The White Zone: Some thoughts on Sunday’s race at Atlanta

Race No. 2 of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is in the books. I had some observations of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 that I wish to share with the class.

The package

Let’s just get something out of the way first: It wasn’t the “full” aerodynamic package that we’ll see next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So I’m not currently giving my “full” take on it as a whole.

With that said, however, I had some observations on this version of the 2019 package that was run at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and will be run in the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The key things this package was designed to do, according to NASCAR, was tighten up the field and make passing the leader not such a Herculean task. And…It was hit and miss.

Behind the leader, passing was relatively easy. You’d have to set up earlier in the straight, because the cars have so much more drag, but if you had momentum going into the turn, you’re more likely to catch the leading car.

In terms of passing for the lead, there were still times when the lead car would pull away from the field; which is one of the biggest problems with the 1.5 mile track races. Unlike past races, however, reeling in and passing the leader wasn’t a Herculean task. Drivers like Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. cut down the gap to the lead car and, except in the case of Truex, passed the leader.

Now it should be noted that the tire falloff, which was significant at Atlanta, probably played a great factor in being able to catch the leader.

Bottom line: We got a taste of what this package offers, but next week at Las Vegas will be a greater indication of what we’ll see this season. Furthermore, it wasn’t a bad race. Cars could pass one another and catching and passing the leader wasn’t an insurmountable challenge.

Bad luck for Ryan Preece

Late in the afternoon, Chris Buescher and Ryan Preece were running top 10 and looked in great shape to finish top 10.

With 54 laps to go, however, Ryan Preece plowed into the back of BJ McLeod as he was leaving pit road and his day ended behind the wall in 35th.

Preece said afterwards that he was looking down at his tachometer when McLeod dived down into his pit box in front of him.

Buescher brought his car home ninth.

Now one rather good afternoon isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success, but it shows that the JTG Daugherty Racing duo might be people to watch next week.

The flu doesn’t keep Keselowski down

Yesterday, Brad Keselowski sat out most of final practice, due to flu symptoms. Team Penske development driver Austin Cindric was on standby if he couldn’t race.

He did, however, and won.

Keselowski wasn’t the dominant car (that belongs to Kyle Larson). He didn’t even finish top 10 in either stage. He was even caught a lap down by the aforementioned pit road incident (he took the wave-around to get it back).

What he did do, however, was reel in teammate Joey Logano and pass him for the lead with 32 to go. Even as his tires fell off and the handling went away, he held off a charge by Martin Truex Jr. with two laps to go to win at Atlanta.

If he had any lingering side effects, he hid it well.

It was his 60th combined victory across all series and disciplines of racing as a Team Penske driver, which puts him ahead of Mark Donahue as the winningest driver in team history.

“I think any win means a lot, but that’s a big number. Now I get to wear that yellow Mark Donohue helmet.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Tucker White
Tucker White
I've followed NASCAR for well over 20 years of my life, both as a fan and now as a member of the media. As of 2023, I'm on my eighth season as a traveling NASCAR beat writer. For all its flaws and dumb moments, NASCAR at its best produces some of the best action you'll ever see in the sport of auto racing. Case in point: Kyle Larson's threading the needle pass at Darlington Raceway on May 9, 2021. On used-up tires, racing on a worn surface and an aero package that put his car on the razor's edge of control, Larson demonstrated why he's a generational talent. Those are the stories I want to capture and break down. In addition to NASCAR, I also follow IndyCar and Formula 1. As a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I'm a diehard Tennessee Volunteers fan (especially in regards to Tennessee football). If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me, down the road, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves, and I lived long enough to see them win a World Series for the first time since 1995 (when I was just a year old). I've also sworn my fan allegiance to the Nashville Predators, though that's not paid out as much as the Braves. Furthermore, as a massive sports dork, I follow the NFL on a weekly basis. Though it's more out of an obligation than genuine passion (for sports dorks, following the NFL is basically an unwritten rule). Outside of sports, I'm a major cinema buff and a weeb. My favorite film is "Your Name" and my favorite anime is "Black Lagoon."

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