Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted a NASCAR tripleheader as NASCAR visited the Georgia venue for the first time since COVID-19 delayed the March event to June 7 a year ago.
NASCAR teams were preparing for their races last year when NASCAR officials told them to pack up and go home. Not to another track, just home. It would be two months before NASCAR returned with a makeshift schedule.
This trip to AMS went off without a hitch unless you looked into the grandstands. Pandemic restrictions kept the gates closed while racing was happening in 2020, but this time around, there were spectators. It wasn’t a full house by any means but still a pleasant backdrop to the three NASCAR races on Saturday and Sunday.
So let’s take a look at the NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Predictable: Kyle Busch wins NASCAR Truck race
Every time Kyle Busch enters a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, the odds of him being the first across the finish line are short. If you’re a gambler, you won’t get much of a return on your bet. A native of Las Vegas, the world's gambling capital (with apologies to Macau), Busch has won 60 times, the most in series history. He has done that in just 157 starts (38 percent).
At one point, he won seven straight NASCAR Truck races — his final start in 2018, all five races the following year, and the first one he entered in 2020. In a three-year span (2009-11), he took the checkers 21 times in a truck. Then he added a dozen in 2013-14. Busch did that without racing a full schedule in any of those seasons.
To prove how effective he has been, his team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, has won 82 times. His 60 wins represent 73 percent of that total. To be fair, Busch won 16 of the 60 driving for Billy Ballew Motorsports. In 17 seasons, Ballew saw the winner’s circle 20 times.
Unpredictable: JR Motorsports returns with a vengeance?
The bad news for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JRM was the No. 8 car being completely destroyed after hitting the grass following a spin. Josh Berry did a good job saving it, but not enough to avoid the turf. The front end exploded as if a bomb went off in the engine compartment, and he would finish P38. But there was plenty of good news by the time the NASCAR Xfinity Series EchoPark 250 was over.
For the first time this season, JR Motorsports put a car in the winner’s circle. The team’s longest-tenured driver, Justin Allgaier, held off a charging Martin Truex Jr., who was in his first Xfinity Series ride since 2010. Truex ruined his chance at a victory when he got caught speeding on pit road, but he still pulled out a second.
In his sixth season with JRM, Allgaier now has a dozen victories for his NASCAR Hall of Fame boss, locking him into the playoffs for the fifth straight season. But while everyone was celebrating the success of the No. 7, Noah Gragson (No. 9) finished fourth, and Michael Annett (No. 1) ended up seventh. That marked another 2021 first — three Earnhardt cars in the top 10.
The way the season unfolded before Atlanta, few would have expected this kind of a rebound.
NASCAR has gone to the dogs
For the first time in NASCAR, COVID-sniffing dogs were utilized at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Seven canines comprised of Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois greeted crew members, officials and essential racing personnel as they entered the track. The dogs sniffed people's hands, and if COVID were detected, the dog would react by sitting down near the individual.
The use of COVID-sniffing dogs has been used before, but this was the first time for NASCAR. The policy replaces rapid-testing to save time and to avoid false positives. The dogs have successfully detected the virus 98 percent of the time.
A six-month pilot program that ended in February had a 95-percent accuracy rate, and as more dogs were trained, that number increased. One year after the pandemic shut down NASCAR and just about everything in the country, the practice could be implemented at other tracks.