NASCAR put on a show Sunday that has to give one hope for the future of racing on 1.5 mile tracks, which uncontestedly make up the majority of the Sprint Cup schedule.
There's never much of an enthusiastic response when NASCAR fans hear that a 1.5 miler is next up on the calendar. Some may even opt to skip it. This past weekend, we had our first of those kinds of races this year, and it was 500 miles in length to boot.
Sometimes, we'll get lucky and there will be a plethora of restarts to give the illusion of constant on-track action and an abundant amount of passing at this so-called 'cookie cutter' circuits.
But this was not one of those races. In fact, it took a shocking 210 laps for the first caution period to even take place. That's well over half the scheduled race distance. Surely fans were relieved that a debris yellow saved the event from its own monotony ... Not quite.
This was a different kind of race. With the low-downforce aero package and the perfect amount of tire wear, Atlanta was a race that could have gone green the whole way and I wouldn't be complaining. NASCAR and Goodyear hit a grand-slam with this one.
Even after so many green-flag laps, the leaders were packed together tightly. No one driver could ever pull too far away without another reeling them back in. Strategy became the name of the game with some drivers short-pitting and forcing the competition's hand.
And how about passing throughout the field? Oh, we had plenty of that.
The best part about this action-packed race had to be how natural it felt. There were five cycles of green-flag pit stops in succession before the first caution. Everyone was sliding around, but no one let their car get too far out from under them.
It wasn't a single-file train with cars glued to the racing surface. It was what NASCAR is supposed to be: A high-speed chess match with cars all over the track and drivers forced to saw on the wheel. TV once gave the viewers a look inside the cockpits of the race leaders and they were all having to turn to the right in the corners to keep their machines under control. And to top it off, fans were treated to a two-lap dash to the checkered flag (caused by the cut tire of Ryan Newman).
"I loved it," an ecstatic Dale Earnhardt Jr. told Fox after climbing from his race car. "We were sliding around, driving the hell out of the cars. I had a blast! It was so much fun.
"I post these old pictures online all the time of the 80s and 90s and people go 'That's when racing was racing, that's when it was good' -- Well that's what they saw today."
There was no need for arbitrary yellows, a caution clock or any other form of manufactured drama.
Now that's what I call quintessential NASCAR.