Craig Murto: Atlanta leaves mixed impression

The NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway left mixed impressions on spectators.

The Xfinity Series race was OK. The old, slick pavement and lower down force package made cars slip and slide throughout the entire race. But when Kyle Busch wins in a Joe Gibbs car against Xfinity regulars, it doesn’t thrill anybody but Kyle Busch fans. And the fact that his car was discovered to be illegal after the race didn’t help.

The Camping World Truck race was entertaining. Again, competitors fought for grip. But watching Christopher Bell dominate all three stages didn’t make one feel the competition was close.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race went green through the entire first stage, dominated by Kevin Harvick. Harvick also dominated the second stage. In fact, he dominated the entire race until a caution with 15 laps remaining.

With the dominant car, Kevin Harvick sped on the entrance to pit road. So with 14 laps left in the race he started at the rear of the field, eventually working his way back to ninth. He proved that you can’t count on victory until the checkered flag waves.

Given all the times Harvick publicly called out his pit crew for costing him positions on the track, he’d better be doing some nice things for those athletes this week. Their pit stops were flawless, the car was dominant, the only reason the team lost was driver error.

Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Larson for the lead and the win in the laps following the final restart. The win was Keselowski’s first at Atlanta, and car owner Roger Penske’s 104th Cup victory. Both Keselowski and Larson had problems earlier in the race; Keselowski had to pit due to a loose lug nut. Third-place Matt Kenseth came back from a lap down. The top-three finishers proved that you can come back from adversity. But Harvick proved you can also throw the race away in the closing stages.

After two races, the points are rather interesting. Harvick leads the points with 90, followed by Kurt Busch (86) and Keselowski (84). Busch and Keselowski have race wins, so they are already secure in the Chase. But Harvick led at the end of three of the six segments run so far, which is why he leads the points. The current points reward performance throughout the entire race (Harvick’s point lead), but also rewards winning (Busch and Keselowski in the Chase).

The time between segments, however, is much too long. There were maybe six cautions at Atlanta, so there really was no reason for the TV broadcast to run over. It was all because of the delay in restarting after each segment. If NASCAR wants to keep people tuned in, it needs to run these races quicker, not drag them out. Especially when there was nothing better to do than nap until the final caution, as Harvick’s dominance was torturous for all but Harvick fans.

Last year’s Atlanta race was a snoozer as well. It’s hard to say why; the lower down force package did its job. Cars were slipping and sliding, struggling for grip from the very beginning. The track will get repaved now, so who knows how that’s going to affect competition.

Atlanta is one of the “cookie cutter” tracks, 1.5-mile with a dog leg on the front stretch. Fans complain about the tracks all looking the same, and the Atlanta races weren’t exactly barn burners. So it didn’t sit well with fans that while they’re doing their best to keep their eyes open watching the Atlanta Cup race, they scrolled their Facebook page to find out that Las Vegas Motor Speedway will probably get a second race in 2018.

Just great, like we don’t have enough of these races already. The question remains as to what may get cut to make room on the schedule. A short track? The road race at Sonoma, California? Fans have said they’re tired of the cookie cutter tracks for years now, so NASCAR decides to add yet another race on the schedule on a cookie cutter track. I wish them the best, but I can’t explain their reasoning.

This weekend The IndyCar Series starts its season in Florida. And Formula One – another series making questionable decisions – will start soon. The new F1 rules seem to ensure more single-file, follow-the-leader racing, but we’ll see.

On two wheels, Zach Osborne won the 250 East class in Toronto Supercross competition on a Husqvarna. In the headlining 450 class, Eli Tomac’s Kawasaki took the win, followed by Ryan Dungey’s KTM and Broc Tickle, who rode his Suzuki to his first podium finish.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.