Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch expects this weekend's racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be "nuts," and if you know theJoe Gibbs Racing driver, then you know that such a description is meant in the most positive of ways.
The 1.54-mile track hosts all three NASCAR national series this weekend – an XFINITYSeries and Camping World Truck Series doubleheader on Saturday and theFolds of Honor QuikTrip 500Sprint Cup event Sunday (1 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR).
"It's going to be pretty fun for us drivers," Busch said. "It can be a handful, for sure, with the tire falloff the way it is and how exciting that race track can be.
"Cars that run hard at the beginning of a run, they’re going to fade at the end of a run and vice versa. You're going to see some comers and goers as we typically do there. I would say that the groove is going to move around a lot because everyone is going to want to search for as much grip as they can. Typically that's always just by moving around the race track and trying to find what helps best."
Busch didn't compete at Atlanta last year as injuries suffered in the season-openingXFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway kept him sidelined for the first 11 points races of the year. Tracks in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana, California, are early-season stops and host only one Sprint Cup race annually.
Having missed last year's early treks might impact Busch and his No. 18 team slightly, "but I've been at these places enough now over the years that I shouldn't have any sort of issues," he said.
"I won Atlanta a couple of years ago (2013) … and I think I was going for three (wins) in a row at Fontana before I had to miss that race," Busch added. "So I'm definitely looking forward to those places and this aero package as well, seeing what it will show us."
This weekend's race will be the first for Sprint Cup teams with the base 2016 rules package, a package that is similar to what was used last season atKentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway. It features a 3.5-inch spoiler, a quarter-inch leading splitter edge and a 33-inch wide radiator pan.
The changes lessen downforce and should create more off-throttle time for competitors, likely decreasing corner speeds and providing more opportunities for passing.
It is hoped that such changes will also put the racing back into the hands of the competitors, lessening the aero advantages enjoyed by the leader under previous aero rules. Changes made for 2015 helped; now officials are looking to push the envelope just a bit further.
Such a move likely won't be a hardship for Busch, who won last year's race at Kentucky and finished seventh at Darlington.
Even without the rules package, Busch said he knows what to expect when he heads out onto the 1.54-mile track at AMS. Its worn surface dramatically affects tire falloff, which, in turn, impacts handling and speed throughout the course of a run.
"It tends to get exciting (at Atlanta)," he said. "For as worn out as the surface is, it's crazy how fast you go. Our qualifying times are going to be in the upper 190s, yet the surface is old and worn and you definitely will fall off on the long runs.
"That's one of the things that will weird you out – just how fast it is."
Busch, third in last week's Daytona 500, has two career wins ('08 and '13) and five top-10 finishes in 17 starts at Atlanta.
While he has not won a pole at Atlanta, he has qualified ninth or better in his last eight attempts.