Drivers Have Eyes On NASCAR's return to Atlanta
The third and final day of the 2017 NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway took place on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Downtown Charlotte, with presentations by NASCAR drivers followed by individual break-out media availabilities.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers featured Wednesday were Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson, Ryan Blaney, David Ragan, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Gray Gaulding, Justin Allgaier, Joey Lognao and Brad Keselowski.
XFINITY Series drivers were Elliott Sadler, Spencer Gallagher, Alon Day, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ryan Reed and Matt Tifft.
Camping World Truck Series drivers included Justin Haley, Timothy Peters, Matt Crafton and Christopher Bell.
Notable announcements from Wednesday included:
Speedway Children's Charities of Atlanta is auctioning off a pair of tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl featuring the hometown Atlanta Falcons. All proceeds go to Speedway Children's Charities to help Georgia kids in need. Bids can be placed now at www.sccauctions.com, and the auction closes Friday at noon.
Thursday Thunder alumna Madeline Crane was announced as one of six drivers selected to join Rev Racing in NASCAR's "Drive for Diversity" program in 2017. It will be her second season in the program, and she will compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series following two top-5s and 12 top-10 finishes in 2016.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports:
Finished second at Atlanta last season.
14-time Most Popular Driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Two-time Daytona 500 winner
One Atlanta win (2004)
On racing at Atlanta in 2017:
"I expect it to drive good. I love the race track. I know they're going to repave it after this year. Yeah, we'll try to enjoy the last race on that old asphalt, because it's hard to beat the surfaces that get kind of aged like that. But it's got a lot of bumps that are kind of challenging, so it will be nice to get that smoothed out."
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports:
Finished 23rd at Atlanta last year
Three-time Atlanta winner (2014, 2009, 2006
"I think Atlanta is a spot where we can all get off to a good start. I look at that whole first swing. At Daytona, a lot can happen there. We want to win the 500. But then after that, getting through Atlanta, Phoenix, Vegas and California and seeing where we are at that point in time. I'm looking forward to every one of those races"
Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet SS for Richard Childress Racing:
Finished 18th at Atlanta in 2016
On the 2017 rules package debuting at Atlanta:
"It doesn't matter what car … the car is not going to handle perfectly, so you're always fighting a push or a loose, and you're always trying to adjust to that. As a driver, I'm not afraid of going into Atlanta at 200 mph and having less downforce, because you're just going to use more brake. You're just going to have to slow the car down more, because you just don't have the grip."
Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford Fusion for Team Penske:
AMS Thursday Thunder alumnus
Finished 12th in Atlanta in 2016
"Atlanta, to me - I lived down there for six years, so it's special for me. I want to be able to win at that race track, especially before the repave. I want to be able to say I won on that surface. It's a really tough, challenging surface. We've come very close to winning there before. We've had very fast cars, but we haven't done it yet, so it's kind of the last shot at that, at least on that surface."
Denny Hamlin, driver of the no. 11 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Finished 16th at Atlanta in 2016
One-time Atlanta winner (2012)
"I love Atlanta. Everyone loves Atlanta. It's going to be a very fast race track next year. It's probably going to be wide-open, more than likely, at a race track like that. I'd almost like to see NASCAR experiment with something like a restrictor plate or something at that race track. You could almost make that a speedway-type of race. They would get strung out a little bit more, otherwise the racing would really be a challenge at that race track for a few years if you didn't change something like that.
"We all love Atlanta. The NASCAR drivers love it, because it has so many options. I would like see maybe some of those chemicals to put on that race track to mix things up."
Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing:
2013 and 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion
Won the pole but finished 30th at Atlanta in 2016
On racing in the Active Pest Control 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2017:
"Hopefully we can take away a win out of that place. That's always been my favorite race track just because of the old, aged asphalt. The best racing you're ever going to see is on the older asphalt. You always have great side-by-side racing. You can run the bottom, you can run the top.
"Hopefully we can bring out that trophy, because I do have one win there, and I felt that I should have had a couple (more), but that's always been my favorite race track to go to."
Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Ford Fusion for Wood Brothers Racing:
Finished 25th in Atlanta in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race there last year
On the new, lower-downforce package debuting in 2017 at Atlanta:
"It will be interesting, for sure. Atlanta will be the first track that has a worn-out surface that we'll go to, where you can kind of run the bottom, the middle, the top, so that will be interesting to see how the racing is. I think it will be a really good race, to be honest with you.
"Atlanta will be really exciting, because you have the new segments and then you have the new rules package, so it will be a really neat race. Atlanta is a great race track, and I'm really excited to get back there. It's a shame we only race there once a year."
David Ragan, driver of the No. 38 Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports:
Unadilla, Georgia native
Finished 32nd in Atlanta in 2016
"I love doing anything in the state of Georgia. It's a lot of fun to go to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Obviously, my family, my friends (live there). I grew up racing there when I was young.
"It's a fun race track. Obviously, the last race on the current surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so that's going to be neat. I remember sitting in the grandstands in 1997, when they repaved the first time, so to be able to get to race on that track surface and see it age over the years, it's going to be a great race.
"It's always a tough race. Five-hundred miles at Atlanta, you're slipping and sliding a lot, you're on Pit Road. The car goes through such a swing from new tires to old tires. At the end of a fuel run, you slow down a lot, so a very fun race track. A lot of character in the track."
Gray Gaulding, driver of the No. 23 Toyota Camry for BK Racing:
2017 will be his first full season at in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
He will make his season debut in Atlanta
On his preparation for his 2017 season debut at Atlanta:
"It's coming together great. This next week, I'm going to spend a lot of time at the race shop with my crew chief and my guys to get to know everyone better and get a game-plan together.
"I feel like I'm physically and mentally ready for Atlanta. It's going to be so cool having all my family and everybody there watching me, knowing that's the first race of the year for me, and I'll be racing all season. I feel like I'm ready to go."
NASCAR racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway March 3-5, 2017, featuring the Rinnai 250 XFINITY Series and Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series doubleheader on Saturday, March 4 and the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, March 5.