HAMPTON, Ga. - With less than a month to go before the season’s only same-day, same-track NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series doubleheader takes place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, several drivers got the chance to get their feet wet on the aged, abrasive 1.54-mile oval in a two-day rookie test that began Monday afternoon.
Three drivers – Christopher Bell from Joe Gibbs Racing, Dalton Sargeant from GMS Racing, and Tyler Reddick from JR Motorsports – turned laps in preparation for the rapidly approaching season and the Rinnai 250 and Active Pest Control 200 on Feb. 24. All three begin 2018 with new teams, as Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick move into their first full-time rides in the Xfinity Series, while Dalton Sargeant goes full-time in the Camping World Truck Series.
While Daytona looms large as the opening race of the 2018 season, all three pinpointed Atlanta as an important race to set the tone for the rest of their rookie regular season campaigns.
Reddick, who has two races in the Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta under his belt including a fifth-place finish in 2015, is well aware of the unique challenges a track like Atlanta, with its 21-year-old surface, will present for a rookie racing there for his first time in the Xfinity Series.
“This track’s definitely got one of the older surfaces on the schedule … so when you come here and test, that makes it difficult to get it going,” he said. “Obviously, the track is going to wear the tires out really quickly.
“Tracks like these are a lot of fun; they kind of knock the dust back off in a sense and get your feet planted back where they need to be, because this is a track that, even if your car is handling pretty good, it’s still going to be a handful. You have to really work for it as the tires fall away.”
Reddick steps into the No. 9 for JR Motorsports in 2018, following in the footsteps of William Byron, who won four Xfinity Series races in 2017 on his way to earning series Rookie of the Year honors. Before Byron, it was Georgia native Chase Elliott who occupied the No. 9 for two seasons in 2014 and 2015 and won both the series championship and Rookie of the Year in 2014. It’s big shoes to fill for the 22-year-old driver, but with a win at Kentucky and poles at both Kansas and Homestead in 18 Xfinity Series races last season, Reddick knows he’s up to the challenge.
“It’s a good amount of pressure,” said Reddick. “I feel like both those guys succeeded very well in their rookie seasons. Truly, we’re competing for Rookie of the Year this year as well, but I ran a partial schedule last year, so I have a little bit of an advantage over some of the other guys that will probably be running for Rookie of the Year.
“But we’re all trying to chase the same thing that Chase and William got done before us – win the Rookie of the Year title and hopefully the championship. I think we’re very capable of doing that. We’ve just got to be smart. I’ve got to do my best to learn how these cars drive and try and make this learning curve as short as possible.”
NASCAR racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway Feb. 23-25. For more information, visit AtlantaMotorSpeedway.com.