What we learned, or didn’t, at Atlanta

We knew Daytona wouldn’t be a good indication of the new, improved rules package because, well, it was Daytona and it was a restrictor-plate race (the last one at that) and “anyone” can supposedly win those, although “anyone” rarely does. The rules package was 2018-ish, used for the season’s biggest race, then tossed aside once and for all as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headed north.

We knew Atlanta wouldn’t be a good indication of the rules package this season because, well, that’s what we were told. By teams and NASCAR and others who said that 1.54-mile track was too rough and worn to give a true measure of the season and the new rules package that was designed to put downforce on the cars and excitement back onto the race track.

It turns out that Atlanta was indeed pretty much the same old Atlanta, in spite of the spoiler change and the splitter change and the reduction in horsepower.

The pack stayed together a bit longer following restarts, but eventually spread out.

Some fans said the racing was better, some said it was worse. Drivers seemed to be divided as well.

To me, it wasn’t a lot different and there was nothing wrong with that. I like it when a driver has to manage his tires and the balance in the car has to be just so and it might be good now but it might not later because the track surface changes throughout the race and you have to be on your toes to keep up with those changes.

So we’ve basically had two throw-away races to start the year in terms of the new rules package and its impact on competition.

Now we’re told the “real” test comes this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where aero ducts, openings in the front facia of the cars, will perhaps make the racing great again.

If Atlanta taught us anything, it’s that the racing at Las Vegas may not be radically different. There’s a chance it will be better, there’s also a chance it will be similar to what we’ve seen there in the past.

I agree with those who said it’s unwise to judge the rules package solely on Atlanta.

But saying it will be “different” elsewhere really isn’t saying anything new. Of course racing will be different elsewhere. It always has been, and that’s as much of a product of the peculiarities of the individual tracks as it is the rules package. Racing at Las Vegas will be different than racing at ISM (Phoenix), and both will be different from Auto Club.

But will it be better? That’s the question.

And so far the answer is no different than before the season got under way. No one really knows.

It is worth remembering that this is not the last time we’ll see the Atlanta package, so concern about what it did or did not accomplish makes sense despite those who said it’s one race, it means nothing, no other track is like AMS.

It will also be used at Pocono (twice), Darlington and the season-ending, championship- determining race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That being the case, I would give it more than a casual once-over before dismissing it as a non-factor.

As a reminder, there are 16 races that will include the smaller tapered spacer (0.922 inch) and air ducts, beginning with this weekend’s race at LVMS; five races will include the smaller tapered spacer but not the aero ducts; 14 races will have a tapered spacer with a larger opening (1.17 inches) but no aero ducts.

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