Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Slipping and sliding expected with low-downforce Sprint Cup package at Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR's new aerodynamic package makes its debut today on one of the Sprint Cup circuit's most challenging surfaces.

In any year, controlling a car on Atlanta Motor Speedway's bumpy, deeply grooved 1.54-mile track is a chore. The test becomes stiffer with the much-anticipated low-downforce package being introduced for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

"We definitely have less downforce on the cars," Jimmie Johnson said. "But I've always felt like the surface of this track has always created the slick conditions. Even with (other) rules package that the drivers might not love, we still come to Atlanta and the drivers still love racing here."

The effect of the new aero package is simple: The less downforce on a car, the freer it should handle. That brings a driver's skills more into play, with an increased potential for passing and, NASCAR hopes, more exciting competition.

The package includes reductions to the car's spoiler, splitter and radiator pan. It was tested to wide acclaim by drivers and fans in 2015 at Darlington Raceway and Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR also experimented with a higher downforce package last season at Michigan and Indianapolis, but reviews were largely negative.

Carl Edwards, one of the most outspoken advocates for removing downforce from the cars, expects the move to have a profound effect today.

"I mean, this track is just perfect," Edwards said. "There are three, four, five different grooves. The tires are falling off. The rubber lays onto this track really nicely, so that it changes. If you're running in a groove, five or 10 laps later there might not be grip there, so I think you're going to see that.

"You've got to really stay on top of it. It's like a big dirt race."

Bourdais re-signs: IndyCar driver and St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais was named to a full-time ride for KVSH Racing in 2016, returning to the team where he has won three times over the past two seasons. Bourdais, who turns 37 today, won four straight championships in the Champ Car series from 2004-07.

Xfinity: Kyle Busch claimed his first series victory at Atlanta. Busch and Kyle Larson pulled away after the final yellow flag. Larson got within about half a second in the closing laps of the Heads Up Georgia 250, but then he got caught up briefly behind the lapped car of Ryan Preece. It was Busch's 77th victory in NASCAR's second-tier series, extending his record; Atlanta was one of three active tracks where he'd never won in the series.

Trucks: John Hunter Nemechek emerged from the carnage that took out the leaders to win the NASCAR truck series race at Atlanta. Nemechek, 18, the son of longtime Cup driver and Lakeland native Joe Nemechek, held off Cameron Hayley by 0.31 seconds in the Great Clips 200. Christopher Bell started a wreck with 19 laps left, taking out leader Matt Crafton and second-place Daniel Suarez, Bell's teammate. Bell then led briefly but cut a tire with seven laps left and hit the wall.

NHRA: Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) led qualifying for today's CarQuest Auto Parts Nationals in Phoenix.

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