Johnson to cherish final race on AMS surface, Atlanta Air Show coming in October
Jimmie Johnson, the two-time defending champ at Atlanta Motor Speedway, is going to cherish this last weekend on the track before its repaved later this spring.
Johnson has won five times at the 1.54-mile oval.
"This track is so fun and so interesting and so challenging, I hate that it's our last run on this asphalt," the No. 48 driver said. "But the practice session didn't disappoint. We're learning as we go with this new package, this new season. We're ready to go collect some points and some wins."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suggested via Twitter that there should be some kind of memorial service for the surface, which is 20 years old. Johnson thought that idea had merit.
"We all appreciate tracks with so much character," Johnson said. "(The repaving) shocked and upset a lot of us. We get it. We understand. But it's just going to take a long time for the track to get back to this condition.
"I don't think Darlington is even back to where it once was and the challenges it poses the teams. It's got to happen at some point. It's part of racing."
Tire management is key in Atlanta, including practices and qualifying.
"We have to be conservative with our tire allotment and how many laps we put on every set that we can take to the race," Johnson said.
Qualifying is set for 5:45 p.m. tonight and is just the second race where teams must adjust to the revamped inspection process. Two years ago, Johnson was one of 13 drivers to miss Cup qualifying due to inspection delays and came from the back of the field to win the race.
This year's adjustments mean any car that fails one of six stations, must pass all six on reinspection instead of just the one it failed. Since teams only have their Daytona experience to work off of, Johnson said it's still too early to tell how preparations might need to be adjusted in order to ensure passing tech in time to qualify.
"We have a process we go through," Johnson said. "What's so tough is their instruments track differently than what we have at the shop. We've always dealt with that. There are some challenges.
"I think if you have the opportunity to push the envelope for that extra little bit of skew in the car, everybody is rethinking that no."
Johnson tested in Kansas with the downforce package in use at Atlanta.
"But the Kansas asphalt is pretty new with a lot of grip," Johnson said. "At that point in time, I couldn't feel a difference and we were still running the same speeds. Today though, I've had a lot of loose and I'm sure the smaller spoiler has a lot to do with it. But until we get into side drafting and trying to free people up, I don't know if I have a good read on it yet."
Fastest at first practices
Ryan Newman, who is tied at nine for the most poles at Atlanta, was fastest in Friday's first practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. The No. 31 Chevy posted the top lap time of 29.509 and an average speed of 187.875.
Aric Almirola led the morning's XFINITY Series Rinnai 250's first practice. The No. 98 circled the track in 30.567 (181.372 mph). The fastest driver actually qualified to earn points in the XFINITY series, Spencer Gallagher, was fifth.
Camping World Truck Series rookie Chase Briscoe was quickest in the first practice for the Active Pest Control 200 in 30.616 and he also had the best 10 consecutive lap average of 176.255 mph.
110th Cup race at AMS is 2,500th in NASCAR history
Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at AMS will be the 2,500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in history and 110th time the top series has raced on the 1.54-mile track in Hampton.
Jim Roper won the first race on June 19, 149 at Charlotte Speedway, but no one has won more than Richard Petty. Of the King's 200 series wins, six came at Atlanta. Petty has also started more Cup races than any driver, nearly half of the total (1,182).
Monster Energy took over title sponsorship this season, following Winston and Nextel/Sprint.
The winningest driver at Atlanta is the late Dale Earnhardt with nine checkered flags. Defending champ Johnson has the most of any active driver with five.
Atlanta air show comes to AMS
The first air show in AMS history is also the inaugural Atlanta Air Show and will be Oct. 14-15.
"We have finally found a stadium large enough to host an air show and look forward to working with the incredible team of professionals at Atlanta Motor Speedway to bring this new event to fruition," said Bryan Lilley, President of B. Lilley Productions, which also organizes air shows in New York, Maryland and Florida.
The performer lineup includes a variety of demonstrations, including military jets, aerobatic planes, helicopters, parachute team jumps and more. The lineup will be announced in the coming months and will include four hours of flight demonstrations each day.
"The Atlanta Air Show is a fantastic new event for Atlanta Motor Speedway that will offer fans a unique variety of aerial entertainment not often seen at facilities like ours," AMS President Ed Clark said.
Sponsorship opportunities and corporate hospitality suites are available. Attendees can save 50 percent off the day-of-event price when they purchase by March 20.
More information will be available online at AirShowAtlanta.com.
For more information or to purchase tickets today, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS- TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.