Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Who’s in the headline – There are several headlines from this weekend but the biggest is Jimmie Johnson scoring his fourth career Atlanta Motor Speedway win in impressive fashion after having to start at the tail of the field due to failing to pass technical inspection on Friday. The 6-time champion carved through the field with Kevin Harvick, who also started at the back thanks to an engine swap after qualifying. Johnson ran away from the field on a restart with 14 laps to go and was the first under the checkered flag 1.802 seconds ahead of Harvick.

2015 Atlanta CUP Jimmie Johnson wins credit NASCAR via Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson taking the checkers (credit: Getty Images)


What happened – The race started later than scheduled thanks to morning rain and cool, damp conditions. More pace laps than normal and a competition caution on lap 25 set the table for a wide open first stint of the event. Four cautions in the first 100 laps made for a choppy start to the event but the middle section was very uneventful. That was merely the calm before the storm as two incidents happened in the final 70 laps that included 10 cars. For the second weekend in a row a car made contact with a section of the wall that is not protected by a SAFER barrier but fortunately the results were not nearly as bad this time around.

As for the race Joey Logano started the race as the dominant car but by lap 87 Harvick had made his way to the point and the tide of the event shifted. A handful of drivers led at that point until Johnson wrested the point away on lap 198. Over the final 127 laps Johnson led 92 Harvick was the only other driver during that stint to lead more than four. Denny Hamlin was one of the leaders during that middle segment but his day basically ended when he was caught up in the big wreck that took out Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray as well. Dale Earnhardt Jr. came up two spots shy of making it a clean 88 weekend sweep after Harvick won in the No. 88 Xfinity car and Matt Crafton took home the hardware in the No. 88 truck.

Why you should care – This was the first time out for the new rules package for the Cup series. Many people felt this package would favor Johnson who likes a car that slides around and handles like a vehicle on dirt. The momentum aspect of the tapered spacer also plays into the hands of drivers who are very strong at hitting their lines consistently and Johnson has shown for years he can do that.  Atlanta’s surface is different from many of the other venues on the schedule so Las Vegas might be a better barometer but, as it stands now, the other competitors should be afraid, very afraid.

What your friends are talking about – Jeff Gordon is a magnet for finding areas on race tracks that are not protected by SAFER barriers. He’s hit them at California, Las Vegas, Kentucky, Charlotte and Richmond. After this weekend Atlanta can be added to the list. During the big wreck that brought out the eighth caution of the race, Gordon’s car was destroyed in part due to nailing a wall on the inside of the back stretch without a SAFER barrier. There is added attention to the issue due to Kyle Busch’s wreck at Daytona but the remaining locations cannot be corrected soon enough for Gordon’s liking.

For the second week in a row, qualifying was a debacle. Daytona was a parking lot for much of the time, Atlanta was a tech inspection nightmare. Some 30 cars failed on the initial pass through tech and 13 did not make it on track at all for qualifying. As a result some of the biggest names in the sport started at the back of the pack. While it is great that the sanctioning body ensures a level playing field, there should have been some additional consideration made for the fact that this was the first blush with the new rules package. They did open tech on Thursday and teams took advantage of that but when most of your field is failing tech, someone needs to analyze the whole process.

Before the activities even got rolling for the No. 44 team this weekend their plans were completely derailed. Their race car was stolen from the parking lot of a local hotel Thursday evening. The team sent their hauler to Georgia earlier in the week to make sure it made it safely due to the weather in the area. They brought the car down in a smaller trailer towed by a dually. Somewhere around 5:30 in the morning someone drove off with it. It was found on Saturday morning but the trailer, dually and spare engine are still unaccounted for. While it is unfortunate for Kvapil and his team they could not race this weekend due to not having a backup, on the plus side their sponsor, Phoenix warehouse, has probably received ten times the coverage that they would have during the race.

For those who aren’t as weather savvy as Larry McReynolds, it is usually cold in Georgia in Winter. This weekend was no different. The sun was out on Saturday so the temperature didn’t feel quite as cold as it did on Sunday. With thick cloud cover and mist in the air it was very uncomfortable for fans in the stands and on the grounds. NASCAR continues to try and find a place on the schedule for Atlanta since they don’t have their season ending position anymore and for some reason they don’t want to give them one in late April, May or June and obviously aren’t going to give up a spot in the Chase. One thing is for sure, the stands aren’t going to be full if they continue to run them at the very beginning of March.

In the post race press conference Chad Knaus mentioned that their day could have been ruined if they had hit the piece of debris that Dale Earnhardt Jr. did at the end of the event. He thinks NASCAR needs to look at doing something about cars running on the track at the end of the event with parts and pieces falling off of them. If points were only paid through 25th or 30th, then there would not be an incentive for teams to try and get back on the track with rolling wrecks. Odds are nothing will be done about it but it certainly should be approached.

Who is mad – Gordon is on the mad list this weekend for multiple reasons. The 4-time champion lambasted NASCAR over the technical inspection issues on Friday that cost him a qualifying attempt and forced him to the back of the starting grid. Add the contact with a concrete wall during the event that resulted in a 41st place finish and the final full-time season for Gordon has gotten off to a less than auspicious start. Fortunately for him a single win will correct most of what ails him and set him up for a final run at a title.

2015 Atlanta CUP  Jeff Gordon vertical credit NASCAR via Getty Images
Jeff Gordon (credit: Getty Images)


Another person who was sporting the grumpy pants on Sunday was Tony Stewart. Like Gordon his weekend started off with the qualifying fiasco on Friday that caused Stewart to tweet out how frustrated he was wasting a day working on qualifying trim and not getting a chance to utilize it. He followed that up by missing driver introductions and being penalized to the back of the pack for the start. The icing on the cake was his car running terribly for most of the day and being involved in the final big wreck. Stewart can’t get to the Summer months fast enough to see how much this new rules package really makes the cars slide around.

Who is happyJoey Logano follows up his Daytona 500 victory with a top 4 run at Atlanta. While it wasn’t back to back wins it has him solidly in the points lead and riding a wave of confidence he has not had in his career before. Logano has always had the talent but you can now see that he has the confidence thanks to his relationship with crew chief Todd Gordon.

Unlike Gordon and Stewart, Kevin Harvick has a smile on his face after being forced to the back of the grid thanks to an engine change on Saturday. Harvick and Johnson both cut through the field like a hot knife through frozen butter. The end result for Harvick is consecutive runner-up finishes to start off the defense of his first Cup title. The swagger has always been there for Harvick but now it seems as though he has an even better ability to back it up.

When the checkered flag flew: Jimmie Johnson was in victory lane for the 71st time in his career. It has taken Johnson 473 starts to reach that milestone. His winning percentage is over 15% which puts him eighth on the all-time list between Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough.

This is Johnson’s fourth career triumph at Atlanta Motor Speedway

This is the 232nd career win for Hendrick Motorsports.

Harvick’s second place result is his third career top 2 at Atlanta.

It is Harvick’s 33rd career second best run which has him 20th on the all-time list between Jim Paschal and Dale Jarrett.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podium was his second consecutive third of the season.

Earnhardt has seven career top 3s at AMS including five third place runs.

This is Earnhardt’s 81st career podium which is tied for 27th all-time.

Jeb Burton crossed the line in 35th position but that was enough to make him the Rookie of the Race.

Martin Truex Jr. is fifth in points, the highest point position ever for a Furniture Row Racing driver.

Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson are the first two drivers to score wins in the 2015 Sprint Cup season.

The remaining drivers who are currently eligible for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup and their point standings are:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. Casey Mears
  5. Kasey Kahne
  6. AJ Allmendinger
  7. Aric Almirola
  8. Clint Bowyer
  9. David Gilliland
  10. Same Hornish Jr.
  11. Greg Biffle
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. David Ragan
  14. Danica Patrick

What is in the cooler – From a racing perspective, Atlanta Motor Speedway is the best track on the circuit. The age of the surface combined with the tire that Goodyear brings on race weekend produces outstanding competition from the front of the pack to the tail end. 28 lead changes was one more than we saw at Daytona last week, although most of those were from green flag pit cycles. People were running from the bottom of the track to the top and the run by Harvick, Johnson and Gordon at the start of the race was hugely entertaining. The ending was anti-climactic and there was a stretch in the middle that saw little action but the majority of the event was loaded with great racing. In the end it rates five Drafty Kilt Scotch ales from Monday Night Brewing.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but what happens at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be seen all over the globe thanks to the folks at FOX. The race begins at 12:30 local time which is 3:30 Eastern. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and NASCAR Sirius XM Channel 90.

About the author


What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Matt McLaughlin

The Ford 350 tow vehicle was found a few hours after the #44 race car. The door handle was busted and the ignition cylinder was yanked but other than that it’s shipshape Good thing too, because replacement value for a rig like that iis nearly 90g.


matt, news here this morning hasn’t even reported that the tow vehicle was recovered. they’re still talking about how the parts that were in the trailer have no value to people, except race teams. i know whomever stole it thought they were probably getting a bunch of landscaping equipment in the trailer. but only in atlanta this would happen. our lovely crime rate!


From Jayskii:

UPDATE 4: While the truck and trailer that were hauling the race car weren’t found at the scene, the truck was spotted a few hours later in Stockbridge, Georgia, not far from the hotel where the theft took place, said Morrow police Detective Sgt. Larry Oglesby, who led the investigation in the south Atlanta suburb. “The truck was on the side of the road,” Oglesby said. “A citizen driving by noticed it and said, ‘Hey, that looks like the truck on TV.'” He said the handle on the driver side door was busted, as well as the ignition switch. While no arrests had been made, Oglesby said his department had a “person of interest” and was continuing to pursue leads to determine just how many people were involved. He also identified a vehicle used by the thieves, which was spotted on a surveillance video. There was still no sign of the trailer and its other contents, which included a spare engine valued at $100,000 and racing equipment valued at $17,500. “We’ve got two out of three,” Oglesby said. “Now we’re looking for the trailer.” Since the #44 car wasn’t damaged, Cohen said it should be able to run at Las Vegas with Kvapil behind the wheel. The team also plans to send a backup car. Kvapil is also set to run for Team XTREME the following week at Phoenix. (Associated Press)(3-1-2015)


geez matt! was just commenting on how backwards our news is here. only in ga would they steal a trailer with a race car in it. it was difficult for the news people here to report that story with a straight face. like i say, the hood rats didn’t know what they took.


Just sharing info for those who might have missed it. Hood rats? Nope not going there.

Up here in the Northeast the #44 story actually made news and as usual the stick and ball types called the car a “NASCAR”


Pretty decent race, although it may have been even better as a 400 miler. In this day and age, four hours for a race other than the Coca Cola 600 is a bit much. It took almost 90 minutes to get the first quarter of this race in.
The two cautions in the early going for Austin Dillon had to be among the longest cautions in recent memory.
I hope NASCAR isn’t giving Atlanta the Rockingham treatment but I have to be convinced otherwise. This date could be better served a lot of places. How about start the season at Homestead in the off weekend before the Super Bowl? For many years in 1980s, the Daytona 500 was not the first race of the season. Then you can start the “West Coast” swing after Daytona. Atlanta could then fit in a late March/early April slot. From a fan watching on TV standpoint, even at four hours Atlanta is a big upgrade over the 2005-2010 period when Daytona was followed by the biggest buzz kill imaginable, a 500 miler at Fontana.


Agreed – not a terrible race but my hopes were high for closer competition because of the new rules. There was passing, but not as much as I expected. A 400 would indeed be better and yes, the date is awful. Guess what, NASCAR, it’s still winter in Georgia!


i must watch a different race…i thought it was so/so. princess sparkle pony had a top 20 finish!

dw and his comments about the track surface and the tar strips, got on my nerves after a while.

when the crew of 3 idiots were together in the hollywood hotel, i got the feeling that dw wanted to throttle mikey for always jumping in and putting his spin on things.

during pre-race show i thought something was said where ams put a bunch of tire barriers up where soft walls weren’t located. guess they missed a spot.

i knew weather was going to be crappy. i woke up 7:30 sunday am and in douglasville, ga, where i love, a lovely cold mist was falling from the sky. i felt sorry for the fans that were in the stands in that damp air all day long.

i feel bad that ams is not the track it use to be. they’ve torn down grandstands on the back stretch and in turn 3/4, and i’m sorry ed clark, it was no where near the 100,000 fans that you said on tv on thursday night, that would be attending the race. i hope ams doesn’t loose cup race date.


“where i love” Best. Typo. Ever!


richie – oops….


Patric ran mid-pack…meh. Only Harvik on her team beat her though. Oops…

Carl D.

Nice breakdown, Mike.

Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray are the most snakebit drivers in Nascar. If they were on Hee-Haw, they’d be singing “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me”. If you’re under 50, never mind.

Remember a couple of years ago when qualifying was about qualifying for the race? Now it’s just an embarrassment. Scrap this crap.

My Mom thought it was a pretty good race yesterday. Her definition of a good race is when Junior finishes in the top five. I thought it was nap inducing and both my wife and I can personally vouch for that assessment.

David Regan and Regan Smith had finishes of 17th and 18th respectively in the Busch-Brothers cars. Not horrible, but I was expecting better results, especially from Ragan.

A.J. Allmendinger finished 7th. I’d sure like to see him in a top-notch ride.


Brett Moffitt filling in for Brian Vickers and bringing the Aaron’s 55 home in 8th place was the feel good story for me. Thought the race was Ok. Felt a bit long sometimes when the field was strung out for an extended period.


Did anyone else other than me feel like puking when DW proudly noted that Jimmie Johnson is “now in the Chase”?


I don’t listen to DW but reading that sentence makes me feel like that.

Apparently no one who makes up the schedule for NASCAR has a clue about the weather in various parts of the country. Sure, it might have been 60 degrees on the weekend, but at the beginning of March, bad weather IS a strong possibility in the SE.

Atlanta is usually a fun place to watch a race. One of the twitter people told me that the possibility of bad weather “wouldn’t keep him from coming to the race”. Well my guess is that person gets paid by someone to go to the race unlike the fans who pay out of their own pocket. Me, I take a look at the schedule and what tracks I like to go to and make a decision based on whether or not the weather should be reasonable and on how complicated travel will be if the weather is bad.

I am pretty annoyed at having Gordon involved in a wreck that was again of someone else’s making when he looked like he should/could have a decent finish. Hitting an unprotected area of the wall just made it worse. Glad he was OK after that, but I’ll be glad that he won’t be there to be a crash test dummy after this season. I could not believe that idiotic comment from the driver of the 48 about Jeff testing out all the walls. Stupid and unkind but then I expect nothing more from him.


jersey girl – unless that person lives near the track like i do. i believe it was on saturday night’s news broadcasts here in atlanta, they were talking about more than likely ams would not get a lot of “walk up ticket sales” on race day cause of the weather. i’ve sat through races at ams when they had spring race, cold wet weather is typical for atlanta this time of year. it’s still “winter” and we did have, (oh no, the sky is falling) winter precipitation earlier in the week.


true, if you live where you can do a spur of the moment walk up, then it is possible. For me the closest track is Dover and after last year’s races, we are not going to renew those tickets. Gordon won the fall race at Dover last year and I was still falling asleep in my seat.

Martinsville is one of my favorite tracks but to travel there from the Phila area, has become expensive and time consuming. If something goes wrong weather wise, these days I would then have a non-refundable airline ticket for around $300 plus race tickets and have to call out of work for an extra day.

I found it extremely annoying to be told by someone’s avatar on twitter that I was the one who was wrong because I thought early March was a stupid date for NASCAR to choose.


I was there for the Cup race and enjoyed the racing, but I will not ever go back because the conditions at the track were miserable for the fans. It was not just the temperatures, but it was the heavy fog and mist that hung over the track for the entire race.

We bought our tickets early on and came from out of town which also required travel and hotel expenses. I have sat through very cold weather at both Martinsville and the Rock (RIP), but it was not that wet bone chilling cold that we experienced at Atlanta this past weekend. NASCAR has to do better with their schedules than this or they will kill the track and some of the best racing on one of the 1.5mile tracks.


dw’s face is firmly imprinted on the hendrick organization’s behind.

Tim S.

I was lucky enough to miss that mouth diarrhea, but it had the exact same effect. I’m sure he had that giddy little catch in his voice too.

Tim S.

What little I cared to see of this race looked just like every other 1.5 mile show we’ve seen since about 1998, with less grip. Where most of the script for Dull Ds involves going hard for five laps, then stringing out and waiting for the debris caution, yesterday waas all about going hard for five laps, sliding around and stringing out and then waiting for the debris caution.

Mike Joy, bless him, tried very hard to make it look like Johnson’s win wasn’t a foregone conclusion with 25 or so to go. Waltrip and McReynolds, luckily, were safe, as they had “June Bug” and “Ol’ Harv” to fall back on if “Six Time” didn’t make their wish come true.




LOL, Janice, I like that term “hood rats”. I can think of lots of ways that could apply.

Matt, yes, I saw the news story here on WPVI, too and just shook my head over the reporting. Someone stole one of those NASCAR’s. Save me!

Zero Headroom

Matt McLaughlin: Why aren’t you a contributing author anymore?
People get tired of you mindless ranting about NASCAR?


I was one of those who sat in the bitter wet cold watching the race in the stands. I thought the racing was very good. There were multiple passes and my driver, Dale Jr. was using the high line in turns 2 and 3 to get run. It was fun to watch despite the miserable conditions for the fans. However, I will not go back under those conditions. It is not worth spending that kind of money on tickets, driving, and hotels to sit for four hours in the bitter wet cold.

NASCAR needs to get their act together. There is absolutely zero reason for NASCAR not getting cars through tech to qualify. It is ridiculous that so many teams never even got the chance to run even one lap on the track. Giving this horrendous date to Atlanta is a sure fire way to kill this track just like they did to the Rock. It is sad because it is a track that the drivers love to race on and it provides some competitive high speed racing.

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