Racing Gets Real Now

Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 22, 2018, 10:13 a.m.

I hope it doesn’t rain. Weather Nation lists Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a sixty percent chance. Experience tells me that may change. The rain may come sooner or later. Sixty percent means 40 percent it won’t rain on Sunday.

There’s still so much we need to know.

By Monte Dutton

Some drivers who are fast at Daytona won’t be fast in Hampton. It happens every year. Plate racing provides opportunity to drivers who will struggle to run in the top fifteen on an intermediate track. Crashes rounded up — and crushed — most of the usual suspects in the Daytona 500. They will return to form. Literally.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500. It was a great accomplishment. He prevailed on an intermediate track last year. Daytona makes two victories on two kinds of tracks. It was a hell of an encore. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second. So far, so good, but he knows Atlanta will provide a test more valid in terms of his hopes for the entire season.

Darrell Wallace Jr. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“I think the exciting thing about Daytona is unless you’re just coming there just to run at the back of the pack all day and accept a finish, everybody that shows up to Daytona has a shot,” he said in his media conference after the 500. “That’s what Daytona produces, and Talladega, as well. It doesn’t matter who you are. A very low-budget team or a top-dollar team, everybody has a shot to win.

“That’s why we always say when we go to Atlanta: that’s when we really see who’s playing what cards. Just from everything that’s been going on in the off-season, switching over to Chevrolet, the alliance with RCR, they were rebuilding their stages there at the end of the year for their program. We’re heading in there (Atlanta) like we’re going to win that race, but at the same time, we know we also have a lot of things to check off the list.”

Every race has new variables, particularly early in the season. Rules change gradually. Chevrolet has a new Monster Cup model, the Camaro. Chase Elliott has the best Atlanta average finish (6.5), but it’s only based on two races. Erik Jones has the fifth best (14.), but that’s based on a single finish of 14th.

Based on the past history that statistically means something, Jimmie Johnson has five victories and an average finish of 10.105, but the seven-time champion is coming off what, by his standards, was a bad year. The Busch brothers are next in average finish, Kurt with 13.667 and Kyle with 13.722. Brad Keselowski won the race last year. Reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Atlanta, but his numbers are decent.

It’s important to watch the Daytona 500 closely because of the individual nuances of that one race. The Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 is destined to tell us more about the rest of the season, and that’s true every year.

Racing gets back to basics and back to the norm.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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