Atlanta Hosts First Low Downforce Package Race of 2016

Coming off their first Daytona 500 win in 24 years, Joe Gibbs Racing is looking keep their momentum going into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway this Sunday.

If they want to do so, they will have to deal with a new development in the 2016 season – the new low downforce package. This package was introduced by NASCAR in 2016 in hopes of producing better racing, more passing, and an overall more worthwhile product on the race track.

The package was run twice last season at Kentucky and Darlington , and produced some of the best racing we saw in 2015.

Drivers, fans, and owners alike are all excited about the new low downforce package. Iit puts the car more in the driver’s hands. For the past five years or so, it has been in the hands of the crew guys at the shop before the car even gets to the track.

Another thing that will be prevalent this weekend across all three series, , is the worn out surface of Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is the oldest surface on the NASCAR schedule to not be re-paved, and it eats tires up like nobody’s business. Falloff can sometimes be 4-5 seconds of a lap time throughout a green flag run.

2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race as well as the Heads Up Georgia 250, the Xfinity Series race on Saturday afternoon. But the pole was then stripped from him as the No. 18 car failed post-race inspection because, according to the NASCAR sanctioning body, the car’s rear toe alignment exceeded the maximum allowed..

Due to that misfortune, Bush’s brother, Kurt Busch, will start on the pole (191.582), and Kyle will start at the rear of the field when the green flag flies on the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway a little after 1:00 p.m. on FOX.

“It’s a matter of preparing the best car during the offseason to come to these 1.5-mile tracks and seeing what you’ve got. It’s just great to feel this right away with the speed and the energy from the car,” said Busch in an interview with FOX Sports 1 after the session concluded, who was surprised to be awarded the pole.

Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will round out the top five starters in a pretty unconventional lineup when it comes to big time names. Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Scott will round out the top ten.

Some other notable starters include Kasey Kahne in 11th, Denny Hamlin in 12th, Matt Kenseth in 13th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 16th, Brad Keselowski in 17th and Ty Dillon, who is subbing for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car, in 18th place.

Jimmie Johnson will roll off 19th, Kyle Larson 20th, Chase Elliott 24th, Danica Patrick 25th and Joey Logano 26th.

With Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports qualifying  poorly, it will be fun to see them, as well as Kyle Busch, climb through the field on Sunday.

Some other storylines are  also with Hendrick Motorsports as Kasey Kahne looks to find victory lane for the first time in what seems like forever. Atlanta is probably his best track, and he found victory lane here a mere two years ago.

Another storyline involves HMS and Stewart-Haas Racing, as SHR dropped a bombshell announcement that they will be switching manufacturers and engines from Chevrolet and HMS to Ford and Roush Yates starting in 2017. I briefly touched on the news on the victory lane podcast, and an article talking about the move should be posted sometime this week as well.

Chase Elliott, the leading candidate for rookie of the year is also looking to rebound after a crash in the Daytona 500 last weekend. Joe Gibbs Racing, who have dominated the past 20 or so races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dating back to the summer of 2015, will look to keep their dominance rolling.

Truex Jr. will also be looking to avenge his loss to Denny Hamlin in the Daytona 500 by a mere 0.01 seconds (six inches).

My pick to win Sunday’s race is Kenseth. After leading the final 39 laps of the Daytona 500, he failed to lead the most important lap – the last one. I think he will find victory lane this weekend over his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and the other big dogs, and punch his ticket to the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The storylines are abundant this weekend at Atlanta, and I think it’ll be a race that doesn’t disappoint. The “official” start of the 2016 season is now, and I can’t wait!