Prior to the 2022 season Atlanta Motors Speedway was repaved for the first time since 1997 and the banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees. The reconfiguration turned the track into a superspeedway like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, though this was met with pushback from fans.
Speedway Motorsports and its director Marcus Smith took a significant risk and one that many fans were unhappy with. After Sunday’s race was the best of the NASCAR season so far, fans should be thankful for the risk that has seemed to pay off.
Entering Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron had been to victory lane three times this season. Although a mediocre qualifying performance led to him starting in the 18th position, Byron was victorious for the second time at Atlanta in his career.
Before the green flag, Richard Childress piloted the No. 29 car driven by Kevin Harvick at Atlanta in March of 2001. Harvick took over for the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. who was tragically killed in the Daytona 500 in February 2001 and Harvick was victorious three weeks later at Atlanta.
The first caution of the race took place on lap 17 when Wood Brothers Racing’s Harrison Burton lost control of his No. 21 Ford exiting Turn 2 and slid into the inside wall.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney won the opening stage of the race, holding off teammate Joey Logano. With the threat of rain approaching, drivers picked up their aggressiveness in the second stage.
Once completing his pit stop at the conclusion of the first stage, Byron was assessed a pit road penalty and was forced to drop to the rear of the field. Just 20 laps later, Byron spun out while running in the 24th position.
Just 12 laps later Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson spun out while running in the middle of the pack. The 2021 champion was unable to finish the remainder of the race.
With just six laps to go in the second stage, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin collided after Bowman slid up the track.
The stage ended under caution as RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski led. With imminent rain approaching, some drivers such as Keselowski took chances on the rain arriving sooner rather than later. The rain arrived later than the teams had anticipated, forcing those who took risks to make a pit stop to refuel.
With just 83 laps to go, JTG Daughtery Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. collided with Stewart Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece to bring out the caution flag. 23XI’s Bubba Wallace was also involved in the wreck.
Several began reporting the rain. NASCAR decided to continue to let the drivers slowly proceed around the track to see if the rain would let up. Eventually, NASCAR called the cars to the pit lane with 75 laps remaining. The race was then called off.
Sunday could be an indicator of how future races at Atlanta could play out. Atlanta could develop into a fan-favorite track because of drivers being able to make passes throughout the field instead of being stuck in packs at other drafting tracks such as Daytona and Talladega.
The NASCAR Cup Series will now head to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Crayon 301 at 2:30 p.m. EST on July 16. The race will be televised on USA Network.