Dr. Diandra: What makes reconfigured, repaved Atlanta a Superspeedway?


Atlanta Motor Speedway got a 163-day facelift during the off-season. Its corners were taken in a bit, its frontstretch was stretched and it had a banking augmentation. The 1.5-mile track that used to be teased as ‘cookie cutter’ (even though it really wasn’t) is the first high-banked 1.5-mile oval in NASCAR.

And it’s expected to race like a superspeedway.

Why Make Atlanta a Superspeedway?

A few years ago, the track’s deteriorating surface condition hinted that a repave would be unavoidable. That opened the door for discussions about what changes made sense. Steve Swift, senior vice president of operations and development at Speedway Motorsports, oversaw Atlanta’s reconfiguration.

“Uniqueness,” Swift said, “isn’t enough. What do we have as a company? What does the sport need?”

Speedway Motorsports already had four other 1.5-mile tracks: Charlotte, Kentucky, Las Vegas and Texas, as well as shorter ovals and road courses. What they didn’t have was a superspeedway like Daytona or Talladega.

“No one’s ever made a 1.5-mile oval with banking substantially over 24 degrees before,” Swift noted.

Reconfiguring a track, especially one as beloved by drivers at Atlanta, is a risky proposition, and that’s before attempting to do something brand new to NASCAR. Ten months of computer simulations helped mitigate that risk.

“iRacing offered to help,” Swift says. “The great part is that you can change things prior to spending a lot of money and putting it out there.”

The simulations confirmed Speedway Motorsports’ goals for the new Atlanta.

“We ran the numbers, and the track we had designed replicated superspeedway racing,” Swift said.

Power and Drag

Nick Fishbein, head of GM Racing’s Performance Engineering Group, draws the threshold for a ‘superspeedway’ using what engineers call the power-drag relationship. If you’re one of the people who had to learn Newton’s Laws of Motion in school and thought ‘When will I ever use this?’ The answer is: right now.

Newton’s first law says that you can’t accelerate a car without a force. The second law says that the acceleration is proportional to the net force acting on the car. More net force means more acceleration. Net force means the sum of all forces acting on the car, just as net profit is the difference between the selling price and the cost of making whatever you sold.

The force created by the engine isn’t the only force acting on the car. There’s also drag, caused by air molecules not wanting to get out of the car’s way. It’s easier to picture drag in water because you can see water. When you move in a pool, you have to push the water out of your way. Cars do the same thing with air molecules. Although each air molecule is really small, there are a lot of them.

That leaves the race car in a tug-of-war between the force from the engine pushing it forward (to the left in my diagram) and the drag force pulling backward.

A block graphic showing the forces acting on a racecar
The car is moving to the left in this diagram

This leaves us with three possibilities.  

  • If the engine exerts more force than the drag, the car accelerates.
  • Less engine force than the drag means the car slows down.
  • If the engine exerts the same amount of force as the drag, the car travels at a constant speed, meaning it neither accelerates or decelerates.

The Catch

NASCAR rules limit engine horsepower, but drag answers only to the rules of physics. Drag increases with the square of the car’s speed, which means that a race car going 180 mph experiences four times the drag as the same car going 90 mph.

  • If you go twice as fast, the drag gets four times bigger.
  • If you go three times as fast, the drag is nine times larger.

At most tracks, a race car’s engine power is more than enough to overcome drag. Superspeedways offer the potential for speeds high enough to allow cars to go airborne. To prevent this, NASCAR limits horsepower at superspeedways even more than at other tracks, and these engines can’t provide enough force to beat the drag force. The cars reach terminal velocity: They simply can’t go any faster. This is why drivers can hold the throttle open all around a superspeedway.

Teams go to extremes to minimize drag because even a little less drag produces a little higher terminal velocity. This physics is also why drafting is the only way to go faster on a superspeedway: Forcing the air to flow uninterrupted over two cars cuts the drag force for both. Because of the speed and rules package, that’s what we expect to see at Atlanta.

“The emphasis on aero versus setup versus strategy depends on the track,” Fishbein explained. “Atlanta won’t be grip limited.”

That means factors teams typically focus on at 1.5-mile tracks, like tire fall off, won’t come into play at Atlanta.

“You’re forced into a small corner of optimizing the setup region,” Fishbein said.

Because NASCAR’s rules leave little room to change aerodynamics, they’ll focus more on pit strategy and how to call the race.

The View From the Tires

Goodyear organizes NASCAR tracks into seven ‘venue groupings’ based on the loads and wear the tire must sustain. Last year, Atlanta was grouped with other 1.5-mile tracks. This year, Atlanta is in with the superspeedways. But that grouping doesn’t mean Atlanta is just like Daytona and Talladega.

“Atlanta is unique,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales said. “It’s got 28 degrees of banking, new asphalt, and tighter corners than Daytona and Talladega. But we group Atlanta with the superspeedways because it’s using the same rules package.”

The tires don’t really care if the racing is pack, pod, or regular, but on a new, fast track like Atlanta, Stucker says, “tires still don’t trump the importance of the draft. Look at Daytona. Tires have much less of an impact than at other places.”

While that will likely be the case this weekend in Atlanta, tracks constantly change.

“As a racetrack ages,” Stucker notes, “the tires start to make a difference. The longer since the Daytona repave, the more difference tires make.”

There’s no reason to believe the same won’t hold true for NASCAR’s newest superspeedway.

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway


The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:


Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.


Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.




NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races


The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway


After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)





NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.