The general reaction throughout NASCAR garages last summer when news leaked Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) would undergo a facelift was one of disbelief and wonder.
“Why Atlanta?” drivers shrieked in unison across North Carolina. “I like Atlanta.”
Most drivers and crew chiefs cherished the old AMS track. The 24-degree banking and grooved track made for a driver favorite.
Now, with 28-degree banking along a reconfigured track with new asphalt, the look and feel were different.
Atlanta Motor Speedway feels completely foreign to NASCAR drivers
After three days of tire and Next Gen car testing, drivers departed Atlanta on Jan. 6 with a distinctly different emotion.
“Basically, let’s just call this a new race track,” RFK Racing driver Chris Buescher said, reported by nascar.com. “With the new car, with the new surface, with the new configuration, it’s not even something where you’re trying to compare it.
“It’s starting over. It’s a brand-new race track, and we’re making notes and starting from a blank sheet.”
Expanded to 1.54 miles, AMS received its first fresh pavement in 24 years. It was time. Most drives knew it, but still …
“I think it’s no secret that the drivers really loved the old, worn-out Atlanta,” said Brandon Hutchison, AMS’ executive vice president, and general manager.
Drivers from all three national series, Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck, shared track time.
NASCAR officials testing superspeedway package for 1.54-mile AMS
Once the shock eventually wears off that the old AMS is just a memory, the drivers and crew chiefs will get around to sharing their feelings on the new grooves. Until then, it’s just different.
Highlighted by its reshaped turns, AMS will host two NASCAR weekends during the upcoming season, beginning March 19-20. Aiming to reduce speeds and create more pack racing, NASCAR officials used a 510-horsepower engine setup with a 7-inch rear spoiler for at least two of the sessions.
Along with Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, AMS is under consideration for the superspeedway rules package. On most tracks, a base 670-horsepower engine and 4-inch rear spoilers likely will be standard, according to nascar.com.
Buescher took his first spins on the new track on Jan. 5 with Cup Series drivers Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain. They formed three-car drafts.
Kurt Busch: ‘You’re going to be digesting things much faster, and you’re going to have that Daytona-Talladega style feel here’
While it marked his third Next Gen car test, Buescher raced the new technology on an intermediate-sized track for the first time. The previous two tests were at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course and Daytona.
The trio hoped to complete the circuit within 30 seconds. It didn’t happen. Busch, who captured the last Cup race on the old AMS layout, said the first unofficial time was 31.60 seconds (175.443 miles per hour), and the second dropped to 30.60 seconds (181.176).
“Things are going to be moving quicker,” Busch said. “You’re going to be digesting things much faster, and you’re going to have that Daytona-Talladega style feel here. …
“Maybe I’m just saying that because I’m an old guy, and the young kids will think nothing of it, but things are moving quick on a mile and a half with a superspeedway feel.”
Only two Next Gen car tests remain this offseason. Sessions resume Jan. 11-12 at Daytona.