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?

MORE: Drivers to watch at Atlanta

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.”