Preseason Testing Answers Questions, Poses Others Ahead of Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Weekend
Last season, NASCAR flipped the script on its testing rules, imposing a ban on private tests in 2015. Considering this year's brand new rules package that - among other performance-affecting tweaks - reduces both horsepower and downforce, the natural result is an inflated value on the limited number of scheduled tests early in the new season for teams to settle into potential new race car behavior.
A Goodyear tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Monday helped shed some light for a handful of teams, but with no other scheduled tests before the first points race of 2015 in Daytona next month, some questions are still up in the air.
"Any track time you get is really important with the new testing rules and banning all offseason testing," said Matt Kenseth, the 2003 champion of NASCAR's top series. "You've really got to take advantage of the tests when you get them and try to gather as much information as you can - and hopefully useful information you can use down the road."
While Daytona is NASCAR'S season-opening points race, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway just one week later represents the first stop on the schedule with the new rules package on a track without the speed-decaying restrictor plates required at Daytona.
Brad Keselowski, the fifth-place finisher in last year's Sprint Cup standings, sees Atlanta Motor Speedway as a critical test early in the season.
"Atlanta will give us our first taste of what and who will be the biggest challenges throughout the course of the season, because mile-and-a-halves are the predominant track throughout the NASCAR season," he said. "So that will be a good telltale early in the season."
Atlanta Motor Speedway will host NASCAR's first open team test of the 2015 season on Thursday, Feb. 26, giving every Sprint Cup Series team an opportunity to scrub the tires on the new performance qualities of their race cars. For most teams, it will be their first taste of a 1.5-mile track.
"We're just trying to get it sorted out and get a new baseline and try to hopefully find something that drives good," said Kenseth. "There's some extra practice at Atlanta, so we're all looking forward to that as well."
Still, the true effect of the new rules looms unknown.
Said Keselowski, "It's too early for me to tell. I think we'll know when we get to Atlanta and the race is over. At this point, I could offer a lot of speculation but nothing I would really feel good about."
What does remain true in 2015 is the importance of early success in a format that rewards both consistency and winning.
"You want to run good that first month or two at all those different tracks," said Kenseth. "If you start off the year decent, it should apply to the rest of the intermediate tracks.
Adding to the element of intrigue at Atlanta is the ultra-competitive environment created on its aged pavement. A favorite among many drivers, the 1.5-mile oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track that has produced some of the closest finishes in NASCAR's history.
"The fact that the cars drive so sideways and require so much driver input, you feel like as a driver, that you're making a difference there," said Keselowski. "And that's really all you can ask for."
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 weekend in Atlanta kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 26 for four days of nonstop NASCAR action, capped off with the March 1 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. For more information or to purchase tickets today, call the AMS ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.