Fireball Roberts

What drivers say about Atlanta not being repaved in nearly 25 years

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NASCAR drivers may love the latest technology, but when it comes to racetrack surfaces, the older appears to be the better.

This weekend’s venue, Atlanta Motor Speedway, is a good example. The 1.54-mile oval’s racing surface is one of the most abrasive and bumpy in the sport.

While drivers who favor AMS like to use terms such as the track has “character” or they like the fact it’s “weathered” or “slick,” there’s no disputing that the current track surface is nearly a quarter-century old.

MORE: Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta: Start time, forecast and more

The last repave of the Hampton, Georgia facility was following the 1996 season. It’s the third oldest surface in the sport. Only all-concrete Dover (1995) and Auto Club Speedway (1996) have older racing surfaces. Auto Club Speedway has the oldest asphalt surface in the sport, followed by Atlanta.

Track officials announced they would resurface the track after the spring race there in 2017, but overwhelming driver pushback prompted cancellation of the repave.

Still, it’s almost inevitable that the track will have to be resurfaced again, although Ty Dillon offers some interesting alternatives.

“No matter when they do it (resurface the track), all the drivers are going to be upset,” Dillon said. “There is a certain point where they have to do what’s best for the track.

“I think once they decide to repave it, they should maybe ‘dozer the whole thing and change it up. Maybe make it a short track or a road course, do something different. I don’t think we need more mile-and-a-half tracks, I think we need to change up. If they want to get more and more people to Atlanta, they need to look at something different.”

Atlanta is celebrating its 60th anniversary this weekend, having hosted its first race on July 31, 1960. Fireball Roberts was the winner.

Here’s what several Cup drivers have to say about racing at Atlanta:

Chase Elliott, who will start from the pole in Sunday’s Cup race: “The track has a lot of wear to it, a lot of character and a lot of bumps. There is a fine line of getting your car right.”

Alex Bowman: “This track is one where you have a lot of options. It’s worn out and you can move around a lot, which gives drivers a lot of choices. Everyone appreciates options, so this weekend should be a good one.”

Austin Dillon: “We make sure when we go there, we don’t pray for rain. We don’t want any rain because it’s going to be a long day drying that place. It is old, it weeps, but I’m glad they’ve kept it the same. It’s a place that drivers love because you know it’s going to be slick and over time you might be able to find some grip by moving around or changing your line and being disciplined with the throttle.”

William Byron: “Atlanta is a tough track. You have to take care of the right front tire there, or the right rear, whichever one seems to be wearing out the most. I think any time you get a chance to pass a car and get ahead of them you need to take it, but it’s a fine line of how hard do you push it versus taking care of your tires so you’re there in the end. You just really need to manage your equipment the best you can to have a shot. It’s a long 500-mile race and it’s physical.”

Tyler Reddick: “Atlanta is all about managing tires, even with all of the downforce we do have and where the horsepower is at in these Cup cars. You have to be smart and really understand how to manage your car from Lap 1 to Lap 45, which is about how far you can go on a set of tires. Tires will be our best friends this weekend.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “The old surface is so hard on tires that it creates an entire new strategy for the race.”

Ty Dillon: “Atlanta is old, abrasive and wears on our car and tires very hard. I think everybody’s goal in Atlanta is to make sure that you don’t wear your tires faster than the guy in front of you.”

Ryan Preece: “Atlanta is so rough on tires and your tire strategy that it really gives us a new angle setup-wise than we’ve seen at some of the other intermediate tracks we’ve run at.”

Matt Kenseth: “Atlanta is about as racy as it gets for high-banked intermediate tracks. The pavement’s wore out, there are a lot of bumps, and at times can be very line sensitive. It’s a track I have always really enjoyed racing at and I’m excited to get back. Every week has been a new challenge for me to get acclimated and up to speed, and this will be another one.”

Kyle Busch: “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”

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NASCAR’s top five moments from the Coca-Cola 600

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Today marks the longest race of the year for NASCAR as the Cup Series holds the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 400-lap race was first held in 1960 and has seen its fair share of defining moments.

Here are the five top moments from the first 60 years of the Coca-Cola 600.

1) New Kid on the Block (1994)

The first 46 years of NASCAR were defined by names like Petty, Earnhardt and Waltrip.

Arguably the first big moment for NASCAR’s next generation of racers came on May 29, 1994 courtesy of Jeff Gordon.

That was the day the 22-year-old kid from California scored his first Cup Series win.

After making his first start in the 1992 season finale, Gordon’s team, led by crew chief Ray Evernham, had to wait until their 42nd start together to visit Victory Lane.

The victory was aided by Evernham’s decision on a late pit stop to take two tires instead of four.

Gordon led the final nine laps and beat Rusty Wallace. In Victory Lane, an emotional Gordon called it the greatest day of his life.

2) One Turn Away (2011)

May 29, 2011 was not a good day to drive a race car sponsored by the National Guard.

The bad luck began on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Rookie J.R Hildebrand was leading Dan Wheldon when Hildebrand passed a slow car on the outside in the final turn and hit the wall, allowing Wheldon to steal the win.

Hours later, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s turn to experience misfortune in the Coke 600.

An overtime finish saw Earnhardt leading at the white flag. He still led in Turn 3, but then his No. 88 Chevrolet pulled up lame in Turn 4 as it ran out of gas.

That allowed Kevin Harvick to overtake him and streak to the checkered flag as Earnhardt limped to a seventh-place finish.

It was the first of two Coke 600 wins for Harvick.

3) The No. 3 Returns to Victory Lane (2017)

After Feb. 18, 2001 and the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, the No. 3 did not compete in the Cup Series for 13 years.

Richard Childress Racing brought the number back in 2014 with Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, behind the wheel.

Dillon and his team would have to wait until May 28, 2017 to bring the famous number back to Victory Lane.

The race ended with a 67-lap green flag run, which set up a fuel-mileage battle between Jimmie Johnson and Dillon.

Dillon won.

Johnson ran out of gas with two laps to go, which allowed Dillon to take the lead on the backstretch. Dillon took the checkered flag, giving the No. 3 a win in the Coke 600 for the first time since 1993.

4) The Silver Fox Arrives (1961)

1960 saw the inaugural Coke 600 – then called the World 600 – and the arrival of David Pearson on the NASCAR stage.

The following year Pearson began building his Hall of Fame resume in the 400-lap race.

Pearson, driving a car owned by Ray Fox, dominated the race by leading 225 laps.

But Pearson’s car didn’t finish the race in one piece.

With two laps to go, one of the tires on Pearson’s Pontiac blew. But Pearson managed to pilot the car to the checkered flag, crossing the finish line in sparks to beat Fireball Roberts by two laps.

It was the first of 105 career Cup wins for Pearson and his first of three Coke 600 wins.

5) Janet Guthrie Arrives in NASCAR (1976)

While David Pearson and Richard Petty finished first and second, the future Hall of Famers weren’t the highlight of the World 600 on May 30, 1976.

That was the driver who finished 15th in her first NASCAR race: Janet Guthrie.

Guthrie, a former aerospace engineer and a sports car driver, had been brought to the World 600 by Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler after her bid to make the Indianapolis 500 failed.

Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR race on a superspeedway. She started 27th and survived the 400-lap marathon as 16 cars dropped out. While she finished 21 laps behind Pearson and Petty, she placed ahead of future Hall of Famers Richard Childress, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Isaac.

It was the first of 33 career Cup starts Guthrie would make over the next four years and it was her only start in the 600.

MORE: Where Are They now? Janet Guthrie

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May 9 in NASCAR: Richard Petty survives violent 1970 Darlington wreck

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David Pearson won the spring 1970 Cup Series at Darlington Raceway.

But that’s just interesting trivia compared to the lasting memory of the May 9, 1970 race at the “Track Too Tough to Tame.”

It occurred on Lap 176 when Richard Petty, after his steering failed, brushed the outside railing in Turn 4. That caused his No. 43 Plymouth to shoot to the inside of the track and slam into the frontstretch wall nose-first.

Petty’s car then went into a violent tumble, as it flipped roughly five times before coming to a rest on its roof.

Petty, who had been knocked out, could be seen hanging out of the driver-side window.

Red could be seen near Petty, and it was feared to be blood.

“At the time I used to run with a rag in my mouth,” Petty said years later. “Well, them rags got to coming out the windows and stuff. It looked terrible.”

Petty was rushed to the infield medical center before being taken to a hospital in Florence, South Carolina.

But even the drive out of the track in the ambulance was eventful.

”The cat driving didn’t know how to get out of the infield,” Petty said in 1992. ”He would have driven on the track if I hadn’t stopped him. He didn’t know about the tunnel under Turn 3 and didn’t know how to get to the hospital in Florence. Start to finish, it was quite a deal.”

Miraculously, Petty escaped with only a broken left shoulder. He would miss the next five Grand National races and returned on June 7 at Michigan International Speedway before winning the next two races, at Riverside and Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. Petty would go on to win 18 of the 40 races he entered that season.

The incident led to NASCAR implementing the use of the window net in the driver’s side door.

Also on this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen beat Fireball Roberts to win at Darlington Raceway, securing his fifth straight Grand National win. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom,” Bobby Allison was slated to start the race in a car owned by Ray Fox. But Allison, who hadn’t made a Grand National start since 1961, opted out of the race after just one practice session, citing his own inexperience. He’d make his return in the 1965 season opener at Riverside.

1981: Benny Parsons held off Darrell Waltrip in a two-lap shootout to win a Cup race at Nashville.

2009: Three days after Hendrick Motorsports announced he would return to the team full-time in 2010, Mark Martin earned his second win of the year, beating Jimmie Johnson in the Southern 500. Martin led only the final 46 laps and secured his second Cup win at Darlington, 16 years after he won the 1993 Southern 500.

2015: In a six-lap shootout and on old tires, Jimmie Johnson held off Kevin Harvick, who had put on two fresh tires under caution, to win at Kansas Speedway. The race saw Erik Jones make his official Cup Series debut as he substituted for an injured Kyle Busch.

May 4 in NASCAR: A ghost that could not be caught at Talladega

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It is among NASCAR’s most famous cars and added to its legacy on this day in 1980.

As Buddy Baker and Dale Earnhardt ran at the front at Talladega Superspeedway, they pitted together. Earnhardt’s team took two tires. Baker’s team took four tires. The difference left Baker nearly 20 seconds behind Earnhardt.

But Baker, the 1980 Daytona 500 winner, was driving the “Gray Ghost” at Talladega.

The car was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost’’ because its colors allowed it to blend in with the track, as the story goes. Driver complaints led NASCAR to have Baker’s team put reflective decals on the car so it was easier to see after that Daytona 500 win

“Silver and black. Chrome numbers. It doesn’t get any cooler than that,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in 2016 on his Dale Jr. Download.

Baker’s charge at Talladega 40 years ago also was memorable for catching and then passing Earnhardt for the lead with three laps to go. Baker withstood Eanhardt’s final charge at the line to win by 3 feet.

Baker told Motor Racing Network in Victory Lane: “We had to earn this one.”

Also on this date:

1957: Fireball Roberts won at Shelby, North Carolina, for his fifth win in his first 13 starts of the season. Roberts went on to score eight victories that season.

1969: Bobby Isaac started from the pole and led 283 of 300 laps to win at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. No other car finished on the lead lap. The victory was one of a career-high 17 wins he had that season.

1997: Mark Martin won at Sonoma Raceway, holding off Jeff Gordon on the final lap. Martin snapped a 42-race winless streak.

2002: Tony Stewart came from the rear after an engine change to win at Richmond Raceway.

April 29 in NASCAR: Rusty Wallace honors Dale Sr. after win on 50th birthday

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On April 29, 2001, the Cup Series held its annual race at the 2-mile track formally known as California Speedway.

Just over two months had passed since the death of Dale Earnhardt in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and feelings surrounding the tragedy were still fresh on what would have been his 50th birthday.

Rusty Wallace, one of his long-time rivals and friends, made sure Earnhardt got his due after holding off Jeff Gordon to get the win.

There were no celebratory burnouts by Wallace. Instead, a crew member met him on the track and delivered an Earnhardt flag. Wallace drove around the track as it waved outside his window.

It was sadly a familiar sight.

Just over eight years earlier in 1993, Wallace had won the Cup Series race at Bristol following the death of Alan Kulwicki in a plane crash earlier in the week. Afterward, Wallace performed Kulwicki’s trademark “Polish Victory Lap.”

In November, Wallace and Earnhardt would honor not just Kulwicki, but Davey Allison, who died in July from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. After Wallace won the season finale at Atlanta and Earnhardt clinched his sixth title, the two performed the “Polish Victory Lap” as Wallace held an Allison flag and Earnhardt held a Kulwicki flag.

“It was kind of an emotional feeling,” Wallace told Fox after his 2001 win. “(Earnhardt) was such a great friend of mine and such a great family. … I really would have liked to have had Richard Childress riding with me that lap.”

Also on this date:

1951: Fonty Flock led every lap to win a Grand National race at North Wilkesboro. Lou Figaro, driving in relief of Dale Williams, finished ninth in a car that had its hood stuck in the upright position, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.”

1962: Bobby Johns led 430 of 500 laps to win at Bristol by six laps over Fireball Roberts. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom,” Roberts finished second after he lost 12 laps in the pits making repairs, only to make up six of them under green flag conditions.

1984: Geoffrey Bodine beat Ron Bouchard by six seconds at Martinsville to score his first Cup Series win and also the first win for Hendrick Motorsports. It came in the team’s eighth Cup race.

1990: A week after his brother Brett earned his first career Cup win at North Wilkesboro, Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville to earn his first win for owner Junior Johnson. It was the first time brothers won consecutive races since Donnie and Bobby Allison did it in 1978.