When Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson used to talk about raising or lowering the bar, he typically referred to his performance behind the wheel.
But following Thursday’s two Sprint Cup tests at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Larson and the rest of his fellow drivers will be raising and lowering the bar at will — not just literally, but actually.
Thursday marked the first time drivers got to work with the new traction bar control switch mounted in their race cars. Instead of track bar adjustments being made on pit road during service, drivers will now have the power to manually adjust the track bar to their liking at any point in the race.
“We were all pretty anxious to get out there I think,” Larson said during his weekly availability in the AMS media center. “This is really what I feel like is the start of our season because this is the majority of the size race tracks we run on.
“I was excited to get out there, first car out. The track had a lot of grip at first, so that is why Jamie (McMurray) and I are both up there I think. It was fast. I felt like the car really didn’t drive much different here than how it did with the old rules package.”
McMurray (191.549 mph) and Larson (190.195) ranked 1-2 on the speed chart of the 42 drivers in the first of Thursday’s two test sessions, and they were the only drivers to exceed 190 mph.
“That is good, nice that Chip Ganassi Racing is 1-2 after this first test,” Larson said. “I hope we can carry this speed on throughout the rest of the weekend and rest of the year.”
Larson likes having control over the track bar. And in a sense, he may have an advantage over some competitors because of similar devices he’s used in his racing career. (Former IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. also has familiarity with such devices from open-wheel racing.)
“I would say I learned that kind of stuff and how far you can go with it,” he said. “I think that will be a really neat tool that we get to use as a driver because when I ran midgets and stuff like that, we had shock adjusters.
“In winged sprint cars you have wing valve adjusters. It is nice that they allow us to put a little bit more into the driver’s hands.”
In addition to the track bar control, Thursday also brought additional changes with new rules that decrease downforce and horsepower, slowing cars in the hope of improving the racing on 1.5-mile tracks such as Atlanta.
“I really didn’t notice anything (different),” Larson said. “I thought it still came up to speed pretty well. Maybe it doesn’t carry to the end of the straightaway as hard as what it did before, but we have less downforce, too; it still feels fast.
“Maybe once we get to like a Michigan or a track where we will probably run even more wide open than now, we will notice more.”