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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 25, 2018 1:00 am

Drivers love slick Atlanta track

CHARLES ODUM | Associated Press

HAMPTON, Ga. – For NASCAR drivers, the 21-year-old track surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway feels like their favorite, old friend.

A slippery, thrill-packed friend.

“This place is awesome,” Ryan Blaney said. “We're slipping and sliding.”

The track is overdue for new asphalt, and drivers are renewing their annual plea to give the surface one more year. They love racing on the old 1.54-mile track, patches and all.

“Anytime you get a chance to run in Atlanta with the old track, sliding around, it's always fun,” said Austin Dillon, who won last week's Daytona 500 and will start 25th in today's Monster Energy Cup race.

The first few laps in Friday's practice and qualifying let drivers know the Atlanta track is different.

“It's a bit of a surprise to come here a year later and get reminded of how crazy this place is, how slick it is and how fast it is,” said defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. “Definitely a cool place to come knock the rust off.”

Kyle Bush on Friday won the pole.

“Qualifying up front at Atlanta is important,” Busch said. “It's so hard on tires here, you don't want to roll back on tires and pass a lot of cars. ... Having to come from behind is harder to do than protect the position you already gained.”

The 2017 race was expected to be the farewell for the old surface. Instead, the persistent lobbying effort by drivers helped convince NASCAR and Atlanta Motor Speedway officials to wait at least one more year.

“No decision yet,” AMS president Ed Clark said. “We're going to get through the weekend and then look at it again.”

The track was repaved for the last time in 1997.

The threat of rain today led NASCAR on Saturday to move up the scheduled start to 1:06 p.m.