Although its racetrack has stood and held NASCAR races since 1960, what is old is now new again in Hampton, Georgia. After its quarter century-old racing surface was torn up following its July race weekend, the Atlanta Motor Speedway has undergone a full makeover that includes not only a fresh coat of asphalt, but also an increase in banking from 24 to 28 degrees.
This week, all three of NASCAR's national touring series took their first laps at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway, christening the track's surface in a Goodyear tire test. The Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series both took to the track on Tuesday before a two-day test was held for Cup Series cars on Wednesday and Thursday.
Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, and Ross Chastain were the three Cup drivers who participated in the test. And based on their findings, the expectation was that the 1.5-mile oval may now feature a racing product resembling that which is seen on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega -- As evidenced by speeds increasing a full second in a three-car draft (30.60) compared to single-car runs (31.60).
"It's superspeedway style with the banking and the smoothness (of the asphalt), but the corners are tighter," Chastain said told NASCAR.com. "We lost a mile from Daytona across the board around the whole track, so the corners are tighter, the straightaways are shorter. That was the biggest thing for me was getting to the corner on entry, it feels like Daytona, but then you have to turn a lot sharper than we do at Daytona, Talladega. So it's going to be a bit of a mix."
"You're going to be digesting things much faster and you're going to have that Daytona-Talladega style feel here at a mile and a half. So it's just going to change the game in the way you have to absorb it," Busch said. "Maybe I'm just saying that because I'm an old guy and the young kids will think nothing of it, but things are moving quick on a mile and a half with a superspeedway feel."
With that considered, this week's tests were also consequential for NASCAR to determine the exact rules and aerodynamic package that will be used at Atlanta. While most racetracks in 2022 will see cars run a high-horsepower-low-downforce package featuring 670 horsepower and a four-inch spoiler, NASCAR set a target of 510 horsepower with a seven-inch rear spoiler -- Similar to Daytona and Talladega, which uses similar rules to keep speeds under 200 MPH and increase drag and cars' ability to pull up and pass in the draft.
Atlanta's makeover marks the second time the track has undergone a major layout change. After originally being a pure oval, the track's frontstretch and backstretch were swapped in 1997 and the track was reconfigured into the quad-oval that remains through its reprofiling for 2022.
Following this week's Atlanta test, there are two more major organizational tests planned in advance of the 2022 season. January 11-12 will see a multi-car test at Daytona, followed by another at Phoenix on January 25-26.