HAMPTON, Ga.—Take 125 horsepower out of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car, and it’s going to slow the car down, right?
Well, not necessarily, as Friday’s qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway proved emphatically.
Joey Logano posted the fastest pole-winning speed at the 1.54-mile intermediate track (194.683 mph) since Carl Edwards ran 194.690 in qualifying for the fourth race of the 2005 season.
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick was among those who expected speeds to be high in Friday’s time trials, and his logic was impeccable. Even though the new Sprint Cup rules package features lower horsepower and a smaller spoiler, Harvick pointed to four factors that predicted high-speed laps at Atlanta: cold temperatures, tires that recover, denser air and faster cornering speeds.
“You can just watch the thermometer,” Harvick said of ambient temperatures that were around 40 degrees during qualifying. “I think as you go through the first round, the tires come back with the temperature down like this, the tires come back so easily to their static pressure. I think when you look at how you start the tires and you run one lap, they don’t get as much build and then they come right back to where you set them.
“So, I think when you look at that and you see how fast the cars are running and the cooler air is so much better for making downforce. But I think that’s going to be a normal trend. Everybody’s been talking about it and telling everybody that those corner speeds are going to be up, and in qualifying they’re up 11 miles per hour in the center of the corner. So, that’s pretty much going to be the norm. When you slow them down, going down the straightaway, they’re going to get faster through the center of the corner.”
Even with the smaller spoiler, Harvick said the cars didn’t suffer for downforce, thanks to the colder air.
“When you’re adding eight percent or nine percent downforce to the car just because of air density, that’s a big change,” Harvick said. “It’s making more downforce than what they took off probably, compared to how we raced here last year at this particular track (when the race was held on Labor Day weekend) from summer time to winter.
“It’s probably even, actually, with the spoiler cut off. It’s probably making as much, if not more downforce just because of the air density difference.”
Despite the speed in time trials that earned him a spot on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX), Harvick hit a speed bump 37 minutes into Saturday’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice.
The engine in Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet exploded in a cloud of smoke as Harvick ran his 35th lap of the session. The crew changed engines in the car, which had been fastest in practice at 191.054 mph in race trim. Accordingly, Harvick must drop to the rear of the field for the start of Sunday’s race.