After a stellar Daytona 500, the Atlanta race on Sunday exceeded the expectations of NASCAR fans.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
Tires and drivers make for great events
There was something awfully vintage about watching Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson battle for the lead with roughly 65 laps to go on Sunday in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the most exciting battle of the afternoon and featured three cars separated by seven-tenths of a second, right in the middle of a long green-flag run and without the aid of a recent restart.
The race was thrilling, it was intense and most importantly, it was all natural.
The same can be said of the eventual battle for the win with Harvick chasing down Johnson -- their position on the track dictated by differing tire strategies. The two pitted 10 laps apart and watching their two paths converge was something out of NASCAR circa 1985.
Ultimately, Harvick was not going to catch Johnson without a caution, which he got with two laps to go. However, he wasn't able to capitalize on the overtime opportunity thanks to restarting on the debilitating outside line.
All told, this was the perfect NASCAR race.
There was passing in droves and the leader was rarely able to obtain more than a five-second lead. Much of that can be attributed to the rough characteristics of Atlanta, which hasn't been repaved since 1997. As a result, drivers had to manage their tires during the course of a long run, and Sunday was full of nothing but lengthy green-flag runs.
But credit has to be given to both NASCAR and Goodyear for the results of Sunday night's race.
It starts with the Sanctioning Body for its willingness to reverse course and remove downforce from the cars after years of piling it on in the first place. The downforce levels were not enough to make a dent in the racing product as Goodyear also needed to step up and produce a compound that matched the new direction.
The tire manufacturer showed up with a brand new compound, and the results at least passed the eye test.
No one in NASCAR understands the history of the sport quite like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the most popular driver Sunday embodied the spirit of competition of previous and bygone eras.
"It was kind of like old school racing, man," Earnhardt said. "You had to take care of your tires and be smart about how you drove the car and driving the car straight -- not really swinging the car around or getting sideways.
"And when you get around another car or a lap car you had to be careful to drive the car straight when you got around them. Then on old tires if you got lucky to race somebody, it was a blast."
It was NASCAR as it was meant to be.
Again, Sunday was a great start. But NASCAR does not need to get complacent. Teams will continue restoring their lost downforce through engineering. If Sunday, and the loss of a little downforce was good, continuing to take more away is even better -- something Carl Edwards has said for years.
"They just need to keep taking more away," Edwards said. "This is real racing. We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun.
"I just can’t thank NASCAR enough and Atlanta -- don’t ever pave this place because it’s a perfect racetrack."
Atlanta is the perfect track, and by God, that was the perfect race.