fred lorenzen

Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway

Atlanta to host 2,500th race in Cup history, last on current surface

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This weekend’s NASCAR action at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with all three major series running, will provide some interesting storylines.

First and perhaps most important, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 will be the last race ever held on the current track surface.

A complete repaving of the 1.54-mile high-speed quad oval track is slated to begin later this spring.

To make Sunday’s race all the more unique and momentous, it also will be the 2,500th race in Cup history.

AMS, which first opened in 1960, has had the same racing surface for the last 20 years, since its last repaving in spring 1997. That makes it the second oldest current surface in NASCAR.

During that time, it has played host to 31 NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 Xfinity Series races and 15 Camping World Truck Series events.

Among some of the highlights over the years on the outgoing surface:

* Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000. It would be Earnhardt’s 75th career Cup win and the second-to-last win of his storied career (won at Talladega that October).

* In his third Cup start after the tragic death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick would take the re-numbered No. 29 to victory lane at Atlanta, capturing a 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.

* Carl Edwards’ first Cup win and the first of two wins for him in both Atlanta races in 2005.

* AMS’s first-ever night race in 2009.

* Sunday marks AMS’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.

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Sunday also could be a big day for defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Having won both the 2015 and 2016 Cup races at AMS, Johnson is looking to become the first driver in track history to win three consecutive races there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen won four times in as many years (1961 to 1964) at AMS, but they weren’t consecutive. Another Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, also won three straight spring races (1967 to 1969), but failed to win any of the fall races those same years at the track.

Johnson is also looking to extend his overall supremacy at the track, being the only active driver to have ever won there five times in a career (all on the current racing surface).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most wins ever at AMS with nine triumphs.

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NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Fred Lorenzen linked by pledges of brain donations

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Earlier this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would pledge his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for study. The family of Fred Lorenzen, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, soon announced that he had followed suit.

NASCAR on NBC reporter Nate Ryan spoke with Lorenzen’s daughter, Amanda Gardstrom, about her father’s career and how she believes his racing accidents impacted him in retirement. Lorenzen suffers from dementia that could be a symptom of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease of the brain that has been found in professional athletes with repetitive head trauma.

“My brother and I knew something was wrong with his memory, he was starting to have little bit of a hard time walking,” Gardstrom said. “He was getting mad at little things and one minute later being happy.”

Lorenzen, 81, earned 26 Sprint Cup wins in a career that spanned from 1956 – 1972.

“Not too recently I talked to my dad just a little bit about what I  kind of think is going on, ‘Would you ever want to donate your brain?'” Gardstrom said. “My dad surprises me all the time. He just looked at me, ‘Yeah, for sure, if it helps someone.’ “