While many Americans will fire up the barbeque one final time and watch the opening weekend of college football this Labor Day weekend, Danica Patrick and her fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors will be “laboring,” for lack of a better term.
Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 Sprint Cup race is certainly no holiday for drivers as the marathon, 325-lap event around the fast, old and slick 1.5 miles of Atlanta Motor Speedway asphalt is one of the biggest challenges of the season.
The Atlanta quad-oval is one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, but its old pavement means that cars slip and slide around, putting a driver’s ability to the test. Factor in that the race starts in the hot early evening sun and ends under the stars, and the race is one that can cause headaches for both drivers and crew chiefs as they attempt to figure out how to maximize the handling of their cars from beginning to end.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), and her crew chief Tony Gibson will attempt to find a handling package that is comfortable to drive but without compromising speed.
Easier said than done.
But if Patrick needs any advice about Atlanta, she can certainly lean on her teammates, both current and future.
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for SHR as he subs for the injured Tony Stewart, has 52 Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta, with his first coming on March 21, 1982 – four days before Patrick was born.
Of those 52 starts, 23 came on the “old” version of Atlanta, as did Martin’s two wins in November 1991 and 1994. He has seven top-three finishes on the “new” configuration, as well as one pole in March 2009, so Patrick has plenty of knowledge to tap into.
If Patrick needs qualifying advice, she can turn to the third member of SHR, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS. Newman has seven poles at Atlanta, tied for the most all-time with Buddy Baker.
Patrick’s teammates for 2014, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, can also offer perspective as Busch has three Atlanta wins and Harvick one at the 1.5-mile oval.