At 2:30pm Eastern Time, The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series kicks off the regular season at Atlanta with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Cars hit the track today for Practice and Qualifying, giving a first look at a LOT of new things. Here’s what to look for:
New Inspection Procedures
In the past, teams that failed a certain part of inspection could take the car back to the garage, come back, check just that one component, and be on their way. This year, however, new and more stringent procedures are in place. Now, cars that fail, even if it’s just on one component, must come back through and do the whole inspection over again.
New Aerodynamic Package
Atlanta will be the first time we’ll get to see the new low-drag aero package on the Cup cars.
With less of, well… everything, we should see drivers doing a lot of work in the car to keep it pointed in the right direction through the turns. The pack racing should be more interesting too, and probably more dynamic than ever before. However, after Daytona, one might question how much we really need cars that are more likely to crash. Regardless, it should certainly make things more exciting.
Tire Rule Changes
Also new this year, cars will start on the same tires that they qualified on. Look for teams being cautious with their qualifying strategy.
Atlanta is a tough track. Its rough and bumpy, and tires get worn out fast. What’s more, as soon as tires start to drop off at Atlanta, lap times go south immediately. This makes the tire strategy even more important.
Now, Who Are the Safe Bets?
- Jimmie Johnson- At Atlanta, the King is King. He’s won here the past two years, and there’s no reason to think the 48 Lowe’s team won’t make another strong showing this time.
- Kevin Harvick- Always a consistent racer, Harvick led a combined 247 laps over the past two years. He and all the SHR folks are looking fast after their merger with Ford, and if all goes well he could be set for a good day on Sunday.
- Kurt Busch- His record is solid at Atlanta Motor Speedway, having taken pole in 2016, finishing fourth. More importantly, though, momentum is on his side. Coming off the Daytona 500 win, Kurt’s got nothing but optimism. He also benefits from the same Ford engine and SHR car as Harvick.
So… Who’s My Pick?
Kevin Harvick- He’s got the consistency, he’s got the car, and he’s got the know-how.