Entering Atlanta, drivers and teams appear to be settling in with the Next Gen car and Phoenix Raceway showed more stability.
Editor‘s note: Bozi Tatarevic is a professional racing mechanic and pit crew member. He will provide technical analysis for NASCAR.com throughout the 2022 season.
Drivers and teams appear to be settling in with the Next Gen car, and Phoenix Raceway showed more stability with the setups and how drivers are adapting to the handling conditions.
We‘re seeing moves now where drivers are learning the limits of the car and can comfortably make saves as Joey Logano demonstrated in qualifying by recovering from a slide. While practice showed some interesting results, the action in the final laps of the race belonged to some of the youngest drivers in the series as Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick battled it out.
Reddick was there in the final laps and a bit more comfortable than he has been in previous races. His Richard Childress Racing crew has been able to make improvements to resolve the numbness issue he had recently complained about. The new pedal set is now mounted on the floor versus coming down from above, which results in a different point and requires a slightly different position. RCR mechanics were able to adjust the position of the pedal box to relieve the issues with numbness and Reddick did not share any complaints this time around.
Those teams will face an entirely new challenge, though, as they head back to the East Coast and prepare to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is an entirely new product for everyone involved.
Teams will run the superspeedway engine and aero packages along with the lighter duty brakes since the new surface and banking will be fast. While we should expect some similarities to Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, there are likely to still be some surprises based on the nature of the surface and all the unknown factors.
We can expect some big runs once cars get together in groups, but we shouldn‘t expect anyone to try the top initially until they feel the track out based on some of the feedback from the Goodyear tire test that happened there. The big difference between Daytona and Talladega is that drivers will likely have to lift as they get closer to the car in front of them; otherwise, they will experience a tight condition from being so close to the car ahead.
In addition to the aerodynamic challenges, there will be mechanical grip challenges for teams as the corners at Atlanta are tighter than the bigger tracks of Daytona and Talladega. Drivers will have speed, but they will have a challenge on corner entry as they make their way around the track, so we‘re likely to see a combination of superspeedway style racing with the addition of some off-throttle time.
The general theme in the garage is that there are a lot of unknowns and most teams are taking multiple approaches with their setups and simulations, meaning we likely won‘t truly know what handling will look like until there are multiple cars on track in Friday’s practice. That practice session will be one of the more important ones this year as teams will look to see how cars run in a group along with some single-cars runs to simulate what they will see in qualifying Saturday — that way teams have enough data to adjust the cars before they‘re impounded after the qualifying session.
This weekend will also see the requirement of the rear tire changer to approach the vehicle from the rear to be removed from Rule 8.8.8.g which will open up opportunities for teams to attempt new pit-stop choreographies. Joe Gibbs Racing is the most notable group that has tried the style of pit stop in practice where both tire changers approach from the front. But even though Atlanta may be the first race that allows it, we may not see the full debut until a race or two down the road because two-tire stops are likely to be the main choice at Atlanta.
Atlanta should prove to be an exciting race and give teams a bit of a reset with some new challenges as they will see a new surface with the superspeedway engine and aero package — entirely different from what they‘ve gotten comfortable with while racing out west.