It’s time to put a nice little bow on everything that happened this past weekend in Atlanta.
Under clear blue Georgia skies, Jimmie Johnson gambled on his fuel to put himself in position to win the race. On the final restart, he got the best restart and scored the victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It tied him with the late Dale Earnhardt for seventh on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
“It’s such an honor,” Johnson said. “With the chaos at the end and the crash, wondering about overtime and how it worked these days, I kind of lost sight of that. I remembered on my victory lap coming down and I had to come by and throw a 3 out the window to pay respects to the man. There’s a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him, but at least, I was able to tie his record there.”
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is now hands down a legend of NASCAR beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt. He’s a six-time series champion – five of which came in a row – and has amassed 76 wins. In 509 starts, he’s also accumulated 208 top-fives (40.86 percent) and 315 top-10’s (61.89 percent).
To suggest that he doesn’t deserve a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is ludicrous.
A dominant car wasn’t enough for the third straight year at Atlanta for Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet led 131 of the 330 laps but had a bad pit stop with 40 laps to go and could only get within six seconds of Johnson before his tires were exhausted.
“We had issues about the last three runs,” Harvick said. “I had to start driving the car different. It just required a little bit different handling. And then we had a slow pit stop there. We got way behind and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) was way out front and I had to drive the car really hard and got the right rear burned up. We just didn’t execute today but everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Chevrolet hung in there all day and we’ll keep at it.”
He stumbled on the final restart, had to settle for a sixth-place finish and left Hampton, Georgia third in points. The West Coast Swing plays into Harvick’s wheelhouse as he won two of the three races and led the most laps in all three events.
Kyle Busch scored his 77th victory in the XFINITY Series on Saturday afternoon.
I’ve always been on the fence on whether Cup drivers should be allowed in the lower divisions. While someone like Busch or Brad Keselowski occasionally win in the Truck Series, the drivers running for points in that series have now gotten to the point where they are winning the races more than the Cup drivers.
That’s not the case in the XFINITY Series.
I bring this up because of the new Chase format in the series where a win gets you in. Given this, I don’t understand why drivers like Busch continue racing in the lower divisions and take wins from drivers racing for points in the series.
While I would rather see somebody get something on merit rather than superficial circumstances, I think we’ve gotten long past the point when NASCAR should seriously consider limiting drivers to a few races a season in a series they’re not racing for points.
John Hunter Nemechek survived late race melee to score his second career victory in the Camping World Truck Series.
The driver of the No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet inherited the lead after Christopher Bell suffered a right-front tire blowout and slammed the wall in Turn 4.
Fifteen laps earlier, Bell got into the corner of teammate Daniel Suárez, who then got into the corner of Matt Crafton and sent both of them into the wall.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. This race saw the first official usage of the caution clock. I was in the media center for the Truck race and the caution for the clock expiring wasn’t very popular with a lot of the media people, especially Matt Weaver. Anybody who knows him knows that he’s not a fan of the caution clock and neither am I. I won’t tell you what Weaver said about it, but it would’ve been the reaction of the race had it not been for this tweet from Pete Pistone.
I just saw the earth split, fire come from the sky and locusts invade our neighborhood #cautionclock
— Pete Pistone (@PPistone) February 27, 2016
Needless to say, I died laughing from this.
I’ll end this by calling out the Atlanta sports fans that couldn’t be bothered to get their hindquarters to the track yesterday.
For an entire year, I heard the people in the Atlanta area bitch and moan about it being too cold. Yesterday, it was clear blue skies and T-shirt temps and that still didn’t pack the stands. In other words, you all lied about wanting better temps.
It’s no wonder Atlanta sports fans are a laughing stock in the sports world. I’m not joking when I say this isn’t limited to NASCAR. From 1991 to 2005, the Atlanta Braves won 14 straight division titles and rarely sold out playoff games. In the late 2000’s, the Atlanta Falcons were one of the best teams in the NFL and rarely sell out the Georgia Dome. In the 2014-2015 season, the Atlanta Hawks had the best record in the NBA, but the Philips Arena ranked 20th in attendance in a 30 team league. Atlanta also has the dubious distinction of being the first and only city in the modern era of the National Hockey League to have had two NHL teams relocate to another city (the Atlanta Flames (now the Calgary Flames) and the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets)). Both teams cited lackluster attendance as their reason for relocating.
Yet when it comes to college football, you can barely find a soul in downtown Atlanta because they’re either at a Georgia Bulldogs or Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets game.
I would think that a city that’s lost one NASCAR race already would stop making excuses and go to their one remaining race before it’s too late. I even told Dave Moody this and this was his response.
@Nascarking3 Then again, if they were concerned with that, they'd still have the race and the NHL teams!
— Dave Moody (@DGodfatherMoody) February 29, 2016
Before you say Atlanta is a big market where there’s always something going on, Eddie Gossage has never had trouble getting the people of the Dallas/Fort Worth area to all but pack the stands at Texas Motor Speedway.
Let me be clear on a few things. I love the city of Atlanta, I love the Atlanta Braves and I love Atlanta Motor Speedway. What’s not to love about it? It’s a fantastic track that’s put on great, historic races over the years. We crowned our champion at Atlanta for 14 years. Ed Clark and his staff do fantastic work making the track a go-to facility. So I don’t say all this to be mean. I say all this because I’m truly afraid that unless the Atlanta populace bucks up and starts packing the stands to the point that Bruton Smith puts the Turn 3 stands back up, Atlanta’s days are numbered.
Now Atlanta Motor Speedway is in no danger of going away for the next five years. But once that sanctioning agreement is up, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruton Smith decides he’s not going to continue putting up with the lackluster attendance from the Atlanta market and move its one race to another track. When that day comes and if you weren’t among the 50,000 people who did show up, you have no right to complain about losing it.
That about sums up the events of the weekend. The next race for the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series is in Viva Las Vegas. The Camping World Truck Series is off for the next five weeks and will return at Martinsville Speedway in April.
The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and may or may not represent the views of Speedway Media.