Race week arrives in Atlanta
After the closest finish in Daytona 500 history - Denny Hamlin winning by a 0.010-second margin over Martin Truex, Jr. - the 2016 NASCAR season shifts 400 miles north, to Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track that has seen its own share of photo finishes over the years.
Aside from yesterday's thrilling final lap, Atlanta Motor Speedway is unlike Daytona International Speedway in nearly every other facet. The track is a mile shorter, the surface is aged and abrasive, and cars' speeds and performance aren't reined in by restrictor plates.
Additionally, the much-anticipated low-downforce aerodynamic package being used in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016 will debut at Atlanta this weekend. It provides decreased downforce on the car, creating less grip and forcing the driver to manipulate the car more than ever before. It also allows cars to race closer together, enabling more passing at high speeds and generally creates a more competitive racing atmosphere.
"It's going to be insane," said Truex. "I'll just be honest; Atlanta is the one that sticks out in my mind as what's going to be the biggest challenge with the low-downforce. Even with the high-downforce we had last year - the past two years, really - the tire fall-off there and the grip level that we had on a long run was just out of control. It's going to be pretty wild, and I think everybody's really looking forward to it."
Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will mark the 101st 500-mile race run at Atlanta since it opened in 1960. No other track has hosted more races of that length. It's a daunting task just to make it to the finish line, and it's a quality measuring stick for teams as they settle in for the long NASCAR season.
"A lot of the garage members and racers look at Atlanta as Week 1 for us," said Chase Elliott, a Dawsonville, Georgia native who will make his hometown Sprint Cup Series debut on Sunday. "It's the type of racetrack we're going to see more often.
"A track such as Atlanta, we're going to see countless times throughout the year. Getting here, you'll see more of how things are really going to go for teams and you'll see how you really stack up amongst the competition."
XFINITY Series driver Darrell Wallace, Jr. echoed Elliott on the importance of visiting Atlanta early in the season.
"The real racing - I like to say - starts at Atlanta for us," said Wallace. "The tire fall-off is huge there, so we've gotta know how to maintain that and be fast at the same time."
On-track action for the weekend tripleheader gets underway with the Active Pest Control Qualifying Day Friday with practice sessions for all three series kicking off at 9 a.m. and continuing until 5:30 p.m. until Sprint Cup Series drivers vie for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 pole position beginning at 5:45 p.m.
The racing cranks up with NASCAR's only same-day doubleheader Saturday afternoon with the Heads Up Georgia 250 XFINITY Series race at 1:30 p.m., before the Great Clips 200 Camping World Truck Series race wraps up a full day of on-track action beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Sprint Cup Series race highlights the weekend and caps off Atlanta's 2016 NASCAR week in what is shaping up to be an intriguing second race of the season, with the green flag set to wave at 1 p.m.
For more information, complete schedules or to purchase tickets, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.