What will the new Atlanta race like? Drivers offer their thoughts

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Over the past decade, the surface of Atlanta Motor Speedway grew a reputation.

Last paved in 1997, the asphalt was rough, abrasive, full of dips — full of character.

The 1.54-mile quad-oval in Hampton, Georgia has a new reputation: a mystery track of sorts. A repave that began after the July 2021 race brought a reconfiguration, tightening the width of the corners from 55 feet to 40 feet while making the banking steeper, going from 24 degrees to 28 degrees.

Those changes lend to higher speeds, so much that NASCAR officials determined superspeedway-style rules typically reserved for Daytona and Talladega will be applied to the cars and to the racing, with no passing permitted beneath the line painted along the inside of the racing surface.

But for all this talk of superspeedway racing, Atlanta is 1 mile shorter than Daytona. Will it race anything like Daytona or Talladega? Drivers around the NASCAR Cup Series offered their takes ahead of race weekend:

Denny Hamlin

“I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if we are going to be drafting. I don’t think we are going to be tight pack racing. It’s not going to be Daytona or Talladega, but are we going to be grouped together, so how are you going to build your car? All of those things are going to be question marks, so I have no clue what I’m getting into.”

Kevin Harvick

“Atlanta is a race where you have some actual practice, so that’s a good thing. It’s another element that you have to add in there with the grip level of the racetrack and the new asphalt and everything that comes with that, and where to run on the racetrack. So, you have things that are just going to chew up time on practice day as far as learning what you need to do from the driver’s seat, and that progression of the racetrack definitely affects the handling of the racecar. There are just so many challenges in the beginning of the year with new racetracks and new cars and logistics and you just have to be very open-minded. You have to take it one step at a time and not get too frustrated with everything that’s going to be going on because there’s going to be a lot to digest.”

MORE: What makes Atlanta a superspeedway?

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Aric Almirola

“On the old Atlanta surface, the biggest concern was the tire wear and how aggressive you could or couldn’t be to save your tires. Atlanta was already one of the fastest racetracks we went to and now it’s newly repaved, and we’re going to be running there with a superspeedway package. It is going to be so far different than anything we have ever experienced at Atlanta that I feel like I’m going there kind of blind, like a complete rookie, because I have no idea what to expect.”

Brad Keselowski

“Atlanta is going to be one of the more interesting weekends we will see all season. There is already so much new right now, then throw in a repave of that surface and the differences it now provides, Sunday is going to turn out to be wild. As a (No.) 6 team, we know where we stand, and as I’ve said before we know the battle to get to where we want to be would be tough. We’re looking forward to a fun weekend in the Kohler Generators Ford.”

Ross Chastain

“Most of your superspeedway wrecks are at the end of the straightaway, down the back or down the front into Turn 1 or Turn 3. Big energy comes from eighth place up through the pack and someone towards the front gets turned. If you make it through, you have a chance to win. If there (was) not a double yellow line (rule), I think we will crash in the corners. I was able to tandem with three cars, back up to the guy behind me, the energy would push us up to the leader and stay on him for half of a lap. Now if I have more energy pushing me, I think I could stay on him longer. It’s Daytona minus a mile, but you do have to turn the wheel in the corner. Daytona you don’t turn the wheel, you just hold it. The frontstretch is flat at Atlanta, Daytona and Talladega have a little bit embankment.”

Kyle Busch

“This time around, it’s going to be more like a Daytona or Talladega speedway race. You are going to see a lot of pack racing with some guys two-wide and maybe three-wide, and we’ll have to see how wide the track gets in the time we have on it. Really paying attention and watching some of the Truck Series and Xfinity Series racing earlier in the weekend. It’s going to be helpful to see what we’ll have for Sunday.”

Martin Truex Jr.

“I really have no idea. From what it sounds like, it’s going to be like a small and narrow version of Daytona, so we’ll probably be wide open and drafting.”

Chase Briscoe

“This week, there are a lot of unknowns for a lot of reasons. The Next Gen car still is a big variable that we don’t really know a lot about, but then the track is totally different than anything we’ve ever had. It’s supposedly going to be like a mini-Daytona or Talladega with pack racing and drafting, but what really happens when we get there? It’s going to be intense, it’s going to be wild, it’s going to be a narrow track with a lot of speed and a lot of excitement. It’ll be interesting to see where we stack up when we get there. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve been on the simulator quite a bit trying to figure it out, but we won’t really know what it’s going to be like until we get there.”

Chris Buescher

“It was superspeedway-like with three cars. We were able to be wide-open and stay pretty tight. Handling was in play very quickly. Like any new paved racetrack, tires are very much on edge, so I think you’ll be really trying to be aware of that and be ready for that. And then I think we’ve also seen the pack speed at Daytona with these cars and how fast it got over single-car runs. We had three cars, but I think once you get a bigger group out there the speeds will go up even more, so I think it will start forcing you to lift a lot more. I don’t expect it to be a Daytona or a Talladega, but it may be closer to that than some of our older mile-and-a-halves.”

Daniel Suarez

“Atlanta is going to be something totally different than what it has been. We will really rely on our teammate (Ross Chastain) and the No. 1 crew about what to expect this weekend. I don’t know what to expect, but it’s going to be very, very interesting for sure.”

Cole Custer

It’s definitely going to be interesting at Atlanta, first of all just because it’s a new week. Every single week you don’t know what to expect, and especially this weekend, it’ll be very interesting to see how these new Next Gen cars handle on a brand new track. Fortunately, we’ll have a full, 50-minute practice session Friday and it’s going to be very, very important to make our best use of that time.”

Todd Gilliland

“I believe this weekend will be just as good, if not better, than previous races at Atlanta,” stated Gilliland. “These new cars are fun to drive and I think this new configuration is going to bring the cars closer together. That give us more opportunities for our Georgia Peanuts Mustang to make moves to the front.”

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.