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“It’s An Anomaly” – Despite Rick Hendricks Approval, Dale Earnhardt Jr Sends Out a Disclaimer for Fans

Published 02/28/2024, 1:17 AM EST

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The 2024 Ambetter Health 400 not only delivered one of the most thrilling weekends in recent memory, packed with record-breaking finishes, but also left a lasting impression on the drivers and team owners. While many community members felt Atlanta’s reconfiguration in 2021 had led to the track losing its charm, this weekend’s race proved quite the opposite.

With that said, even Rick Hendrick chimed in to share his views on the 2024 Ambetter Health 400, having nothing but praise for the wreck-filled event. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr believes this newfound dream may not last for long.

Dale Earnhardt Jr believes the ‘fun’ in Atlanta will not last forever

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Before the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway kicked off, the weekend had already given drivers cause for concern with the lack of a practice session. Adding to this, Kyle Busch had made his opinion on the Speedway’s reformulation to a superspeedway, feeling that it really wasn’t necessary. So heading into the race, there was already an atmosphere of uncertainty among a handful of drivers.

But that all changed when Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch drag-raced to the checkered flag with only 0.007 seconds separating them. In a race filled with wrecks and major plot twists, the fans got a glimpse of what NASCAR’s peak looks like fairly early into the 2024 season. This prompted drivers like Blaney to point out how Atlanta had been ‘fun’, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr also stating that the track was coming into its own slowly.

Adding to that notion, Rick Hendrick also felt that Atlanta had become “a great race for the fans.” While Dale Earnhardt Jr also shared a similar opinion on the latest episode of his podcast, the JR Motorsports owner also revealed a challenging reality that the fans and drivers will have to face eventually at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Reflecting on Hendrick and the drivers’ change of heart, Junior stated, “You love to hear it! You know, the drivers, they’re going to be honest, they can’t tell a lie. They were worried about the reconfiguration, now we’ve gotten to a point where they’re warming up to it.”

However, Junior felt that the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was so unique and intense that drivers didn’t really want more than one event of such stature, also stating that the speedway would soon face the wrath of time and nature. Junior added, “It’s an anomaly. It’s unique. It needs to stay that way. This needs to be something we only see in Atlanta and, it won’t always be this way. I mean, quickly this race track is going to lose grip. The style of racing we see there will change every time they go back there.”

While we all loved how intense the drag race to the finish line at the Ambetter Health 400 was, Junior believes it may not be sustainable for long, based on the deteriorating grip. Dale Earnhardt Jr added, “This race that we saw this weekend, this three-wide finish, that’s probably only going to sustain for a couple more years before the track loses so much grip, that handling will be more and more important.”

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He also felt that a minor discrepancy could develop between the teams that have put together a promising challenger for the long run and those that are having one-off appearances on the podium would reduce significantly. Junior concluded, “Getting cars three wide coming to the finish line will be more and more difficult as the handling and the grip goes away.”

While Junior took time to respectfully warn Rick Hendrick and other drivers who were beaming with optimism after this weekend’s result and the prospect of giving such a race to fans regularly, he wasn’t the only one. Hendrick’s star and the season-opening winner, William Byron, felt the growing presence of superspeedways like Atlanta could end up harming the sport.

William Byron shuts down conversations of Atlanta-like expansion for other speedways

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After taking a look at how much success and buzz the renovated Atlanta Motor Speedway generated for a sport that’s pushing its worldwide growth unlike ever before, it’s safe to say the prospect of converting other fading venues to such superspeedways to rejuvenate then could be in NASCAR’s pipeline of future projects. But when the winner of the biggest superspeedway event, William Byron, was asked about Texas Motor Speedway receiving a similar overhaul, the Daytona champion immediately shut such notions down.

God, I hope not,” Byron was quoted by JAYSKI, “You take something that’s good in the sport, and you over-saturate it, I feel like we’ve been down that path. We can’t over-saturate something that is a niche, unique thing that looks really great. I just think it’s in our best interest to have unique challenges each week. Atlanta is a great challenge. I enjoy going there.” While the Hendrick Motorsports driver had high praise for the Ambetter Health 400, he shared similar thoughts to Junior on the frequency of racing at the track.

Currently, the prospect of Atlanta being in the playoff rounds has already given Rick Hendrick reasons for concern, with Byron also stating that he will not get sleep before the Atlanta race in September. With how unpredictable the race has proven to be, can the Cup Series afford to add another such event at the risk of diluting the championship? Byron concluded by sharing his thoughts on having such a race more frequently, “I think that it would be bad for the talent of the sport and really to see who’s truly the best yearlong champion. That wouldn’t be a good thing to have multiple of those races in the playoffs.”

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With that said, it’s safe to say the Atlanta Motor Speedway may have turned heads in its favor but some drivers are still contemplating if the whole scenario is “too good to be true” in the long run. What do you think?

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

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Kabir Bajaj Ahmed is an F1 & NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Known for his storytelling and extensive research skills, he has covered multiple stories on Dale Earnhardt Jr and his legendary dad, allowing readers to relive the thunderous days of 'The Intimidator'. Being a racer himself, Kabir can resonate with the motorsport world better than most.
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Edited by:

Aakash Nair