Consider the countdown to race weekend in high gear!
With the 2015 NASCAR season having taken the checkered flag with Kyle Busch's resilient effort to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, all eyes now turn to 2016, where the early-season excitement will focus on Atlanta Motor Speedway!
With the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 the second race of the season, NASCAR will arrive in Atlanta as one era comes to a close with another beginning.
Smoke's Atlanta Finale
Tony Stewart's drive to win on the track and raw personality has enamored him to many fans since he entered NASCAR's top division in 1999. Now, the three-time champion and winner of 48 races - three being at Atlanta Motor Speedway - will compete for the final time as a driver at AMS during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500!
There will without question be a lot of fond memories from fans of the driver known affectionately as "Smoke" in his Atlanta finale, including his three Atlanta triumphs. In 2002, he led a race-high 150 laps, including the final 23 circuits for his first victory in a season that would end with his first Sprint Cu Series title. The 2006 win became memorable for what happened after the race. Despite not having qualified for NASCAR's Chase format that year, Stewart still outdueled the competition, celebrating by scaling the front stretch catch fence in full view of exuberant fans. In 2010, it was another dominant Atlanta performance from Stewart as he led 176 laps to win the Emory Healthcare 500. And although not a victory, Stewart's 2011 Atlanta showing turned out to be major. His third-place finish that day was his second top-five in a span of 23 races. It set the table Stewart's third NASCAR Sprint Cup title as he won five of the season's final ten races.
And if Stewart has anything to say about it, he intends to end his career on a high note.
"I still want to win races," Stewart told NASCAR.com when announcing his retirement plans in September. "I can't think of a better way to go out than to go out winning races and winning a championship."
Here at Atlanta Motor Speedway, fans will have a chance to see Stewart race for the final time and give themselves the distinction of saying that they were there to see "Smoke" race for the final time at Atlanta Motor Speedway!
For Georgia racing fans especially, it's the dawning of a new era! Chase Elliott, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, moves into a full-time ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and 2016 will mark his first Sprint Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway!
During Bill Elliott's meteoric rise into the upper echelon of NASCAR in the 1980s, he attracting a massive following, many of which call The Peach State home. For a segment of those fans, cheering for "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville" served as a way for them to show their home-state pride.
And that fanaticism brought high expectations. Tim Brewer, Elliott's crew chief during the 1992 season in which Elliott finished second to Alan Kulwicki, recalled the pressure of racing before Elliott's partisan fans.
"You go into that atmosphere, and you've got one of the favorite sons that Georgia has ever had in Bill Elliott. And where are you at? You're in Atlanta, Ga.," Brewer recalled in a documentary on the Hooters 500 which aired on SPEED in 2012.
Now, Georgia race fans will turn their eyes toward Bill Elliott's son, Chase. The son of the 1988 NASCAR champion welcomes those expectations as well as what will come along with being the new driver of the No. 24 car at Hendrick Motorsports.
"I think having the honor of driving the No. 24 is something that a racer can only dream of," Elliott said earlier this year after his plans to replace Gordon were announced. "And for Jeff to tell me that he wants me to drive the No. 24, that right there is plenty enough for me to be on board with it. He asked me if I was OK with that, and if we were shaking hands, I'd have ripped his arm off. That's an opportunity that nobody would turn down."
There is no question about it, Feb. 28 will be a day of stirred emotions as the torch of one racing generation is passed to the next.
Be here at Atlanta Motor Speedway to witness the end of one era and the dawning of another!