NASCAR: Here’s How Drivers Are Preparing for New Track

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Each week, NASCAR teams prepare for the upcoming race by studying the data collected from previous races on the track. This week, however, NASCAR drivers are going into the Atlanta Motor Speedway blind, as there’s no data to review.

NASCAR has been coming to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for decades. However, the newly repaved and reconfigured track makes this year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 an entirely new experience for Cup Series drivers.

That said, NASCAR engineers like Nick Fishbein don’t anticipate the experience to be much different than a typical race. “I don’t know that preparing for Atlanta is that much different than just preparing for a track, period,” Fishbein said. “Especially in the Next-Gen environment where everything is new.”

And the engineer has a point. With the brand new 2022 Next-Gen stock cars, every track of the season feels a little different than usual. The data from previous years is only so helpful when the track is the same but the car is completely unfamiliar.

That doesn’t mean that engineers aren’t doing anything to help drivers prepare, though. On the contrary, tire-test machines that mimic a track surface were used to simulate the tires’ performance on the new track. “We have such a long history with NASCAR and track changes,” said director of race tire sales Greg Stucker. “And a good idea of the tire design based on the whole Next-Gen package.”

Speedway Motorsports Rep Predicts Great Racing From NASCAR Drivers

Through rigorous testing, NASCAR engineers are able to synthesize data to predict which variables will matter most on any given track. They then give this information to the crew chiefs, who tailor their car to suit the driver’s strengths and preferences.

Nick Fishbein felt a bit disappointed by the final simulation results for the updated Atlanta Motor Speedway. “Any track with a lot of fall off is interesting because you have to weigh priorities between short and long runs, and how to manage tire fall off,” the engineer said. “I feel like we took an interesting challenge each year and made it simpler.”

That said, the senior vice president of operations and development at Speedway Motorsports, Steve Swift, still expects nothing but great racing from NASCAR’s finest at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Swift said that he’s “nervously excited” for this Sunday’s green flag. “I’m expecting great racing,” the VP continued. “We’ve done the work, but how track drives is different than how the track races.”

Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, agreed. “There’s always a little bit of uncertainty with repaves and reconfigurations, and then you add the new car on top of all that. But we’ve got so much history and data. We’re prepared.”