Friday, March 7, 2008

NASCAR Tracks: Atlanta

Atlanta Motor Speedway is not really in Atlanta; it's in Hampton, Georgia, about twenty miles further south. AMS opened in 1960. At the time, it was only the seventh track more than a mile in length to host a Cup race. Only three of the other tracks are still in operation: Daytona, Darlington and Charlotte.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has undergone many changes over the years, especially in the 1990s after Bruton Smith bought the track. More grandstand seating and luxury suites were added; seating capacity is now around 125,000. New media facilities, garages and fan support buildings were also added.  In 1994, 46 condominiums were built on the northeast side of the track.

In 1997, the start/finish line was moved from the west to the east side of the track, and two doglegs were added to the frontstretch to form a 1.54-mile quad-oval, which replaced the original oval. There are 24 degrees of banking in the turns and five degrees on the straightaways. The front stretch (the part with the doglegs) is 2332 feet long. The back straightaway is 1800 feet long.

In 1998, lights were added for Indy Racing League races.  The IRL didn't compete at Atlanta long, but the lights are still used by NASCAR.

The track is very similar to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the high banking (with no restrictor plates) makes Atlanta one of the fastest tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.

There's also a quarter-mile track between pit road and the frontstretch for Legends racing, and a 2.5-mile road course.

Geoff Bodine holds the Sprint Cup qualifying record -- 197.478 mph, set in 1997. Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most Cup wins at the track, 9.  Bobby Labonte leads active drivers with six wins, but none since 2003.  Ryan Newman is tied with Buddy Baker with seven poles at AMS.

Atlanta used to be the final race on the NASCAR Cup schedule and many championships were decided there.  The 1992 Hooter 500 was one of the most eventful races in AMS history.  Six drivers entered the race with a mathematical shot at the championship, but Davey Allison entered with a 30-point lead and needed to finish sixth or better to clinch.  Allison crashed into a sliding Ernie Irvan, leaving Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott to battle for the championship.  Elliott won, but Kulwicki picked up the five bonus points for leading the most laps, one more than Elliott, and won the championship by just ten points.  The race also marked the only time Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty competed in NASCAR competition.  It was Gordon's first race and Petty's last.

NASCAR used to spend Labor Day weekends in the South at Darlington until that slot on the schedule was given to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. In 2008, Bruton Smith worked out a schedule swap between tracks to move the Labor Day weekend race back to the South -- to Atlanta.  The fall race is now the next-to-last race before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

In March, Atlanta Motor Speedway hosts a Sprint Cup race, the Kobalt Tools 500, and a Camping World Truck Series race. On Labor Day weekend, AMS hosts a second Sprint Cup race, the Pep Boys 500, and a Nationwide Series race.  Lineups for both Cup racing are determined in evening qualifying sessions.  The Labor Day race starts late enough in the day to ensure a finish under the lights.

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Atlanta Cup winners list

NASCAR tracks list

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