No transition for Stewart-Haas Racing after switch to Ford
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) So much for a transition period at Stewart-Haas Racing.
The NASCAR team hasn't slowed since switching from Chevrolet to Ford. Kurt Busch captured the season-opening Daytona 500, and Kevin Harvick followed up by earning the pole for Sunday's Monster Energy Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
''Hopefully this is the start of something great,'' Harvick said.
There was plenty of speculation about how the change would go, especially for a driver such as Harvick who had a long relationship with Chevrolet.
Turns out, he had no trouble getting back up to speed.
''It's fun to open Pandora's box,'' Harvick said. ''You have to turn every leaf over and look at everything in your company. Everything is different from top to bottom. But one thing that stayed consistent was very good people. It's been fun to see a group of people come together and try to make things better. It's a major undertaking to do what we did.''
Busch is still savoring the high from his Daytona victory.
It may take a while to come down.
''You take it all in, you absorb it,'' Busch said. ''Years ago, when I won the (2004) championship, you look at it and you think, `Aww, man, this is a lot that goes along with it.' And maybe I didn't soak it all in. This time around, my phone is still 400 texts deep. I can't get caught up.''
While Stewart-Haas is showing early dominance, don't forget about seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
He's the two-time defending race winner in Atlanta.
''It's been a great track for me,'' Johnson said. ''The last two races we won here, we didn't really get ourselves situated until late in the going. But able to come out on top. Just because you have a slow Friday or a slow start to the race, I don't think you can count anybody out. We have a lot of chances to work on the car and make big stuff happen here, which is really neat.''
Here are some other things to watch for Sunday on the 1.54-mile tri-oval track:
ROCKET MAN: Ryan Newman showed signs of bouncing back from a disappointing 2016 season, qualifying on the outside of the front row.
While saying the No. 31 team still had a long way to go, Newman's fast lap was a huge boost for the crew's morale.
Last season, he failed to qualify for the championship chase.
''It's a baby step,'' Newman said. ''But it's huge. You can see the emotions of the guys in the garage. That's something I didn't see for a while last year. Even (at season-opening) Daytona, we were not anyone that people were talking about. We were there. We had a competitive car. But we were never on anyone's one hand of who was going to win the race.''
STAGE RACING: This will be the second test of the three-stage format that is designed to add more drama and excitement to the racing.
The first two stages are 85 laps apiece, while the final stage will cover 155 laps if the race goes the scheduled 325-lap distance.
The new format didn't have much impact in the crash-filled Daytona 500. Contenders such as Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were wiped out by wrecks, and there were lengthy red-flag delays that slowed the action in the restrictor-plate event.
This could be the first true test of how well the new system works.
CHASE'S HOMECOMING: Chase Elliott had a shot at winning the Daytona 500, only to run out of gas with just miles to go.
He would love to pick up his first Cup victory at what is essentially his home track.
''You learn through this stuff and just try to figure out what you could've differently,'' said the 21-year-old Georgia native, who will start from the inside of the sixth row for Hendrick Motorsports. ''From a performance side, I thought we did a good job. We were close, just not close enough.''
PAVING THE WAY: This will be the final race on the aging asphalt at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The track will get a new surface before the 2018 event - much to the chagrin of drivers such as Johnson, who relished the chance to wrestle with his car on a high-speed track that is especially hard on tires.
''This track is so fun and so interesting and so challenging,'' said Johnson, whose 80 career victories include five wins at Atlanta. ''I hate that it's our last run on this asphalt.''
COPE'S RETURN: Fifty-eight-year-old Derrike Cope will make his first Cup appearance in nearly eight years.
The 1990 Daytona 500 champion is racing the No. 55 car for low-budget Premium Motorsports, the start of what he hopes will be at least a limited schedule this season.
Cope failed to pass inspection in time to go through qualifying, along with four other cars, but no one had to worry about being sent home; there were only 39 entries for the 40-car field.
Cope's last Cup race was a start-and-park effort at Martinsville on March 29, 2009.
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