There have been two races run in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint cup season. One, the Daytona 500, is a crapshoot. There is nothing that can be taken from that race that will apply anywhere but at the World Center of Racing and Talladega Super Speedway. Atlanta is a different animal, or was it? What I saw was drivers sawing the wheel and cars slipping around, with the wearing out of tires and cars going fast until the tires wore out and the guy who had the newest tires passing everyone. Unfortunately, it was the same five or six cars.
The drivers were almost giddy when asked about NASCAR’s latest “aerodynamic package.” Even those who finished poorly sang the praises of how their cars drove. A common refrain was, “I had a blast.” Too bad the fans didn’t, or did they?
For those longing for the good old days, they may have gotten for what they asked. Some cars were so superior that some cars, even some of the good ones, were lapped. Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin was one of them, two laps down at the end. In fact, there were only 12 cars who were on the lead lap when the race ended. Ten more were two laps down and the last running car was 18 laps down. Shades of 1978. In addition to Hamlin, others laps down included Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, and Trevor Bayne.
Of course, it can be argued that Atlanta Motor Speedway doesn’t tell us anything. The track is worn out and eats tires. Forty laps were all most anyone could get out of them. Complicating this whole mess is only 39 showed up to qualify. There were 40 places in the field. Maybe many of the lesser teams knew what was going to happen and just didn’t show up.
In the end, Jimmie Johnson won going away and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second. Rookie Chase Elliott finished in the top 10. That was very close to a Hendrick sweep. Meanwhile, other teams were left scratching their heads, with the hope that heading west will give everyone a clearer picture. Atlanta was as confounding as Daytona in finding out what this new package will do to make racing better. The grade at Atlanta is a failing one, but there is hope California will give us insight. If not, it may be a long season.