Prior to the 2022 season, Atlanta Motors Speedway was repaved for the first time since 1997, and the incline was reduced from 24 to 28 degrees. The reconfiguration transformed the track into a superspeedway like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, although this was rejected by fans.
Speedway Motorsports and its director Marcus Smith took a big risk that many fans weren’t happy with. After Sunday’s race was the best of the NASCAR season so far, fans should be grateful for the risk that seemed to pay off.
Entering the Quaker State 400 on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron had been on the winning streak three times this season. Although a lackluster performance in qualifying led him from 18th position, Byron earned the second win in Atlanta of his career.
Prior to the green flag, Richard Childress raced the #29 car driven by Kevin Harvick in Atlanta in March 2001. Harvick succeeded the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. who was tragically killed at the Daytona 500 in February 2001 and Harvick won three weeks later in Atlanta.
The race’s first warning came on lap 17 when Wood Brothers Racing’s Harrison Burton lost control of his No. 21 Ford on the exit of Turn 2 and slid into the inside wall.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney won the first stage of the race, fending off teammate Joey Logano. As the threat of rain approached, the drivers redoubled their aggressiveness in the second special.
After completing his pit stop at the end of the first leg, Byron was given a pit road penalty and was forced to drop to the back of the pack. Just 20 laps later, Byron spun while running in 24th position.
Just 12 laps later, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson spun as he raced through the middle of the pack. The 2021 champion was unable to complete the rest of the race.
With just six laps to go in the second leg, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin collided after Bowman slipped on the track.
The stage ended cautiously with RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski in the lead. With impending rain approaching, some riders like Keselowski took risks on the arrival of rain sooner rather than later. The rain came later than the teams had expected, forcing those who took risks to make a pit stop for refueling.
With just 83 laps to go, JTG Daughtery Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. collided with Stewart Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece to get the caution flag out. Bubba Wallace of 23XI was also involved in the sinking.
Several have started reporting rain. NASCAR decided to continue to let drivers slowly drive around the track to see if the rain would stop. Eventually, NASCAR called the cars into the pit lane with 75 laps to go. The race was then cancelled.
Sunday could be an indicator of how future races in Atlanta might go. Atlanta could become a fan-favorite track because drivers can pass all over the field instead of being stuck in packs at other drafting tracks such as Daytona and Talladega.
The NASCAR Cup Series will now head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Crayon 301 at 2:30 p.m. EST on July 16. The race will be televised on USA Network.