NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Quaker State 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, PRN)

What Will SMI Do Next?

Atlanta is just the latest outside of the box project that SMI has done. I have a feeling though, it’s not the last. Following a great race in March, will others follow suit?

From the Texas repave/reconfigure, to Charlotte moving the Fall race to the ROVAL, to Bristol moving the spring race to a dirt event and now to Atlanta’s similar fate to Texas, what’s next?

They have to do so in order to stay ahead of the NASCAR owned tracks. New Hampshire lost a date, Atlanta was down to one date, Dover was looking bleak, Kentucky was gone and it was time for some changes.

So, Dover gets a date shifted to Nashville Superspeedway who maybe soon gets moved to the Fairgrounds? Is that the next move?

They moved the All-Star race from Charlotte to Bristol to now Texas for a second straight year which takes a points paying weekend away from the Lone Star State track.

Atlanta does this and now has two dates again. Vegas has poured a lot in to keep two dates. Sonoma isn’t going anywhere. Charlotte’s two separate dates (oval, ROVAL) seem to be their future. Bristol is clearly thinking outside of the box.

So, what’s next?

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See, this wasn’t a popular decision in the garage to redo Atlanta. This was always one of the more popular race tracks on the schedule. The old worn out surface led way to phenomenal racing due to the amount of tire falloff and the many lanes you had to race on.

The repave though, while not wanted by the drivers, we knew would eventually happen. It hadn’t been done since 1997 and with the surface barely hanging on, something needed to be done soon. You couldn’t keep patching it.

But, that’s not what drew the ire of the garage. They didn’t like it but knew it needed done. What made them mad was, not only did Atlanta go through a repave, they did some reconfiguring and added banking.

Now that we’re 1 race into it, I think the fans loved it and this prove to be a hit. SMI and NASCAR noticed.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 20: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Can Elliott Get Hometown Victory?

Chase Elliott has been NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for four years now and counting. He’s coming off of a championship a couple of years ago and is hoping to keep scratching items off his to do list. Obviously one of them is to win the Daytona 500. He’s still not done that yet. Another big one for Elliott is to win on his home track in Atlanta. That’s something his dad did five times. Elliott, is currently 0-for-8 in Cup. Can he get an Atlanta win in his ninth start on Sunday afternoon?

“I would love to have a win at Atlanta,” Elliott said of his hometrack. “I feel like anyone’s home track you want to have a win at for sure. I would love to go and have a good run in Atlanta. It’s always going to be a special place for me. I’ve spent a lot of time racing legends cars down there so for sure I’d love to go and have a good run.”

Elliott also notes though that while he’d love to get a win in his home state, he’d just like to win anywhere too.

“I’m not super picky when it comes to a win,” Elliott continued. “I’m good with wherever. A win would be great though. I would love to get that done one day and be able to have one there for sure.”

He’s had a top 10 in six of his previous eight tries. It’s just that he’s only had one top five finish in those 8 starts too. What has he been missing there? They hope that they can figure that out and put his No. 9 Chevrolet in victory lane on Sunday afternoon.

“Frankly, I really don’t know why,” Elliott said. “We’ve gone there and had some really good runs, a couple days where I thought we were capable of winning. And then, we’ve been there and been way out to lunch.

“I’m not exactly sure what that is all the time. Obviously, car configurations and rules and different packages play a role in it. Hopefully, this week, we can be more on the ‘hit’ side and execute a good race. Definitely have to have a good race to give yourself a shot to win.”

He led the most laps in the season opening Daytona 500 and was 6th here in March as well as being 7th in Talladega. Elliott also enters with 2 straight top 2 results on the season too.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 26: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 Wheaties Toyota, prepares to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Can Bubba Wallace Pick Up Win?

Bubba Wallace sits mired back in 25th in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings. However, the speed has been there more times than not but the reason he’s on the outside looking in still is due to pit road.

It’s no secret, his pit crew has struggled mightily this season and has single handily taken top 5’s and top 10’s away from him. Luckily, they made some changes on that front heading into this week.

That’s because if he wants to be the 14th different winner this season, Atlanta is the spot to make it happen though. He was 2nd place coming to the white flag in March but crashed on the final lap. Can he improve 1 spot further this time around and become the 13th different winner of the season and stamp both 23XI Racing cars into the playoffs?

The thing is, his last three top five finishes have all come on these types of tracks. He was runner-up in February’s Daytona 500. He was also runner-up in last August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 and won the Fall Talladega race a year ago too.

What makes him so good here? Did he learn anything from how Daytona and Atlanta ended on if he’s in a similar situation again on Sunday?

He hopes so because he could use a victory.

Is 400 Miles The Better Race Length

This one is like Daytona in the return trip is 100 miles shorter. In saying that, I think this is the better race length for this track. Being 500 miles on a 1.5-mile track that races like a superspeedway was too much. The track being a mile shorter than Daytona and Talladega doesn’t lend much time to breathe. You’re constantly in traffic and is causes chaos.

I think 400 miles will be better for the racing, the cars and the drivers. In the end, that’s better for the fans.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 20: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 3CHI Chevrolet, spins in front of Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, as Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, is able to avoid the incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Will Race Look The Same?

The question in March was if the “new Atlanta” would look like a Daytona/Talladega race or more of a hybrid between an intermediate track (1.54-miles) and one of a superspeedway. Well, we had 500 miles of racing to base Atlanta off of now and I think most would concur that the “new Atlanta” is a lot like a superspeedway race.

However, what will Sunday’s Quaker State 400 look like? Will it appear to have the aesthetics of the spring race or look a bit different?

Some changes have been made to the track including a wall change on the dogleg (Turn 1 side not Turn 4). This is to provide a better angle since they did the same to the Turn 4 side prior to the March weekend. Also, a bump at Turn 2 exit has been smoothed too.

That will help with some minor changes. Also, you wonder about how much the temperatures will affect the race.

The high temperature at the track in March was 67. It will be over 20 degree hotter this time around with highs in the upper 80s to low 90s at race time. That will add some separation in a pack because of the tires having less grip in the heat.

That’s natural. While the surface has been repaved, hot is hot and the Georgia heat will not allow for as close of racing in July as it would in March. This becomes a partial handling race too.

The final factor is the tires. Did the problems in March get fixed?

We saw due to the nature of the load these cars were taking back in the spring several tire failures. What happens this time around? Has it been fixed? That plus the heat could provide an interesting wrinkle too.

“The one advantage we have in the Cup Series at Atlanta this week is that these teams already have a race under their belts at this track with this package,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Having said that, that also means that teams have had four months to learn this car, study this package and improve their cars.  The challenges that Atlanta now presents have not changed since the last race in March, and along with the repave and increase in banking, the smooth track surface will not naturally wear tires much at all.

“Tire wear and the dissipation of heat is important in racing because as the tire wears, it sheds rubber and that helps keep the tire cooler and performing at a more optimal level.  We’ve specifically designed our tires for Atlanta to operate in these low-wear conditions, both with the formulation of the tread compounds as well as the tread depth.”

This race is 100 miles shorter in distance, but the loads remain the same. Also, the pass for the win came in the final 10 laps in 12 of the 18 races in 2022, including the spring race at Atlanta.

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