Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Miss any of the on and off-track action at Atlanta? Every Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the weekend.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
By Amy Branch

Tying the Intimidator

NASCAR drivers will tell you that to match or beat Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 76 all-time wins is a tremendous milestone and one they all dream of reaching. Until Sunday, only six drivers in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have matched or beaten Earnhardt’s wins: Richard Petty (200), David Pearson (105), Jeff Gordon (93), Bobby Allison (84), Darrell Waltrip (84) and Cale Yarborough (83). With his 76th career victory, coming at Altanta Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson has joined that elite group. 

During his victory lap, Johnson and many of the fans paid tribute to Earnhardt by holding up three fingers in honor of the legendary NASCAR driver's car number. The milestone was bittersweet to Johnson, who said, “There's a huge void in my career that I never had a chance to race with him, but at least I was able to tie his record."

What would the Intimidator have thought of Jimmie Johnson? Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “I think Dad would have liked Jimmie as a person, but he certainly wouldn't have enjoyed competing against him.”

Nemechek scores his second truck series win

During a last-lap restart, 18-year-old John Hunter Nemechek held off Cameron Hayley, beating him to the line by .305 seconds, to earn his second Camping World Truck Series win. Young Nemechek is now almost guaranteed a spot in the series' new Chase system. Nemechek is the youngest NASCAR driver to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway and is the son of legendary “Front Row Joe” Nemechek.

Low-downforce Package – How does it rate?

This weekend at Atlanta was the first chance for drivers and fans alike to see 2016’s new low-downforce package for the Sprint Cup Series. 
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

From the first moment on track, cars were slipping and sliding, and drivers were turning right as much as they were turning left. The goal of the low-downforce package was to put the racing into the drivers’ hands again, much like in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If you listen to the drivers, they're ecstatic. 

“The cars are so hard to drive – I love it!” said Carl Edwards after Sunday's race.

Although the fans might not have seen the action in the mid-backfield, the entire race was filled with dicey (and racy) moments. According to the drivers, the racing was exciting and fun, and the enthusiasm they projected during post-race interviews was palpable. Over the last several years, many drivers have complained the cars were “too easy” to drive, too hard to pass and generally frustrating. This new package is what the drivers have been begging for from NASCAR; now that they have it, it’s up to them to show the fans how their driving skill stacks up with the rest of the field.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

What is apparent is that tire management will again be a factor in NASCAR races. After the first run, right-front tires were shredded from the bumpy, old track, the new downforce package and Goodyear’s compound, first used at last year’s Michigan race.

Black Flag Blues

During a pit stop on Lap 170, No. 20 driver Matt Kenseth’s gasman set a wrench down on the deck lid of the car. Seemingly innocuous, it had big implications for the driver who had led 47 laps. 

According to NASCAR’s rules, “The Fueler must be in control of the fuel can at all times when fuel is being added to the vehicle. The Fueler will not be permitted to perform any adjustments or other pit stop procedures while the fuel can coupler is engaged with the vehicle-mounted adapter."

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Even touching a tool while the fuel can is engaged with the vehicle is an automatic pass-through penalty. Kenseth was not made aware of the penalty and did not see the black flag. 

As Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff argued his case to NASCAR, the officials threw the black flag with the white stripe, indicating that Kenseth’s laps were no longer being scored. Ratcliff was behind their pit box speaking with NASCAR officials when the black flag was thrown, and no other member of Kenseth’s crew mentioned it on the radio. Between the black flag and the pass-through penalty, Kenseth lost two laps and was no longer a factor in a race he had been contending to win. Kenseth was not happy, telling his crew chief over the radio, “I'm gonna blow a gasket if we got black-flagged and you didn't tell me to pit."

Crews have completed this kind of pit stop for years, but now that Kenseth and his team essentially lost a race over a wrench, it's a sure bet that gasmen won’t be touching a thing on future pit stops when the fuel can is engaged.

Caution Clock

The caution clock, a new rule in the Camping World truck Series, was only used twice during Saturday’s CWTS race. Cautions stopped the clock before it reached 0:00 the rest of the time. The rule basically says that every time the green flag waves, a 20-minute timer starts. If no caution has been thrown before that timer reaches 0:00, a competition caution is called, and the clock will restart at the next green flag. It remains to be seen if the clock will affect the series positively or negatively. It certainly changes fuel and tire strategies. Stay tuned.

Kyle Busch’s Up and Down Weekend

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
The Sprint Cup Series’ reigning champion, Kyle Busch, was set to have an amazing weekend: He earned the pole for both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY races, won his first ever race at Atlanta (and continued his domination of the XFINITY series with an all-time high of 77 wins), and was considered a strong potential contender for the Sprint Cup win on Sunday.

However, during post-qualifying inspection after Sprint Cup qualifying, the No. 18 team was found to have an illegal rear toe. The pole then was deferred to the next best qualifying time, which happened to belong to Busch’s older brother, driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car, Kurt Busch. Even then, Kyle didn't let the loss of the pole get him down, finishing third behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 on Sunday.

Dude, where's my burnout?

Following Jimmie Johnson's historic win, which virtually guarantees the No. 48 team a spot in this year’s Chase, there was only one thing he wanted to do: an epic burnout. At the last second, though, crew chief, Chad Knaus radioed to Johnson: “Man, I know this is going to make you sad right now but you cannot do a burnout.”

Jimmie’s response was a simple, “Booo! Can I go play in the grass at least?”

Knaus responded, “I don’t know. I don’t care.”

Tongue-in-cheek, Knaus added, “Honestly, you don’t get to win enough, man, do whatever you want.”
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Johnson wanted to do a burnout. So he did.

But why did Knaus tell Johnson not to do a burnout? As the No. 48 crew chief explained in the post-race interview, “Man, did you see what happened to the 18 on Friday? I'm not taking any chances right now. I don't want anything bent or broken or anything to warrant any type of problem right there.  […] We don't know what these cars do during a race, especially at a racetrack like this where there's a bunch of bouncing and moving and so on and so forth, that pit stops, there's a lot of wear and tear on these race cars throughout the course of an event and I just didn't want to take a chance on him tearing something up doing a burnout and not passing post-race [inspection].”

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway Reviewed by Amy Branch on Tuesday, March 01, 2016 Rating: 5