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Not only in the offseason did Atlanta undergo a repaving – which raises grip and thus speeds on its own – the track also altered its banking from 24 to 28 degrees in corners and significantly narrowed the racing surface.
As a result, NASCAR is utilizing an aero package on the Cup Series cars this week used only at its superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega – 510 horsepower and a 7-inch tall spoiler.
Goodyear conducted a tire test at Atlanta on Jan. 5-6 with three drivers – 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch, RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain – to come up with a suitable tire combination for the unique circumstances.
Bringing the right tire
“Atlanta has always been a major challenge from a tire standpoint, but the reason for that challenge has changed dramatically since our last race there,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Last season, Atlanta was the most worn surface on the circuit, aggressively wearing tires and calling for four-tire stops at every opportunity.
“Now that the track has been repaved in the off-season, the challenge has shifted to that of a smooth surface that will not naturally wear tires much at all. Tire wear is a positive in racing because as the tire wears, it sheds rubber. This helps to dissipate the heat generated from the high level of grip and speed, keeping the tire at a more optimal performance level.
“The tread compounds for Atlanta have been formulated to operate in these low-wear conditions.”
Teams will receive three sets of tires for practice, one set for qualifying and 13 sets for Sunday’s race (12 sets plus one set transferred from qualifying).
Kurt Busch, 23XI Racing Toyota
Photo by: Donald Warr, AMS
Because of the all the new elements to the Atlanta track configuration, the tire set-up for this weekend features compound changes on both sides of the car to accommodate for the new surface.
This is the first time Cup teams have run either of these two tire codes in competition this season, and this is the only track at which these teams are scheduled to run either of these two codes this year.
“I think the goal has been to try and find some (tire) falloff everywhere we’ve gone, and I think Goodyear has done a really good job of that at a lot of places,” said Buescher. “With new asphalt at Atlanta and speeds as high as they are and loads as high as they are, I don’t know what kind of box that puts them in.
“I would say that we ran through a bunch of different compounds (in the test), but I don’t know that we got a good read on what we’d expect for falloff or where the grip would go. I would say that bigger thing that came up across the three drivers that were there was not so much sliding tires as much as chattering.
“New asphalt, when it gives up, it goes to a chatter more than a slide and just trying to hang on. I’m not sure what to expect there exactly. I don’t know how this one will react.”
Mother Nature’s say
With only three drivers participating in the tire test and no organizational tests having taken place at Atlanta with the Next Gen car, Friday’s practice session will provide teams with their only real chance before Sunday to get a feel of what racing conditions make look like on Sunday.
Unfortunately, the weather for Friday – The Weather Channel calls for a nearly 100-percent chance of rain Friday – could throw another unwelcomed variable into the equation.
“Like any new paved race track, tires are very much on edge, so I think you’ll be really trying to be aware of that and be ready for that,” Buescher said. “And then I think we’ve also seen the pack speed at Daytona with these cars and how fast it got over single-car runs.
“We had three cars (at the test), but I think once you get a bigger group out there, the speeds will go up even more, so I think it will start forcing you to lift (off the throttle) a lot more. I don’t expect it to be a Daytona or a Talladega, but it may be closer to that than some of our older mile-and-a-halve (tracks).”