Atlanta offers unknowns heading into Sunday’s race
HAMPTON, Ga. — It’s bound to happen. Maybe it will today. Maybe it will be next year, but at some point drivers will have to make a green flag pit stop at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
No big deal, you say. They do it at all the other tracks.
Yes, but drivers are concerned about making a green flag pit stop at Atlanta.
“That’s going to be pretty wild to watch,” said Chase Elliott, who starts on the pole
The issue is how narrow the track is.
Drivers will have to slow down in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 to work their way to pit road. Unlike Daytona and Talladega — the other tracks where the field often is bunched — there’s room to get out of the way to enter pit road.
There were 11 cautions in the March race at Atlanta, so drivers didn’t have to pit under green. While cautions have been prevalent throughout the season, there was one green flag pit cycle at Nashville, the most recent oval race. It’s possible there could be a green flag pit cycle during today’s race (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).
Getting on to pit road under green could be more challenging since there was no practice and qualifying this weekend. There was no practice scheduled. Qualifying was rained out.
“I know that I tried it in practice (in March) and it took me like three times to actually make it to pit road,” Denny Hamlin told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be a challenge for sure.
“Certainly, I don’t think that you want to be the first group on pit road just because I think there’ll be a mistake and there’s going to be a caution to interrupt that pit cycle. So I think you probably better head way toward the back (of the pack). But yeah, it’ll be difficult.”
Ricky Stenhouse said he’s talked to his team about what to do if cars start pitting under green.
“My initial gut reaction to it was, when people start pitting, let’s run the top lane and be one of the last to pit,” he told NBC Sports. “I feel like there could be something that happens coming to pit road just because it’s so tricky.”
Elliott said that if there is a pit cycle under green, teams may need to be more open about when they are pitting so others behind know.
“I think a lot of it is going to be weighing how much you want to be really secretive about what you’re doing,” Elliott said. “Like at a Daytona race nowadays, manufacturers get together and nobody is telling each other when they pit. You kind of want to catch the other guys off guard.
“So it’s like how much do we want to live in secrecy there and try and have this super strategic plan to out-smart our competitors, or how much do we not want to crash?
“The more we don’t tell the people behind us that we’re pitting, the higher the odds of us crashing because somebody wasn’t aware that a group of five or six guys are fixing to come to pit road. So I think that piece of the puzzle is going to be important.”