Cookie-cutter? How Atlanta isn’t just another mile-and-a-half track

Jeff Gordon (24) and Carl Edwards (99) battle for position last year at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Since we are heading to a mile-and-a-half track only two races before the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from race fans asking if what the teams learn at Atlanta will apply to all the mile-and-a-half tracks in the Chase. I guess my answer is, "sorta but not really."

There is no doubt in my mind that Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the most unique mile-and-a-half tracks these teams will run on all year. The reason I say that is the actual track itself. The asphalt there is so worn and it’s just so different than what you find at the other tracks today.

Yes, you can learn about aero and the balance of your race car there because it is a mile-and-a-half track, plus the banking is comparable to the similar length tracks in the Chase. It’s just that the Atlanta surface doesn’t have the grip level of the other tracks, plus it chews up tires at a much higher rate. That is really what separates it out from the other mile-and-a-half tracks.

The other interesting twist Sunday night will be the fact we haven’t raced there yet this year. This is the first time these teams have been there with the new 2014 rules package. That is why I see this race being really unique and almost like a wild-card type of weekend because of the unknowns of the new rule package combined with a rough, aging race surface.

It’s definitely going to be the main storyline I am going to follow this weekend. This new car with the new rules package has so much downforce and so much side load that if as a driver you are aggressive with your driving style, then your tire wear could be even greater. That’s going to play into the hands of drivers who have a really good feel and can save their tires.

If you can minimize chewing up those right-side tires for a longer period of time than the others, it could make for a very rewarding weekend that ends up with you being sprayed with champagne in Victory Circle.  

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