A promising qualifying run did not translate to a great finish.

Week 1 of the 2015 NASCAR iRacing Series season takes us down south to my home track located in Hampton, Georgia! Every year  this is one of the best  races to watch (although I am a bit biased on this topic) and I often go to this race. I sadly wasn’t able to make the trip to the track this year, but I was able to race it using iRacing’s beautiful laser scanned edition of the track.

Atlanta is one of the bumpiest tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar. Knowing this, getting your car to travel over the bumps smoothly without killing the car’s speed is something my team and I focused on heavily. After getting the springs, bumpstops, etc. at the correct settings to maximize speed over the bumps, we also knew tire wear would be a huge factor in the race due to Atlanta Motor Speedway’s old, bumpy surface. We ran various long runs to test the wear and tire temperatures throughout the fuel run. One issue we came across was the car got increasingly loose over the course of the run until the tires reached a performance peak with about eight-13 laps left in the fuel tank; then the car became quite tight. We saw this as a good thing initially as we expected most people to be too tight after about 25 laps to be able to complete passes and run good laps. However, the loose issue came back to haunt us during the race.

After qualifying a strong fifth, our expectations were high going into the race. I managed to keep myself in the top 10 for about the first 15 laps before the handling went away, causing me to gradually lose positions. As I said in the race preview, the car was quite loose from about laps 10-35, so I had to manage to the throttle quite a bit to keep from being a spinning pinball into other cars.

Following a caution around Lap 20 I made some adjustments to help the car stay stable. These adjustments helped quite a bit and I was able to work my way from 22nd to 16th by the time the next caution flew. I didn’t make adjustments on the second stop in fear of overadjusting the car and being too tight.

The race was slowed by a couple of cautions; Hayes could have used a third.

We went back green on Lap 71 with me starting 10th. Although the car’s handling a lot better than at the start of the race, it still wasn’t where it needed to be and I slid back to 16th when the first green flag stops of the race began. Knowing 16th place would not give me very good points for the week, I decided to stay out as long as my fuel tank allowed and hope for a yellow . . . all to no avail. After leading three laps, I pitted and cycled-out to the 19th position. The strategy wound up costing me three spots, but I still think taking the risk to lead the race was worth the gamble.

The rest of the race went green flag and I made up three spots to get back to P16. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one moving up and I was passed by another car after getting up to 16th, so I ended-up finishing a disappointing P17 at my home track.

P17 at your home track? Not quite what the doctor ordered.

My finish at Atlanta was especially disapointing considering I managed a fifth place in the 2014 NASCAR iRacing Series Open race last fall. However, I knew I could have managed alot better finish; I just made the wrong call on when to pit. Guess I should have saved the gamblin’ for next week at Vegas . . .

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