Jamie McMurray will be at a going away party on Sunday, but he’s not going to be celebrating – unless he takes the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet to victory lane.
And even then, there will still be some wistfulness for McMurray.
McMurray and 39 other NASCAR Cup drivers will be taking their final laps on the current racing surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.
Once the event is over, track workers will begin work the following day on preparations to eventually tear up and replace the current racing surface, which was last repaved in 1997.
Even with a two-decade old surface around the 1.54-mile oval, Atlanta Motor Speedway has historically been one of the fastest mid-range tracks in the sport.
Sure, there’s bumps and ruts and rough spots and the track surface eats up tires like they’re candy. But old surfaces also have that one attribute that most drivers still love regardless: character.
To many of them, the older the track and the more nuances it has, the greater the character and the greater the challenge of man and machine vs. racing surface.
Even though when McMurray and the rest of his NASCAR Cup buddies return to AMS next spring, they’ll be on a brand spanking new race surface, there’s still a lot to be said about the old surface that bids adieu Sunday.
“No one likes repaves, no driver, no crew member, Goodyear, no one likes a repave,” McMurray said. “Unfortunately, it’s part of our sport.
“That being said, Atlanta is one of the more challenging tracks to have to repave because when they repaved it the first time it was the fastest track we ran on.
“It’s still really fast and it is going to be the fastest track again when we go back.”
While McMurray has struggled at Atlanta in his Cup career, with just four top-10 finishes in 23 starts, he’s had better luck there in the Xfinity Series: two wins in nine starts. He’d like nothing better than to earn his first career Cup win there on the last race on the current racing surface.
Numerous race tracks from Watkins Glen to Texas to Phoenix have gone through recent repaves.
When drivers return to a track after it has undergone a complete facelift, it’s almost as if they’re at a brand new facility. Oftentimes, banking is changed, pit road ingress and egress is altered and what once was old and familiar is now new and a mystery for at least the first few times drivers race upon it.
And one of the biggest mysteries will be how tires adapt to the new racing surface.
“We have done quite a few repaves in the last seven or eight years and I feel like with everyone, you kind of know the expectation when you go back with the tires that we are going to run,” McMurray said. “They have learned a lot, I think, about the process and how they go about that.
“The biggest thing that has come along with repaves is that tire monster where they are able to put like six or eight tires and they literally spin them and they can lay rubber into the track and that has made a huge difference in some of the tracks.”
So while the current racing surface at Atlanta will host its last post-win celebratory burnout after Sunday’s race, the character it has had for the last 20 years will be gone – but won’t be forgotten for a long time to come.