Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Low Downforce Make for Another Atlanta Classic?

Will the low-downforce package make Sunday a classic?

Forget the five-minute crash damage repair clock, we have low downforce back this weekend!

We must start talking about this package, which should put on a heck of a show this Sunday at Atlanta. After a highly successful weekend for the sport at Daytona, the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 is expected to crank the new NASCAR era into high hear. This time, the cars are going to be tougher to drive than recent years.

Now, it may be tough to keep up to date with things as little as technical changes for these racecars. To put it bluntly, drivers, get your working hands ready. The overall downforce level with decrease from 2,100 lbs. to 1,600 lbs. The spoiler height lowers from 3.5 inches to 2.375 in. while the splitter, deck fin and rear steer will be adjusted to follow these changes.

NASCAR nation will embrace Atlanta’s final race on the old, worn surface. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP)

2016 was a significant gaining year for NASCAR in terms of racing action, passes for the lead and overall competition across much of the top-20 drivers. With the use of the first round of low-downforce packages that year, 2017 should be another step further in the upward direction, right?

All the tracks are now a year older, we have a new round of young drivers now in the premier series and the new segment format in the races will lead to more and more strategy play – something that played a major role in the Daytona 500.

But back to the importance of the track, a big reason why Sunday could be one of the best races in all of 2017. Atlanta has endured decades of hot summers and brisk winters, mixed with its race weekends in between. After all that, it’s a savage surface for Goodyear tires. It’s a cheese grater.

Normally, we will all be giddy with excitement for Sunday knowing these facts to be true. This time, however, we will be even more appreciative of Atlanta’s uniqueness, as it’ll be repaved following the 500 miles on Sunday.

So, to recap, a new downforce package and one last hoorah for one of NASCAR’s most loved tracks. Yes, do not miss this one.

Will Alex Bowman impress again in the Truck Series?

To the relief of many, the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona will not be Alex Bowman‘s lone NASCAR race in 2017.

Finishing third in that non-point Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event, Bowman’s time on the sidelines won’t last long, as he will race for GMS Racing in the Camping World Truck race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Bowman will certainly be one of the drivers put under the microscope for the Pest Control 200 as he fills in for Justin Haley, who won’t be eligible to race every track until the end of April.

GMS has already started the 2017 season on a high note with a Daytona pole-win by Kaz Grala. The No. 24 truck won twice in 2016 with Kyle Larson and Grant Enfinger, too. And that’s not to mention that the organization won the championship last year, too.

When it comes to experience to match quick equipment, Bowman may have plenty in Cup and XFINITY, but the Arizona native only has one previous Truck start back in 2015, finishing 11th with JR Motorsports.

This weekend will surely be a new deal for Bowman, who continues to scratch and claw for a stable ride in any series. Despite his lack of Truck time, Bowman should be taken seriously as a threat to take the win when it really counts.

Can Stewart-Haas Racing continue momentum into Atlanta?

Though they say Daytona doesn’t show us signs for what’s to come for the rest of the season, Stewart-Haas Racing sure hopes that saying is not the case for 2017.

The four-car team sure had a strong Speedweeks. Danica Patrick had her best run at Daytona since 2013 with a top five in the Clash, top 10 in the Can-Am Duel and ran top 10 in both stages in the 500 before being caught up in a Big One late in the race.

Sunday may give us a scent of what’s to come from SHR and Ford in 2017. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Clint Bowyer made the most of his debut weekend with SHR, finishing second in his Duel before crashing out with Patrick. Kevin Harvick had the most dominant Daytona 500 run of his career, leading 50 laps and winning Stage 2 before crashing out of contention.

The top driver of the team was the top driver of the night with Kurt Busch surviving the chaos to win his first Daytona 500 in the No. 41 Ford. Leading only the last lap, Busch is holding a lion’s share of momentum into Atlanta.

The question is whether the organization can build off of Daytona and continue to grow with Ford power. Anywhere you go, Harvick will bring the power. He dominated this race last year and will try to return to Victory Lane for the first time since 2001.

Patrick has also had some savory moments in Atlanta, bookmarking her career thus far with a career-high finish of sixth here in 2014. That night, she was only a couple inches from a top five, losing the photo finish to Carl Edwards at the line.

Busch has three Atlanta wins [2002, ’09, ’10] and has finishes of fourth, 13th, fourth, 13th and fourth in the last five races. It’s safe to say, he hopes to not finish 13th on Sunday.

The one who’s difficult to put into a category is Bowyer. The Kansas boy hasn’t fared well on the 1.5-miler, failing to earn a top five through 16 starts with only one top 10 since 2009.

This weekend will be a major key for the rest of the season for SHR. If its going to struggle in the first year with Ford, we will see it Sunday. If the organization hits it off and flies into the distance of victory, we will see it Sunday.

Which youngster will rebound first?

There were three of them up front in the final three laps of Sunday’s Daytona 500, yet, none of them came out with the trophy. We are talking about those young guns, those fast, popular young guns. They’re here for a reason – they kicked butt in K&N, Trucks, XFINITY and now are fighting together in the top series.

With Daytona in the past, drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are on similar levels heading into the normal season, if there is such a thing.


Running out of fuel while leading the sport’s biggest race, Elliott enters his home track with quite the monkey on his back. Not only has he not won a race through 42 Cup starts, but he has been damn close. Time after time, we see the 21-year-old under a dark, personal hot-spot-like cloud of distress following another winless afternoon at the track.

This week, Frontstretch wrote about his unrealistic expectations and how they are unnecessarily tearing this young boy down a notch week by week. With another reason to be down, Elliott needs to get back in it to contend again this weekend at Atlanta, and from what we’ve seen from him, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Next in line are the two rookies of Jones and Suarez. The duo battled to the last lap at Homestead for the XFINITY title last year and finished their first Daytona 500 in the garage… together again.

Now, with their first run on a 1.5-mile – Jones’ first since 2015 – we will see how quick they can become contenders. They will certainly have the team to do it. Jones will have Martin Truex Jr., who owned the 1.5-milers last year, while Suarez has Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, all three who have done pretty well at any type of track.

The last one is Ryan Blaney. His type of disappointment is pretty good compared to the others. Finishing second on a nearly empty tank on Sunday, the Wood Brothers Racing driver must be on the positive end of the garage. Not only does he have a clean record, unlike 90 percent of the Cup field, but a career-best result can’t not give you a kick in the pants for the following week.

Seeing which one of these young drivers clicks first will make Sunday’s race a cant-miss event.

About the author


Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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Sol Shine

The best thing that could happen for SHR is Patrick runs out of money and finally goes away and then Ford puts Carl Edwards into the 10 car. Now that would be worth talking about. Well, we can dream, anyway.

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