Ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, here’s a roundup of notable NASCAR news and notes from this week.
North Wilkesboro’s Racing Future
It’s been almost two months since Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith unveiled plans to bring North Wilkesboro Speedway back to life.
In an interview this week with NBC Sports covering all of the tracks SMI owns, Smith laid out what he type of racing he believes a renovated NWMS will host.
Unfortunately, don’t get your hopes up about a NASCAR Cup race returning to the short track.
“I don’t see Cup racing happening in that market,” Smith told NBC Sports. “But I think if we have local, regional racing, if we have short track racers return to Wilkesboro, this will be hallowed ground for anybody who races short tracks in the entire country. That alone is a big deal.
“If, somehow, someway, we could have a larger national tour series, like you mentioned the Truck Series, it would be beyond the expectation, I think, of everybody involved.”
A Different Way to Race in the Rain
On Thursday, NASCAR announced changes in how rain races on road courses will play out. The change was put out in an update to the sanctioning body’s rulebook.
These moves comes ahead of next weekend’s races at Circuit of the Americas. Last year’s Cup race at the Austin, Texas track was marred by heavy rain and violent wrecks caused in part by low visibility created by the spray from behind cars.
Among the changes:
In the event that NASCAR declares a race to be in wet conditions, teams now have the power to decide if and when to pit to put rain tires on their cars.
See the updated rule book entry below.
Another new wrinkle to racing in wet conditions is rain flaps.
Once a race has been declared to be under wet conditions, teams must install rain flaps on the back of the cars. Teams must have the mounting components prepared prior to the event so they can be installed.
Here’s the diagram as shown in the rule book.
On Thursday, NASCAR announced it intends to field a modified Next Gen car in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car itself will be prepared by Hendrick Motorsports.
It’s been since 1976 that NASCAR stock cars have taken part in the endurance race in France.
Why is now the right time to go back?
“This is a huge opportunity for us,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said at the announcement in Sebring. “If you think about where NASCAR is, the momentum we had in ’20 and ’21, but for those of you who have been at the racetrack in ’22, there’s a new sense of energy and enthusiasm to the sport that the sport hasn’t had in a long, long time, as evidenced by what happened at the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
“The centerpiece of that wasn’t just that amazing venue, it was the Next Gen car. If you think about the racing we’ve seen with the Next Gen car in these five races, there’s something special that’s happening here. We are, as a sport, trying to look at things that are unique and different, puts us apart. I think that’s exactly what we’re doing. That’s what this opportunity is.
“We have a series in Europe called the Whelen Euro Series. We know there’s some enthusiasm for NASCAR, stock car racing. But this is going to take it to a new level.”
Are there plans for active Cup drivers to be on the team for the event?
“I think it would be nice to have a mix,” Rick Hendrick said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. If the calendar works out. We’ll just wait and see what’s available. But we’ve got from the IMSA drivers a lot of drivers that have Le Mans experience. Especially with Chevrolet’s involvement, we’ll be covered with drivers.
“But we would like to see a Cup driver in the system if we could.”
New Pit Road Choreography
This weekend NASCAR is allowing Cup teams to begin using a new routine when it comes to pit stops.
Now the rear tire changer is allowed to approach the car from the front. Previously, they could only approach from the rear.
This routine was designed by Joe Gibbs Racing, which has been practicing it since late last year. But at least one JGR team won’t be using it this weekend.
Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota, explained on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio why they’re waiting to try out the new choreography.
“You won’t see it from us this weekend, there’s no reason to keep it a secret,” Gabehart said. “It’s not for any safety concerns. I think we’ve done a lot of homework that’s presented our case that we don’t think it will be unsafe. Any situation on pit road can be unsafe, obviously, you’re running in traffic, right? So it’s never exactly safe. But no, we’re not concerned about that. It really is more about strategic reasons as to why we’re pushing it off a few races.
“But it’s just another play on the playbook. Like any great sport that continues to evolve, you see more and more ways to get the football field and score touchdown, or you see more and more interesting plays to score baskets and win basketball games. Well, pitstops with these great athletes and coaches are no different. They’re searching for ways to find advantages in certain situations.”
ICYMI: @dennyhamlin's crew chief, Chris Gabehart (@CG1751) joined @ClaireBLang on #DialedIn and said that the team will not use any new pit stop procedures this weekend at @amsupdates, but will in the near future #NASCAR@JoeGibbsRacing | @ToyotaRacing | @FedEx pic.twitter.com/wzhsMREcoY— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) March 18, 2022
First-Time Winners Aplenty
Chase Briscoe’s win last weekend at Phoenix Raceway made him the 200th different winner of a NASCAR Cup race. He was also the 18th first time Cup winner in the last decade.
If there is another new winner this weekend at Atlanta, it will be the 23rd time the NASCAR Cup Series has seen back-to-back first-time winners. It last happened in 2021 when Michael McDowell (Daytona) and Christopher Bell (Daytona Road Course) opened up the year with two first-time wins.
The last time Atlanta saw a first time Cup winner was Carl Edwards in 2005.
Last weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway was viewed by an average of 3.991 million viewers and earned a 2.33 rating.
While the viewer number is down from the fourth race of 2021 (4.396M at Las Vegas), it is up from 2% the spring 2021 Phoenix race (3,904M viewers).
This weekend’s Cup race at Atlanta airs at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox.
Boyd Cleared To Race
Camping World Truck Series driver Spencer Boyd has been cleared by NASCAR to compete in this weekend’s race at Atlanta.
Boyd dislocated his shoulder in a crash in the last few laps of the Truck Series race at Las Vegas.