Cars Take To The Track To Kick Off Race Weekend
The 2016 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 weekend kicked off with its first on-track action Friday morning with practice sessions from all three national NASCAR touring series as well as press conferences from a number of drivers racing in the weekend's events. Below are notes and quotes from Day 1 of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Ty Dillon talks filling in for Tony Stewart
Ty Dillon will fill in for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet this weekend. It's a chance for the 23-year-old, who didn't get a fulltime Sprint Cup ride this season, to make a point.
"I want to go out there and impress a lot of people and show people what I'm made of and what I can do in these race cars," Dillon said Friday morning. "Going back and forth will help me a lot, especially in my Xfinity car. It would be nice to get two good finishes here in Atlanta."
Dillon has done well in the last two XFINITY Series races at AMS. He finished third a year ago after starting 17th and was ninth in the 2014 August event, both while driving for his grandfather's Richard Childress Racing. Dilon also ran the RCR's provision fifth car in the 2014 Sprint Cup race here.
"I really like this track," Dillon said. "I love that it falls off and it's getting a little rougher. The surface is worn out. I ran a Cup race here two years ago — it was a different time of year as the race schedule hadn't changed — and I learned a lot.
"I really love how these things fall off and it really suits my style. I'm more of a long-run guy at most of these places. The biggest challenge for me is that I haven't run this new aero package at all."
NASCAR's new low-downforce package is making its debut at AMS. It creates less grip and forces the driver to manipulate the car more than ever.
"Coming here with that new package is going to be tricky," Dillon said. "A lot of that is going to quicken my learning curve by driving the Stewart-Haas No. 14. I'll have a lot of great teammates that know what's going on and be able to help me out. Hopefully we can cut that learning curve of that new package and being only my second race here pretty quick."
Stewart is recovering after back surgery and no timetable has been set for his return.
"First of all, I have to thank Stewart-Haas Racing for the opportunity to be in the 14 car," Dillon said. "I think everyone wants to see Tony (Stewart) in this car. With those unfortunate circumstances, I was able to be in the car this weekend, which is good for me to get the experience in such great equipment. I can't thank them enough for the opportunity. It's an honor to drive the 14 for Tony."
Chase Elliott making his Atlanta Sprint Cup Series debut
Chase Elliott makes his hometown Sprint Cup Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. The 20-year-old son of "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," Bill Elliott, isn't feeling an extra pressure to perform.
"The way racing is for me, I want to do well here just as much as I do anywhere else," Elliott said Friday. "I don't really like to put anything above anything else as far as racetracks go. I don't pick favorites. Obviously Atlanta is a special place to me because I've raced Bandoleros and Legends cars here on the front straightaway.
"So it's a special place, but I don't think it adds any extra pressure really. I do think it would be very cool if we could have a good run here with friends and family around. But I want to do here just as much as I want to do well anywhere else."
Elliott made a splash last weekend, winning the pole for the Daytona 500. In his first race as a fulltime Sprint Cup driver, Elliott led the first three laps, but wrecked early. Repairs were made and Elliott returned with 59 laps gone.
The disappointing turn of events had Elliott quickly turning his focus to Atlanta where he has finished fifth in the XFINITY race the last two years and now comes in behind the wheel of the No. 24 car made famous by Jeff Gordon.
"Jeff has been very supportive, so that's all been great," Elliott said. "A lot of friends and a lot of fans have been very supportive and that makes that transition a lot easier for me. So I'm very thankful for that. We're excited to move forward and try to do the best job we can behind the wheel and go from there."
Jimmie Johnson spoke about the new low-downforce package debuting this weekend and last year's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 victory
Jimmie Johnson, who started in the 37th position in the 2015 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 after a qualifying snafu, drove through the field to win his fourth Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year.
The six-time series champion has been one of the best drivers at AMS over his career. Johnson has four wins and 13 top-5 finishes in 24 races on the track.
"Expectations are high," Johnson said Friday. "We are very excited to get to a 1.5-mile track. I'm excited about the new rules package. I think these cooler temperatures are going to add a lot of grip and maybe not show the real potential. The drivers are so excited about the rules package.
"I've always had great success here. It's been a lot of fun. I think this track with the high tire wear and the bumpy conditions and the fact that you have to search around for lines really suits my style, and suits my upbringing racing on the dirt. It's been a great race track for me."
Sprint Cup is debuting a low-downforce package at Atlanta and Johnson expects a lot of sliding around on the track.
"We definitely have less downforce on the cars, which directionally will lead to that," Johnson said. "I've kind of felt, and maybe it's just my opinion, but I've felt like the surface of this track has always created the slick conditions.
"Even with a rules package that the drivers might not love, we still come to Atlanta and the drivers still love racing here. As rough as it is and how porous the asphalt is it just continues to create an environment that we love regardless of rules package or tire that shows up. It's always fun here."
Carl Edwards: A big fan of Atlanta Motor Speedway
Carl Edwards has never been shy about his feelings for Atlanta Motor Speedway. His usual enthusiasm was further multiplied by the new low-downforce aero package NASCAR is debuting this week.
"Atlanta is just fun," said Edwards, who was in the middle of the pack during Friday's morning practice session. "We actually weren't that fast in terms of qualifying times, so we have to work on that. But we're having a good time. You can really drive the race car here. You can dive down in the corner and you're sliding all over the place. I mean, this is really cool."
Atlanta has always been tough on tires and the new package is magnifying the fall-off.
"That, to me, is what racing is about," said Edwards, coming off an impressive fifth-place finish after hitting the wall hard in the Daytona 500.
Edwards, who three wins and 11 top-10 finishes here, called the track "perfect."
"There are three, four, five different grooves," Edwards said. "The tires are falling off. The rubber lays onto this track really nicely so that it changes. If you're running in a groove, five or 10 laps later, there might not be grip there. I think strategy is going to be a big part of it.
"It's going to be a tough race. It's going to be tough to stay focused and manage your car. You're going to see guys out there really struggling, myself included. You hook the apron, the car whips sideways. You've got to really stay on top of it. It's like a big dirt race and it's just really fun."
In a sport where detractors often poke fun at just needed to turn left, Edwards cautioned Atlanta is going to be different.
"For the fans that watch, just know that that whole time in these cars, even in practice now, I mean, you are just driving the heck out of the car," Edwards said. "You're steering right just as much as left."
The conditions also mean more thinking for everyone.
"You want the tire to give up because it adds another layer to the race,' Edwards said. "Do you pit or not? You can't just stay out until you run out of fuel."
XFINITY Series first practice
Erik Jones clocked the fastest lap in the first XFINITY Series practice Friday morning with a top speed of 183.36 miles per hour. Jones, an XFINITY Series rookie is a favorite among Rookie of the Year contenders, won last season's Camping World Truck Series championship as well as the truck series' rookie of the year honors. Ryan Reed, Blake Coch, Jeb Burton and Ty Dillon rounded out the top-5 lap times in order.
Camping World Truck Series first practice
Atlanta Motor Speedway Thursday Thunder alumnus Grant Enfinger put up the fastest lap in the first Camping World Truck Series practice Friday with a speed of 179.574 mph. Other Thursday Thunder alumni times from the first Camping World Truck Series practice include Daniel Hemric and John Wes Townley, tying for the fourth-fastest speed at 177.858 mph, followed by William Byron in sixth at 177.493 mph, Austin Hill in 17th at 175.604 mph, Garrett Smithley in 25th at 171.079 mph and Jordan Anderson in 26th at 170.974.
Sprint Cup Series practice
Kyle Larson was fastest in the first Sprint Cup Series practice of the weekend, hitting a top speed of 192.902 mph. The 23-year-old is seeking his first Sprint Cup Series victory as he embars on his third full-time season in NASCAR's top division. Chase Elliott put up the 16th fastest time at 189.338 mph. David Ragan the other Georgia native in the Sprint Cup Series, hit a top speed of 186.171 mph.