I can’t think of many things worse than a cold and rainy Atlanta, Georgia. In the Summer, a dynamic city, but when it’s cold and as inclement as it was for last weekend’s NASCAR race, you might as well be in Juneau, Alaska. I can only imagine how tough it was being a crew member standing in the pits. Truly, it’s the pits.
Several great things came out of Atlanta. The racing was close and very active. No one was injured, although Gordon’s crash could have been much worse. Fernando Alonso’s Formula One testing accident looked relatively benign, but it wasn’t. He’ll sit out the first Grand Prix in Australia due to a concussion.
That could easily have been Gordon’s fate or much worse. Las Vegas will have more safety barriers in place as a result of Gordon’s Bugs Bunny ‘Little Martian’ tirade. Always a crowd pleaser.
The racing, for me, was better than I’ve seen in a long time from the Sprint Cup series. The cars were a handful, the drivers had to work the wheel and try to create their own strategy as the race unfolded. My hat’s off to NASCAR for these particular sets of rule changes. You won’t hear me compliment NASCAR very often.
As new as these cars were to drive at Atlanta, they at least had the benefit of a track with unusual weather induced grip, although tires were getting eaten, causing more pit stops for rubber than fuel. That shouldn’t be the case at Las Vegas.
If everyone makes it through the qualifying technical inspection in due time, though that proved to not hamper anyone at Atlanta, the drivers will face a very different set of circumstances. A hot and slippery surface that should provide a much greater challenge to their chassis setups and to the drivers as they move through the cycle of stops.
Goodyear has a selected a tire mix that hasn’t been used at Las Vegas before, so how they will react to less down-force remains to be seen in terms of degradation. It doesn’t appear as if tire wear will be the big issue this weekend, but rather who can wheel a very loose car around the desert track the best.
This compound has more grip than last years and is obviously an attempt by Goodyear to keep the cars on the track, with the heat and it’s inherent slickness, it seems Goodyear is trying to get out in front of the issue.
We all know how Johnson fared in Atlanta and going into Las Vegas as the favorite doesn’t hurt his chances, this is how he likes to drive. But it may be that we’ll see an even harder car to drive in Vegas than we did in Atlanta. One can only hope.
From the moment NASCAR introduced the Checker, AKA, the Car of Tomorrow, the talent of the driver had grown from pure hatred to a ride along of setup and grip that was the first iteration of the Gen 6. It appeared as if the COT was a challenge, but more to the drivers psyche than anything else. In other words, “Is this really the form of motorsport I chose?”.
Why it took so many years for NASCAR to develop a car that actually works is beyond me.
Many people weren’t thrilled with Johnson winning the Atlanta race, but the fact is he earned it and didn’t run away from anyone. If you aren’t in the racing business or have never driven competitively you would be lulled into thinking it was dull and that Las Vegas may be more of the same. Don’t.
When drivers tell you the track or the car has a lot of grip, it’s relative. ALL racing cars slide around, it’s trying not to slide and drift that’s the trick. A sliding race car is a slow car, however when it’s loose you can, at least, rotate into the corners.
This weekend’s Las Vegas race should be the true test of what to expect from these new rules throughout the remainder of the season and no better place than Vegas to roll the dice.