By Taylor Long
This week the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series moved a little further north, and found itself in Atlanta, Georgia. This race was an important milestone for the 2019 NASCAR season, as it featured a first look at the new NASCAR Cup Series Engine and Aero Package. Following the wild, but nontypical Daytona 500, The Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 was a more accurate representation of the rest of the season.
The purpose of the new packages, according to NASCAR, is to make racing more competitive. NASCAR viewership has been on the decline in recent years, and NASCAR is making changes to attempt to lure new viewers, or viewers that have stepped away. While it is hard to judge the new package based off of one race, especially at Atlanta, NASCAR seems to be moving in the right direction. The new package drops horsepower down in the range of 550, and greatly increases downforce. Without having an engineering degree, the basic result should be larger packs, and eliminating one car creating an insurmountable lead.
This was shown in Sunday’s race, as it led to the most lead changes in recent years at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick has used his knowledge of the race track to cruise to multiple wins, and over 900 laps led in the last 5 years. Sunday’s featured less cautions than originally predicted, but what few restarts there were, involved 2 and even 3 wide racing, a rarity in past Atlanta races. While leaders could pull away, and clean air continued to be king, there was still more passing and car control than in any recent memory.
Kyle Larson dominated the early part of the race, but eventually Brad Keselowski gained the lead and never gave it up. Martin Truex Jr. ran down Keselowski, but due to lapped traffic, ran out of laps to take the lead. This sparked debate, but having a race come down to the final laps at Atlanta is a good sign for NASCAR’s new attempt at increasing competition.
Atlanta is just the beginning of these new rules, and in and of itself, shouldn’t be the final verdict. The surface of the track is the oldest on the circuit, and Atlanta is banked and shaped differently than any other stop on the schedule. This week the cup travels to Las Vegas to start a 3-week West Coast turn that will unveil what 2019 will look like.
Fords have still been the fastest cars but look for big money teams to catch up this week, including Ganassi, Gibbs and Hendrick. It will take teams a few weeks to catch up to the ever more steep learning curve. While NASCAR is trying to increase competition, the cream will always rise to the top. Favorites this week include Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and anyone driving a Ford.