Sunday July 14th, 2024 10:06PM

Byron, Busch and other NASCAR drivers still adjusting to new AMS reconfiguration

By Charles Odum AP Sports Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. — William Byron has flourished at the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway, winning two of four NASCAR Cup Series races since a fresh surface and higher banks provided a dramatic face-lift to the track.

That doesn't mean Byron feels totally comfortable in Atlanta.

Byron, the newly crowned Daytona 500 champion, still has mixed feelings about Sunday's Cup Series race at Atlanta.

“It’s unique for sure,” Byron said Saturday before qualifying 11th. “I wouldn’t want to do it every week.”

Ford drivers won seven of the top nine spots in qualifying. Michael McDowell won his first pole in his 467th career start. Following a close runner-up finish behind Joey Logano in last week’s Daytona 500 qualifying, McDowell edged Logano Saturday.

Kyle Bush qualified third and Kyle Larson was fifth, one spot behind Todd Gilliland's Ford, for the only Chevrolets in the top nine.

Atlanta added superspeedway-style racing to its 1.54-mile track in its reconfiguration following the 2021 season. There is less width for passing as well as higher banks. Before the changes, drivers made annual pleas to keep the old, battered surface and spoke in near-unanimous tones about their fondness for racing on the track.

There's a different tone to discussions about the reconfigured Atlanta track.

Busch acknowledged the new surface was necessary due to obvious “deterioration” and said “there comes a time you have to do something.”

After two years to adjust to the new look, Busch still doesn't like the reconfiguration.

“I just don’t understand or appreciate why we added the banking and the stuff they did here with the reconfiguration,” Busch said. “Would I have rather seen them just repave what they had? Probably.”

More changes came in the schedule. Atlanta's first race was moved up behind Daytona on NASCAR's schedule, providing back-to-back speedway races to open the season. Atlanta also has the first playoff race on Sept. 8.

SAVING FUEL
Denny Hamlin, who qualified 13th in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, said he expects NASCAR “will make some sort of adjustment” as a response to fuel-saving concerns causing drivers to take conservative approaches last week at Daytona.

Busch had sharp criticism of tactics teams made to keep their cars on the track.

“I believe it’s a problem,” Busch said. “At the start of the race last week we were all sitting there at half-throttle.”

Busch described the restrained racing as “disgraceful” and “pathetic.”

“I felt bad for the fans and thought this was not good for them,” Busch said.

Logano said the issues could discourage drivers from taking the lead early in races.

“You look at it, the further back you are the more fuel you can save but the less control you have,” Logano said.

BIG APPLE, BIG SPOTLIGHT
Byron's narrow Daytona 500 win over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman earned him a trip to New York City for a series of appearances on Tuesday. Bowman, who was featured in the Netflix docuseries “Full Speed,” said he has enjoyed his new role as a figurehead for the sport.

“It’s been fun,” Byron said. “I enjoyed all the stuff I got to do this week, especially because it was something unique and different. It was a lot of different questions. ... Obviously I was running on adrenaline for a couple of days and it's back to the racetrack now.”

ODDS AND ENDS
Denny Hamlin is a 17-2 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson are next with 10-1 odds, followed by Byron and Logano at 12-1. ... Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s 47 Chevrolet failed two inspections on Friday. JTG Daugherty Racing engineer Max Kennon was ejected for the weekend. Stenhouse, the 2023 Daytona 500 winner, qualified 27th.

UP NEXT
The NASCAR Cup Series moves to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway next weekend. Elliott says it'll be a revealing race for his team.

“I feel good about where we’re at,” said Elliott, who won in Atlanta in 2022 and finished 14th last week at Daytona after winning the first stage. Elliott is looking to bounce back from a winless 2023 season.

“I think we’re in a good place and I think next week you’ll get your first report card about where you really are as it pertains to regular racetracks. I’m excited to get out there and see, but until you get out there it’s kind of hard to guess because me giving you an answer today is a guess."

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