By Michael Davis
Some of the fastest drivers in NASCAR took turns around what is widely considered the sport's fastest track Tuesday, checking and re-checking their cars for the upcoming race weekend at the end of this month at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.
The Nextel Cup race Oct. 30 would be the first in the premier league for Reed Sorenson, who grew up in Peachtree City and spent much of his early career racing Legends cars around the small track at AMS.
Speaking with reporters between tests on his Discount Tire-sponsored 39 car, Sorenson, 19, said racing Nextel cars after racing Busch will require a little adjustment.
“It's not really a lot harder or easier, it's just a little bit different,” he said.
And after racing on the Busch circuit this year he said it no longer feels like Atlanta is his home track. “Whatever track you're good at, you call that your home track,” he said.
This week's tests are the first time NASCAR drivers are back at the track en masse following the July tornadoes that tore across Atlanta Motor Speedway, toppling scoring towers, blowing apart grandstands and decimating high-rise condos around the track. Track officials said at the time everything but the track surface itself sustained damage, and have been supervising the rebuilding since then.
The track has added several improvements since July, but signs of the tornado damage remain, including the steel skeleton of what used to be condos along the back stretch.
But drivers said the track drives the same.
“It's a pretty cool place,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. told reporters during interviews. “I like coming here. It's pretty close to the house and there's a lot of history here,” he said.
Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a 2001 crash, holds the most wins at AMS with nine victories.
This month's race events include the first Craftsman Truck Series race that will be held during the fall weekend. The series made its second appearance on the track during the March race this year, and track officials say it's a popular event. “The trucks have put on a great show for the fans during their first two outings at AMS,” said track President and General Manager Ed Clark in a statement. “And with our history of photo-finishes, I'm sure the fans will be out of their seats when the winner crosses the finish line.”
Part-time truck series driver, Bobby Labonte, who has raced with Sorenson in the Busch Series, praised the young driver just two weeks before what could be his first Nextel appearance. “I think he's obviously a good talent,” Labonte said. “All year long he's been impressive ... I think he's got a good head on his shoulders.”
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