For the past three years, Atlanta Motor Speedway's sole race on the NASCAR schedule was the second-to-last stop before the official beginning of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And while each race weighs heavy as an opportunity to rack points in the standings and a berth in the Chase, there is heightened anticipation entering Atlanta in 2015, one of the most competitive 1.5-mile tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

This year, Atlanta has been shifted to the second race on the season's schedule. It's the week after the Daytona 500 and the first race with the new rules package on a track not requiring speed-limiting restrictor plates. Many are eyeing the March 1 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a measuring stick for the reduced horsepower and downforce mandated in the new rules and a vital preview for what teams and drivers can expect in the new season.

"Atlanta will give us our first taste of what and who will be the biggest challenges throughout the course of the season," said Brad Keselowski, the fifth place finisher in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series standings in 2014. "Because mile-and-a-halves are the predominant track throughout the NASCAR season, so that will be a good telltale early in the season."

Add to that the revamped format of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup and the pressure to win early, and Atlanta becomes a whole different animal than a late-summer pit stop before NASCAR's championship format begins in earnest.

"You want to run good that first month or two at all those different race tracks," said Matt Kenseth, the 2003 champion of NASCAR's top series. "If you start off the year decent, it certainly should apply to the rest of the intermediate tracks."

While the new Chase format wasn't an immediate winner amongst many within the sport, the payoff seems evident to its drivers.

"The Chase was changed to add excitement and to engage our fans on a whole other level and help grow the sport," said Keselowski. "I think every team, every driver, every person who is a member of NASCAR auto racing would be willing to tell you that that's what comes first."

According to Kenseth, the excitement in the grandstands can translate into burden on the drivers inside the cars when winning doesn't come early.

"I think there was more pressure," he said of last year's first season of the newest Chase format. "(When there are) only three races to make it and you have one bad race and you're one of the best cars all year, certainly I think that pressure probably builds."

Throw in a new rules package, and the 2015 season applies pressure before the first green flag is even waved.

NASCAR racing rolls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for four days beginning Feb. 26, 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.