Atlanta was a bit more damp, a bit more cold and bit more miserable for some on race day. The fans, of course, likely cleaned out the warm weather gear at Wal-Mart before coming in as Georgia is not known for the cold. Crashes and mechanical failures left some drivers out in the cold as well.
For a few that held it together and stayed clear of the crashes and had luck fall their way the temperature was just another variable to beat. Count race winner Jimmie Johnson in that group. Kevin Harvick, also, for starting in the back with a new engine and making his way to the second spot. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also made a run finishing third to match the Daytona opener. Joey Logano ran fourth with his Penske Ford after starting on the pole and keeps a points lead following the Daytona 500 win. Matt kenseth was on the front row for the last restart but fell off and still managed a top-5.
It is a few of the mid-pack finishes that caught my eye as the season is off with some of the usual, and unusual, racing drama. As usual, for the past few seasons, the Danica Patrick chatter is there. With several mishaps on the track at Atlanta putting the #10 at risk she managed to get by and around clean. A 16th place finish is not necessarily spectacular but it is still top 20 in a 43 car field.
For the unusual, it is the stand-ins for the Busch brothers putting their borrowed rides in the slots directly behind Patrick. Regan Smith drove suspended Kurt’s #41 Chevy to 17th and David Ragan put injured Kyle’s #18 in at 18th. Kurt Busch is out indefinitely with this domestic court issue and it is likely Kyle Busch could be out for a long recovery after the XFinity crash at Daytona.
For the next race at Las Vegas Stewart-Haas has again put Smith in the #41. It is not yet a solid decision on whose name will be over the window beyond the Kobalt 400. For Ragan, his place in the #18 is just a little bit more solid. Of course it is Kyle’s car when he recovers but for the immediate future it appears Ragan will be dressed in M&Ms colors. Joe Gibbs Racing could put someone else in it before Kyle is given a medical green but pickings are slim. Good results by Ragan in the next couple of races could keep that decision in the desk.
Atlanta also put some big names off with crash damage. Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon were caught up and either in the garage or running laps down at the finish.
Gordon, in particular, is feeling the slips of the season as he was also out at Daytona with crash damage. It’s only two races down but his retirement season is off to a flat start.
The car changes, some of the rules changes and the “win in” CHASE format is still fresh so it is entirely too early to count anyone out. Only the racing will tell.