Old Atlanta surface end of an era for Hendrick Motorsports

HAMPTON, Ga. – Atlanta Motor Speedway will begin the process of resurfacing the 1.5-mile track following Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX).

Much to the chagrin of drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage, replacing the aged asphalt is something that needs to be done after a life of roughly 20 years.

Hendrick Motorsports has experienced the most success on the old pavement.

Since the track’s last repave in 1997, four Hendrick drivers – Jerry Nadeau, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson – have earned 13 total victories in 34 races. Joe Gibbs Racing is a close second with 11 wins among four drivers – Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

On Friday, Johnson, winner of the past two races at Atlanta, reflected on that stellar success.

“It’s been a great track for me really when I look back over my career and when I think of Hendrick related race cars and success from (Jerry) Nadeau running well here,” Johnson said. “Jeff (Gordon) has obviously always been amazing here. (Kasey) Kahne, it has been a good track for (Dale Earnhardt) Junior over the years. It is a good track for all of us.”

So Johnson admitted he is sad to see the repave. So sad, in fact, he agreed with a tweet earlier in the week by Earnhardt about holding a memorial for the old surface following Sunday’s race.

“I think we all appreciate tracks with so much character and to have the bad news that two of the tracks with the most character are going to be repaved this year, I think shocked and upset a lot of us,” said Johnson, also referring to the repave that is nearing completion at Texas Motor Speedway, Atlanta’s sister track.

“This track is so fun and so interesting and so challenging, I hate that it’s our last run on this asphalt,” Johnson said.

Texas Motor Speedway announced on Friday that it will unveil its new look on March 13 when Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Chris Buescher, a Texas native, turns the first laps on its new surface.

Johnson understands why repaves are necessary at times. But that doesn’t mean he has to like them.

“We get it. We understand, but it’s just going to take a long time for the (Atlanta) track to get back to this condition,” Johnson added. “I don’t think Darlington is really even back to where it once was and the challenges that it poses the teams.

“It’s got to happen at some point and I’m sure generations before me, drivers were bummed when tracks were resurfaced then too. It’s just part of racing.”

Along with the success, Johnson has also had his fair share of shortcomings at Atlanta, as well.

In 2005, Carl Edwards narrowly beat Johnson to the line after last-lap run coming to the checkered flag.

“I can think of many cool final laps here that I’ve come out on top against Mark Martin, Tony Stewart,” Johnson said. “There was one I didn’t end up winning the race, but I ended up second behind Carl Edwards (and) that really helped us in the championship battle in the fall. These old tracks with this much character in them really put on some good finishes.”

Another memorable battle occurred between Johnson and Gordon in 2011.

After swapping the lead multiple times on extremely worn tires during the final 10 laps, it was Gordon who wheeled his way to the win and a historic 85th victory at the time.

“Man, you just want to race for the win,” Johnson said. “Sure, you want to come out on top, but to be picked by Jeff (Gordon) and a guy that I looked up to and idolized as a young driver, it’s cool to have a few duels with him, especially that one.”