With No Skills Scored His First Top Five!! NASCAR Delivers Parity!!” every week), they can have it.

I stopped watching for eight years because of phony equalizing crap like the Chase, and my new “give NASCAR another try” interest may be short-lived.

Last edited 3 months ago by Kurt Smith
janice

sometimes when i see comments about races i wonder if i watched the same race. i knew watching the last 30 or so laps that something was going to happen. i noticed how when they got bump drafted it was as the plate track, had to hit square on, or the car in front would spin out.

Kurt Smith

Agreed Janice…and plenty of writers for NASCAR and their partners are parroting the whole “that was great” crap. It’s BS and they know it.

Echo

6 crapshoots now. This sucks. I watched bubba riding a full car length behind whoever he was following all race, with his foot on the brake. Playing the attrition game for sure. It almost paid off too.

WJW Motorsports

Late today – and it seems everyone shares my opinion.. Well done Atlanta – brought to you by the same brain trust that decided to ruin Bristol with dirt.

Tom B

I see the ‘hack’ in #11 caused another wreck, DNF. He owed up to it in the interview with some excuses.

Kicks

I can go to my local short track on demolition derby night to watch that many cars get wrecked.

DoninAjax

“Competition Caution” so the teams can check tire wear for safety reasons. So each team changed TWO! Another nail in the decisions based on safety coffin.

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