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Despite being rain-shortened, Atlanta Cup race draws rave reviews

Many drivers and fans seemed dubious of the recent decision to repave and reconfigure Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the on-track product continues to prove doubters wrong.

Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Smithfield / IHOP Ford Mustang

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Desperately needing a repave, Atlanta was also reconfigured in the 2021 offseason. The banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees and the track width decreased from 55 feet to 40 feet in the corners.

Although Atlanta is only 1.54 miles in length, the design changes altered the racing which the track produced to more in line of what is seen on the large superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega.

It certainly has looked that way as the Cup series’ first race on the new design last spring featured 46 lead changes among 20 different drivers – both track records.

Sunday night’s race was well on its way to a similar result. Although only 185 of 260 laps were completed before it was cut short by rain, there were 18 lead changes among 12 drivers.

The moves for position on the track were daring and the saves from near-disaster even more impressive. The biggest negative was that fans – which was expected – wanted to see more of it.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip even called it, “the best I’ve ever seen!”

 

The winner, William Byron, had to overcome his share of adversity to return to the front of the field and then take the lead before the rain came.

The ability of he and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports to do that in a race that went not far past halfway made his victory that much more impressive.

“It was awesome. I think that’s all you can ask for on a superspeedway,” Byron said of the racing. “We want handling to matter. We want to be able to drive the things.

“I felt like the first stage was really fun. I was able to make some moves on the bottom (lane), and you’re lifting every corner, so it’s really – it’s different than a (pre-Next Gen car) race, but it’s more packed up. It’s still handling matters and guys can make aggressive moves.”

Kyle Busch, who struggled early in the race but rallied to finish fifth, called the action on the track “dicey.”

“A lot of things kind of going on – a lot of lanes, a lot of options, which was pretty good. It’s all about momentum, obviously,” he said. “You break momentum or have something happen, it knocks you back or slows you down, you get blown over by four or five guys.

“So, it’s all about just minimizing your mistakes and minimize those that can get by you while you’re trying to make moves. Definitely a different game.

“Wish we could have continued. I felt like we had more than fifth.”

 

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