New tires, rules create excitement early

Well, you can easily see after Sunday’s race why they call it Hotlanta, huh?

We saw some really impressive speeds. We saw the fastest lap ever run as far as qualifying with this new car at over 192 mph. It was a great effort by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team to pull off that and the pole position for the race.

Maybe things are starting to point in the right direction for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports bunch. I know they were disappointed they didn’t race better than they did. They fought their way back to 15th by the end of the day. So all things considered, it was not a bad day for Dale Jr.

The rest of the race was pretty bizarre. We saw Kyle Busch flex some muscle early on in his Toyota. Then here came that No. 9 Budweiser Ford of Kasey Kahne, who looked for a long while to be the one to beat. Last year’s winner, Kurt Busch, stepped up in his Dodge and sent a message to the field that Atlanta was his race track. That’s the thing about Kurt. He has shown in recent years that if he likes a certain track he does well there time after time. Atlanta is clearly one of those tracks.

You also have to be impressed with the turnaround of the entire Penske Racing organization. The week before they all clearly struggled. It really seemed like they all were out to lunch. But when they were in Atlanta, all three cars were very impressive. It really was a tale of two organizations from one week to the next with Penske Racing. Kurt won the race while Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski were fast all day long. It was simply amazing the turnaround in one week.

I think a lot of this has to do with the Goodyear tire. We are seeing a lot of new tire combinations early on in the new season. I think some teams are adapting to those new combinations pretty quickly. Some clearly are still trying to figure them out. Sunday you saw the Penske cars were good, but the Richard Childress Racing cars struggled. By the end of the race, however, you saw the RCR cars catch back up.

What you saw was the benefit of a 500-mile race. It gave teams like Kevin Harvick’s that struggled early enough time to figure it out and come out of Atlanta with a good finish. Think about it, they came from a lap down at one point to salvaging a pretty darn good finish.

You are simply going to see wrecks like we saw Sunday at the end of the race. When you have that many cars on the lead lap, with new tires and with talented drivers who all believe they have a chance to win, well things will happen.

Believe me, this is a trend that will continue with the green-white-checker rule for a long time to come. It doesn’t matter if it’s Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville or Atlanta. Green-white-checker finishes will breed this kind of excitement. Obviously this is something that NASCAR anticipated and took into consideration when it made the rule.

If you are a serious race fan, it’s going to put you on the edge of your seat. If you are a casual fan, well this is the kind of excitement I believe you can expect through the entire 2010 season. We got a small taste last year after the season was under way of what double-file restarts would do for the racing. Now with the combination of the double-file restarts with the new green-white-checker multiple-finish rule, we are seeing even more excitement created in NASCAR racing.

It’s also interesting and exciting to me to see these resilient race teams like Penske and Richard Childress Racing that are willing to make the necessary changes to go after that No. 48 bunch of Jimmie Johnson. They are going at Johnson’s team with everything they have. They are stepping up to the plate and it’s great to see. Sure, it’s still way early in the 2010 season, but it’s great to see so far that it’s not a Hendrick Motorsports runaway.

In addition to the improvement to the Penske and Childress teams, you are seeing the Roush Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports teams all starting to flex some muscle. I think it’s great to see these organizations starting to make their way back up the ladder. We saw a lot of comers and goers Sunday and the surprises that came with that. Don’t overlook David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, who also ran well.

So now the teams get a weekend off and a chance to catch their breath. They definitely need it because guess what is next on the schedule? Yep, the Gladiator Bowl – Bristol, Tenn. So these drivers and teams better enjoy the down time because when you get to Bristol, buddy it is time to man up.