MENCS: Final Practice Garage Talk Notes Atlanta

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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500. A new era of racing begins this week for the premier series in NASCAR. The MENCS will debut its new engine and aero package aimed at bolstering competition. This is going to be a hard race to predict because the people in the garage do not even know what to expect.

The cars will have a tapered spacer that will limit engines to 550 horsepower, an 8-inch spoiler, a longer 2-inch splitter overhang and a radiator pan that is 37 inches at the front and tapered to 31 inches at the rear. So what does this mean for the race?

The cars will be slower and the racing should be closer. The test at Las Vegas showed that the cars could move through the field but passing the leader was difficult. We typically saw some drivers running along the apron while others were hugging the fence at Atlanta. Since the drivers who run the bottom will be full-throttle, the top lane will not be as good as it was in the past.

This race will also see a lot more randomness. Keep that in mind for your DFS contests. Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace lead the speed charts in some of the test sessions in Las Vegas. When was the last time you saw cars from Richard Childress racing or Richard Petty Motorsports posting faster laps than Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske? More drivers will be in play Sunday.

 

Track Notes

Goodyear brought a new left-side tire to the track this week. Four teams tested this tire last year. They included Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing), Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing), Ryan Blaney (Team Penske) and Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing). These teams should have a good idea of how the tires will fall off during the race since they had a full day to test them.

Teams received 3 sets of tires for practice, 1 for qualifying and 12 sets for the race. They will need all the fresh rubber they can get for the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500.

The race at Atlanta will not have the same rules package as the race next week at Las Vegas. The tires wear out very fast at Atlanta. Lap times fall off 4 seconds over a long run. The teams must have brake ducts to keep the brakes and tires cool. After this race the Cup Series will have aero ducts in front of the cars to cool them down.

(AMS= Atlanta Motor Speedway)

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: Elliott would love to win at his home track He has a series-best 7.6 average finishing position at AMS. Elliott has competed in the MENCS 3 times at AMS and he has never finished outside the top 10 (finished 8th, 5th and 10th). His driver rating at the track is 3rd-best (96.4). Elliott’s car started off tight but each adjustment seemed to make the car better. Elliott said, “Damn… I have not drove an automatic in a race in years. This is f**** weird driving wide open.” Elliott said, “The car was tight in 3 and 4 and junk in 1 and 2. Nowhere near what we had last year.” The team told him, “We will work on it. We have 500 miles tomorrow.”

Jimmie Johnson: Johnson leads the series with 5 wins at AMS. He won back-to-back races in 2015 and 2016. This track ranks as the 10th-best for Johnson. The No. 48 car was decent but not great in the playoffs on the 1.5-mile tracks. Johnson ranked 13th in average finishing position in the last 4 races on similar tracks. Johnson tested the rules package at Atlanta in October and again in Las Vegas in January. The No. 48 team was working to get the car to move through the seams better. Johnson said, “Every time I hit the seams it bounces.” He went back out and said, “It is 60% better then what it was.” On his last run Johnson said, “I like the drivability. It is very stable.”

Alex Bowman:Bowman has 3 races at AMS on his resume but the 2018 Folds of Honor QuickTrip 55 was his only race in the No. 88 car at the track. Bowman qualified 18th and finished 20th. Bowman had an average finishing position of 17.8 on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. Bowman told his team, “It starts off really good and it just gets looser and hard to hold as I get deep into a run. Crew Chief Greg Ives replied, “Welcome to Atlanta.”

William Byron: The race at AMS last year was the 2nd race for Byron in the Cup Series. He qualified 23rd and finished 18th. Chad Knaus has won more races at AMS than any crew chief in the garage. Having this knowledge available should help Byron this week. Byron did get some track time (about 30 laps) with the new rules package in a Goodyear tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October. Byron said, “I have to breathe the throttle through the corners. It bogs down into the track and I lift to make it turn.” Chad Knaus told him, “The tire wear has an effect on that.” They worked on the car to help him hold the throttle wide open. Byron kept complaining about the backend of the car “dancing around.” After his last run Byron said, “Whatever you did, it really helped the car.”

Kyle Larson: Larson is really good at searching the track to find speed. He has the 3rd-best driver rating in the last 2 races at AMS. He finished 2nd in 2017 and 9th last year. Larson really found speed in his Chevy on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. Larson finished his last 3 races on these tracks in the top 5. Larson usually runs the top of the track at Atlanta but he spent a lot of time trying to make the bottom work. Larson said, “The car feels good. I screwed up (turns) 3 and 4 but the balance is good.”

Kurt Busch: AMS ranks as the 3rd-best track for Busch. He has been to Victory Lane three times, with his last coming in 2010. He has only finished outside the top 10 once since 2012. Busch has also led at least 20 laps in 3 of the last 4 races at AMS. Busch tested the new rules package at Las Vegas in January. Busch was saying, “The front is sliding through the corners in 1 and 2. The splitter needs to be off the track to help it rotate.The team told him, “The tires are wearing out, so that is the reason for the slides. We will fix it up.” On his last run he said, “The drive-ability over the seams is a lot better than yesterday.” He crew chief said, “According to the speed chart, we made some gains.”

Kevin Harvick: Harvick leads the series in driver rating (141.7), laps led (473), average starting position (2nd) and average running position (5.2) in the last two races at AMS. Harvick has been the most dominant driver at AMS since 2011. Harvick had some problems with his steering box in the first practice. The team worked on it and the problem continued in qualifying. The problems were fixed before final practice. Harvick had one of the fastest cars on the long runs. Rodney Childers told Harvick on the radio, “It looks like the 42 (Larson) is going to be the driver we have to beat Sunday.”

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was never good at AMS until he joined Stewart-Haas Racing. He asked Harvick has he raced the bottom so well and the information passed to him really helped. Bowyer finished 3rd and 11th in his two races at AMS with his new team. Bowyer liked his car. He said, “The balance is good and the throttle response is where we need. I can hold it wide open a lot longer than expected.”

Daniel Suarez: Suarez finished 15th and 21st in his two races at AMS. The move to Stewart-Haas Racing should really help him this week. Harvick provides great info to help the team run well at this track. Crew Chief Billy Scott has led his cars to 3 straight top 10 finishes at the track. Suarez liked his car. He was quiet on the radio but the team asked him, “What do you think? Need any changes.” Suarez replied, “Nope…it is good.”

Aric Almirola: Almirola qualified 11th and finished 13th in his first race at AMS with Stewart-Haas Racing. It was Almirola’s 2nd race with his new team. Almirola really got hot in the playoffs on the 1.5-mile tracks. Almirola finished all of the intermediate track races in the playoffs in the top 10. Almirola tested the new rules package at Charlotte last October. He was 2nd fastest in Friday practice and then won the pole Friday evening. Usually teams put tape on the car or make adjustments to add down-fornce. Stewart-Haas Racing knew these cars would have a lot of down-force so they did all they could to take down-force off their cars. That really made them fast. Almirola was happy with his car.

Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been the 2nd best driver (behind Kevin Harvick) at AMS. He has finished 1st and 2nd in his last two races at the track. Keselowski also had the fastest car at the tire test in Las Vegas last month. The team has a good idea of how this car will race with the new aeropackage. His car was way too loose in qualifying so Keselowski will start 19th. Austin Cindric is on standby because Keselowski is sick.

Joey Logano: Logano was the best driver on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs. He finished 1st, 3rd, 8th and 4th at the tracks similar to AMS. Logano has been pretty consistent at this track too. He finished 6th in his last two race at AMS. His car was “Snappy loose” in qualifying so Logano will start deep in the field. Logano said, “The car has a lot more balance then it had yesterday. It is a little unstable into 3 and out of 4 but it gets better over the run. Good job guys.”

Ryan Blaney: Blaney has competed in 3 races at AMS and has never finished inside the top 12. His driver rating (72.8) ranks 19th best. He will need to lean on his Team Penske teammates this week to find some speed. Blaney tested the new rules package at Atlanta last October. Blaney was complaining that his car was “Sliding all over the track.” Blaney told PRN Radio, “When we get the handling dialed in we lose all of the speed. When we dial the speed into it, we lose the handling. We are just trying to find something that works?

Paul Menard: Menard has a 19.1 average finishing position at AMS since 2012. Last year he qualified 15th and finished 17th in his 1st race at the track with the Wood Brothers. Menard also had a 20th-place average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. The stats suggest he should finish around the 20th-place again this week. Menard tested the new rules package last October at Atlanta and again at Las Vegas in January. Menard started practice with a tight car. They “through the kitchen sink at it” and the car went from 27th to 13th on the speed chart. Menard was having a hard time starting his car. The team changed the starter.

Kyle Busch: AMS ranks as the 17th-best track for Busch. His average starting position is 2nd and his average finishing position is 11th in the last 2 races at the track. There should be at least 12 pit stops Sunday and Busch had the fastest pit crew last year. He will have a huge advantage any time the cars come into the pits. Busch tested the new rules package at Las Vegas in January. “Tight in the center, bouncy in 3 and 4 and tight at the bottom” were the comments from Busch. He complains a lot about his cars in practice but it seems to help his team give him exactly what he needs in the race. Kyle Busch got into the wall in final practice. Busch will go to a backup car and start in the rear Sunday. He will be scored from the 7th starting spot in Fantasy NASCAR.

Erik Jones: Jones has competed in 2 races at AMS in the MENCS. He finished 14th in 2017 and 11th last year. AMS ranks as the 11th-best track for Jones. His average running position at the track is 16th best. Jones tested the new rules package at Atlanta in October and again at Charlotte. The No. 11 car was the test car for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin ran 27 laps in Friday’s practice. The No. 20 team took the setup from Hamlin’s car and used it for their setup after qualifying. Jones lost power-steering half-way through final practice.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin will have a lot of momentum after his win in the Daytona 500. Hamlin had his best race at AMS last year (finished 4th) since his win at the track in 2012. Hamlin struggled at the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year but this is a new team in 2019. Hamlin turned a lot of laps in Friday practice. The team was working on the balance of their car. “Still fighting a little bit of ride issues where the ride is upsetting the car,” says Hamlin “It’s not bad..it’s just when the nose moves up it’s killing the back.” He was 29th fastest at the time. He was not happy with his car.

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has the 3rd-best driver rating in the last two races at AMS. He has not finished outside the top 8 at the track since 2014. It will be interesting to see how the new aeropackage affects Truex in 2019. He said, “This new package does not really fit my driving style.” Joe Gibbs Racing is too good to let this team struggle. Truex made some long runs. He said the car was tight in the center but stable around the rest of the track. They were very happy with their car.

Matt DiBendetto: DiBenedetto will be driving the car that Denny Hamlin drove to a 4th-place finish at AMS last year. His crew chief, Mike Wheeler was the crew chief on that car so he should be familiar with how it will handle Sunday. DiBendetto was not happy with his car. He said, “It is way too darn loose. I’m bringing it to you. It gets looser and looser with every lap.” The team said they can fix it. After the adjustments DiBenedetto said, “That is 80% better.”

Daniel Hemric: Hemric has competed in 2 Xfinity Series races at AMS. He finished 9th in 2017 and 11th last year. Ryan Newman was unable to finish inside the top 20 in his last 3 races in the 2nd Richard Childress Racing car. Hemric is usually good at managing his tires so it will be interesting to see if he can bring the No. 8 Chevy to the checkered flag inside the top 20 Sunday. Hemric started practice with a setup that was too tight. They put the No. 3 setup in the car and he moved to 6th on the speed chart. Hemric said the car was “race able.”

Austin Dillon: Dillon has competed in 6 races at AMS in the MENCS. His average starting position is 17.7 and his average finishing position is 23.1. Dillon tested at Las Vegas and the team was happy with how their car performed in the new aeropackage. He will have to do a better job at managing his tires this week. Dillon was consistently fast in all practice sessions. He was complaining about his car being loose but his lap times were in the top 10.

Ty Dillon: Dillon has 4 starts at AMS on his resume. His average starting position is 25.3 and his average finishing position is 20.7. The No. 13 team was a good sleeper pick on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2017 but they really struggled last year. It will be interesting to see what type of performance we get from Dillon in 2019. Dillon was complaining his car was too tight in practice. He need more front grip. They made a lot of changes and Dillon climbed to 13th on the speed chart.He could be a good sleeper pick Sunday.

Ryan Preece: Preece was one of the surprises in the Daytona 500. He has excelled in every car he has had the opportunity to drive. He does not have much experience at AMS though. He competed in one Xfinity Series race at the track and he finished 22nd. Last year AJ Allmendinger finished 29th in this car at AMS. Preece said, “We really need to work on 3 and 4. It is way too tight. The front slides right through the entry and exit.”

Chris Buescher: AMS ranks as the 18th-best track for Buescher. He has competed in 3 races in the MENCS at the track and his best finish in 24th in 2017. Buescher has never finished on the lead lap in this race so the No. 37 team is going to need to find some speed this week. The No. 37 team had problems with the backend of their car dragging on the track. They missed a lot of practice as they changed shocks. They made some adjustments and he went from 31st to 15th on the speed chart. Buescher said, “Much better.”

Darrell Wallace Jr.: The 2018 race at AMS was the 1st for Bubba in the MENCS at the track. He qualified 19th and finished 32nd. He has 3 races in the Xfinity Series at AMS on his resume. His average finishing position in those races is 11.7. Bubba was not happy in practice. He complained about the car bouncing, being too loose and bottoming out. His team told him they will work on it and he replied, “I just cannot driver these GD cars. This is F’d up.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: AMS ranks as the 2nd-best 1.5-mile track for Stenhouse (behind Charlotte Motor Speedway). He has a 13th-place average finishing position and 15th-place average running position in the last 3 races at the track. Stenhouse started practice on scuff tires and his car was too loose. They put sticker tires and it was still loose but when he drivers the top and dives to the bottom he can post fast laps.

Ryan Newman: Newman is really good at qualifying at AMS and really poor at racing at the track. His average starting position is 6th and his average finishing position is 18th. He has not finished inside the top 22 at AMS since 2015. Maybe a switch to Roush-Fenway Racing will help him improve his stats this week. Newman made some long runs in final practice and said, “The car is a lot better then yesterday. Maybe a tick snug but overall not bad.”

 

 

Cars that looked good in practice: Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano,

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not in DFS), William Byron, Daniel Hemric, Michael McDowell (Not in DFS) and Ty Dillon

(Not in DFS means: Do not use him in DraftKings or FanDuel contests)

 

Click here for Starting Lineup

Click here for Friday Afternoon Practice Speeds

Click here for Final Practice Speeds

 

Best 20-Lap Average Speed

  1. Kyle Larson 31.86
  2. Kevin Harvick 31.91
  3. Martin Truex Jr. 31.92
  4. Aric Almirola 31.97
  5. Chase Elliott 32.36
  6. Kurt Busch 32.42
  7. Joey Logano 32.48
  8. Jimmie Johnson 32.49
  9. Austin Dillon 32.54

 

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