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Why New Atlanta Produces So Much Carnage

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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When the configuration of Atlanta Motor Speedway was first announced all the way back in 2021, many NASCAR fans were intrigued. Many drivers, however, feared the worst: that they were about to turn Atlanta into, essentially, a baby Daytona.

With two dates on the NASCAR schedule for each Daytona, Talladega, and, now, Atlanta, which races like a scaled down version of the two previously mentioned tracks, fans began to worry about the oversaturation of superspeedway-style races. With New Atlanta, perhaps their fears have come to fruition.

Whether or not superspeedway racing requires any particular skill or if it’s up to just dumb luck has been a hot topic ever since restrictor plates were introduced at ‘Dega and Daytona just prior to the 1988 Daytona 500 (following a very scary career-ending crash with Bobby Allison at Talladega in the fall of ’87).

Now, are these fears really justifiable? I don’t think so. While superspeedway-style racing can produce a great deal of randomness any given year, the cream always rises to the top. Familiar faces are always fighting for the lead at these types of tracks, even if they don’t win.

Regardless of this debate, fans tend to enjoy these races…until they don’t…and I think that even after only two years with the new configuration in conjunction with the superspeedway package, Hotlanta’s appeal is starting to wear a little thin. Here is why superspeedway racing at Atlanta just doesn’t work.

New Atlanta Is NASCAR’s New Coke

The year was 1985. Ronald Reagan was president, hair bands were cool, Dale Earnhardt had only 1 cup title to his name – and the Coca-Cola Company launched one of the biggest marketing busts in recent memory, New Coke. Sounds insane, right? Why did this happen? Who on Earth thought it was a good idea? Apparently some suits in at the Coca-Cola Company.

Coca-Cola was still the #1 selling soda in the country in ’84 and ’85 but Pepsi was rapidly catching up. In response, they decided that they would do something a little different: change the formula of their already successful cola brand and also announce it to the whole world, flying it proudly under the banner of “New Coke”. Needless to say, this didn’t work out. Consumers missed the Classic brand and New Coke would eventually be discontinued with the original formula being brought back a short time later. The experiment is considered one of Coca-Cola’s biggest embarrassments.

I bring this up not to sell you any Coca-Cola merch, swag, or beverages, though I am drinking one right now, but I remind you of this because it’s also something that is happening right now with Atlanta Motor (Super) Speedway.

Prior to the repave and reconfiguration, Atlanta was considered one of the better 1.5 mile intermediates on the schedule with actioned pack side-by-side racing (in spite of the awful package they ran with the Gen6 car on those types of tracks) and exciting finishes. Who can forget Earnhardt vs. Labonte, Havick vs. Gordon, Edwards vs. Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaking out as a NASCAR championship threat in 2004 with his win there?

Atlanta provided finishes like that primarily because of its character. The track was bumpy. Rough. It chewed up tires and spat ’em out! That was becoming a problem. It needed to be repaved and it needed it badly.

The problem with repaves when it comes to NASCAR, however, is that freshly paved racing surfaces tend to provide one-groove, boring racing. How could NASCAR combat this? Well, by turning it into a superspeedway, of course!

That’s exactly what they did. In 2022 New Atlanta debuted and it raced exactly like Daytona and Talladega on a much smaller scale complete with plenty of crashes and train racing up top until “go time” at the very end. After seeing this, fans are now practically begging to return to the intermediate package run at most other SMI tracks for New Hotlanta’s only fourth race with the new configuration.

Too Small For Its Britches

When you think about the ideal racing surface for a superspeedway-style event, what first comes to mind? Wide track space for ample side-by-side racing. Big sprawling corners. A pit entrance that isn’t right out of turn four, making it easier and safer to enter pit road and get down to speed.

You don’t think of Atlanta. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a mile sorter than Daytona. The facility itself can actually fit INSIDE the Florida superspeedway. That’s where a lot of the problem lies when it comes to superspeedway racing at Atlanta.

In 2022, there were a lot of issues coming down pit road. Crashes, numerous drivers caught speeding…because they couldn’t get slowed down enough in the pack coming out of turn 4. For 2023, NASCAR attempted to remedy this issues with extended the pit road entrance…to the entrance of turn 3. While that might extinguish some of the safety concerns around pit road at the Atlanta Motor (Super) Speedway, if a driver has to make a green flag pit stop, he’s essentially screwed as, with the extra time spent on pit road, he’ll lose at least two laps, if not more. Safer, yes, but it can absolutely destroy a serious contender’s day.

The issues with Atlanta’s small size in comparison to Daytona and Talladega doesn’t just stop at pit road. Early on in Sunday’s race, Bubba Wallace in the No. 23 Door Dash Toyota spun towards the infield. If this had been at one of those two other tracks, it is very likely he wouldn’t have hit the wall at all and be put in the position he was put in. But since the incident did happen at Atlanta, that inside wall came at Bubba a little faster than he was probably used to as he smashed into it.

In the end, his car wasn’t hurt all that badly but still, it was an incident that could have done a lot more damage and it would have been completely avoidable if NASCAR wasn’t insistent on running a superspeedway package at a track that just too small for it.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the Atlanta Super Speedway is the racing product. Saturday’s Trucks and Xfinity races were wreck fests with both series breaking their individual records of cautions at the track.

Going into the weekend, NASCAR stated that they did not believe Atlanta, since it is, essentially, a superspeedway now, needed any extended practice session, saying, more-or-less, “the drivers got this.”

But the embarrassments that were Saturday’s showings were just the tip of the iceberg as the Cup guys committed to train racing up against the wall, spoiling all the fun of a good, exciting, side-by-side grind to the finish.

With the corners being so tight, many drivers had issues building up enough of a run to challenge the top line. This was pointed out brilliantly by Matt Weaver in his commentary.

Hero on Twitter echoes Weaver, calling the race “boring”.

Cathy Brown tweeted out this rather funny GIF of The Golden Girls playing follow the leader. The Cup guys must have seen this episode and loved it because that’s how they were racing. Me, I like my NASCAR a little more exciting that Golden Girls, no offense.

Zack Brown also got in on the NASCAR dogpile. Follow-the-leader, follow-the-leader.

When it comes down to it, Atlanta just isn’t the right venue for a race like this. It’s too small in length, too narrow all around, and because of that, drivers either crash out early or stay in line and wall ride because the momentum to make a run just isn’t there.

Personally, I’m fine with four superspeedway races a year as long as they’re at tracks that can handle it. I’d be just as fine if NASCAR decided to get away from this package at Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
All Posts