NASCAR ex­pects fire­works from rules de­but­ing at At­lanta

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Jenna Fryer

HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR was long over­due for an added punch to its rac­ing prod­uct and ea­gerly awaits the re­sults from a new com­pe­ti­tion pack­age de­signed to in­crease the en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor for the trou­bled se­ries.

The new rules de­but Sun­day at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way, where the pre­vail­ing opin­ion is that the bumpin’-and-ban­gin’ and rub­bin’-is-racin’ lore of NASCAR will re­turn.

“This is go­ing to cause prob­a­bly more wrecks and more tem­pers are go­ing to fly and more drama is go­ing to be there,” said reign­ing NASCAR cham­pion Joey Logano.

NASCAR for 2019 will use a pack­age cre­ated to de­lib­er­ately slow cars and keep them closer to­gether. It isn’t in­tended to be the “pack rac­ing” beloved by fans at Day­tona and Tal­ladega, but driv­ers so far an­tic­i­pate that will be the ef­fect.

Packs usu­ally lead to crashes, which typ­i­cally cre­ate con­flict and the head­lines NASCAR needs. The se­ries is com­ing off a sea­son in which three driv­ers com­bined to win 20 of 36 races — re­sults that did noth­ing to stop NASCAR’s slide in at­ten­dance and tele­vi­sion rat­ings.

NASCAR’s so­lu­tion was over­haul­ing the com­pe­ti­tion pack­age in a way that, if it works, should close the gap be­tween the top teams and the un­der­dogs while spic­ing up the ac­tion.

“I think ev­ery­body is go­ing to be in at­tack mode in a lot of ways,” said Ge­or­gia na­tive Chase El­liott. “How that trans­lates into the race and how ag­gres­sive peo­ple get? I mean there is only so much space on the track, right? At some point, some­body is go­ing to have to draw the line as to what is smart and what is not.”

The pack­age was not used in last week’s sea­sonopen­ing Day­tona 500, a crash-fest won in over­time by Denny Ham­lin. At­lanta — where Aric Almirola is the pole-sit­ter — is not ex­pected to be a true in­di­ca­tor of how the rac­ing will look this sea­son, though, in part be­cause the fast and bumpy track has the old­est rac­ing sur­face in the se­ries. The track was last paved in 1997 and the abra­sive as­phalt eats tires and lim­its pass­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

NASCAR knows a bet­ter in­di­ca­tor of what to ex­pect will come from next week’s race at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way, fol­lowed by a com­pletely dif­fer­ent look in Week 4 when the se­ries vis­its ISM Race­way in Phoenix, a 1-mile low-banked tri-oval that is noth­ing like the 1.5-mile At­lanta and Las Ve­gas speed­ways.

“I think you will see about 50 per­cent of the re­al­ized po­ten­tial of this new pack­age at At­lanta,” said David Ra­gan. “The track sur­face is worn out and the tire com­bi­na­tion Goodyear brings here puts down a lot of rub­ber and loses grip through a run at a faster rate than any track we go to. You will even­tu­ally get spread out and it will look like a tra­di­tional At­lanta race.

“If you just woke up from a 12-month sleep from last year, you re­ally wouldn’t no­tice a dif­fer­ence. We will see [a dif­fer­ence] at Las Ve­gas.”

NASCAR’s sec­ond and fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion, Satur­day in a steady mist, got off to a bumpy start when Brad Ke­selowski couldn’t make it to his car be­cause of ill­ness. Team Penske had Xfin­ity Se­ries driver Austin Cin­dric start prac­tice for Ke­selowski, but Ke­selowski even­tu­ally got in the car and ran two stints. He was met at the Penske hauler by a med­i­cal crew that drove Ke­selowski to the care cen­ter, and crew chief Paul Wolfe said the driver “isn’t do­ing too good.”

He’s ex­pected to at min­i­mum start Sun­day’s race, but his sta­tus re­mained un­cer­tain.

Kyle Busch quickly posted the fastest lap of all Toy­ota driv­ers but then hit the wall and had to go to the garage with dam­age that side­lined him the re­main­der of the ses­sion. Erik Jones, his team­mate at Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, later headed to the garage with a power steer­ing is­sue.

Clint Bowyer was the fastest Ford driver, Austin Dil­lon the fastest Chevro­let and, in a sur­prise, Michael McDow­ell and Corey LaJoie rounded out the top five of Satur­day’s fi­nal ses­sion. McDow­ell irked Logano last week when he didn’t push Logano on the clos­ing laps at Day­tona, then ar­gued he has no obli­ga­tion to help Logano win races.

LaJoie was a head­liner at Day­tona be­cause of the paint scheme on his car, which was his en­tire face as Old Spice pushed its dry sham­poo. The ex­po­sure was strong enough that Old Spice re­turned to spon­sor LaJoie at At­lanta.

“If you just woke up from a 12-month sleep from last year, you re­ally wouldn’t no­tice a dif­fer­ence. We will see [a dif­fer­ence] at Las Ve­gas.” David Ra­gan

CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY-AFP

At­lanta pole-win­ner Aric Almirola, left, talks with team­mate Kevin Har­vick, the race’s de­fend­ing cham­pion, dur­ing prac­tice for Sun­day’s race.

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