HAMPTON, Ga. -- Carl Edwards drove Atlanta Motor Speedway like a road course.
It wasn't because all of a sudden the AMS 1.54-mile oval changed configuration for the Folds of Honor 500. He just had to "saw" at the wheel thanks to a reduced-downforce package and a Goodyear tire choice where teams had to pit for new tires before they ran out of gas.
"I steered right more than I steered left today, and that's race-car driving," Edwards said after his fifth-place finish. "This is fun. This is real racing. This is what NASCAR racing is about. Inside the cockpit, the driver has a lot more control over the outcome."
While Atlanta is a rare worn track that eats tires more than the typical intermediate track, the new 2016 aerodynamic package drew rave reviews for its first race.
NASCAR, wanting to see more races before declaring it a true success, let the drivers do the talking instead of its officials.
The race was the first with the 2016 aerodynamic package that reduced downforce approximately 25 percent to 2,500 pounds thanks to a shorter spoiler (3.5 inches tall instead of 6 inches), a shorter front splitter (a quarter-inch overhang instead of 2 inches) and a smaller radiator pan (33 inches wide instead of 38).
"I loved the way the cars drive," Brad Keselowski said. "I understand that it takes more than my opinion to make the sport go round, but I thought it was awesome."
"[We] were just battling back and forth and slide jobbing one another and high-lane-ing it and cutting each other off and everything, so it was pretty fun," Busch said. "This package lends itself to that. [It was a] pretty good race I felt like -- a lot harder than some of us may want it to be, but that makes it good for the drivers and the crew chiefs to have to work together to come out here and build a good package for themselves and a comfortable race car."
It made the race somewhat entertaining to watch despite the first 210 laps run under green.
"I love that the cars are harder to drive," Earnhardt said. "I think all the drivers wanted that and I think all the drivers will get out of it after today, even the ones that didn't run good, and say this is the right direction to go.
"This is a unique race track, and we run from the apron to the wall, so you're not going to have debris laying around on the track for NASCAR to find and for cautions to develop as often as you will at other racetracks because we keep that track pretty clean by running on it and using every inch of it. So I love it. The race played out naturally."
Drivers enjoyed the fact that if they took care of their tires, they could then pass those who burned up their tires by pushing it too hard, too early in a run.
"Goodyear did a great job with the tires falling off a lot," 10th-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. "it played a big role in the race. Cars would pass me early in the run, and I'd come back and get them late in the run.
"That's really all you can ask for when you talk about racing, a race track and tires."
Five of the top nine finishers started outside the top 15, with race winner Jimmie Johnson starting 19th.
That meant something else drivers learned:
"Don't worry about how fast you are in practice," Kevin Harvick said. "Make sure it drives good."
Xfinity Series: Cup drivers 2-for-2
Even though the tire for Sprint Cup teams likely will be different at most tracks than for Xfinity because of the new Cup reduced-downforce package, that likely still won't keep Cup drivers from participating.
"The tires are entirely different, the cars are entirely different," Busch said after his win. "As far as knowing what to do from today [in winning Saturday] and this setup in our Xfinity car to tomorrow is irrelevant."
Sponsors and track time are still important.
"The biggest thing is just how the track changes," said Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola, who will run a handful of races this year. "I know the tire is going to be different, but the characteristics of the track as the track rubbers up is going to be the same, so I still think that will be a factor.
"And really just getting the laps and the repetition -- honestly, it helps me sleep on Saturday night. Getting a 300-lap workout in in an Xfinity car and getting a race under my belt just really relaxes me and gets me ready to go for Sunday."
Camping World Truck Series: Nemechek wins, needs sponsor
John Hunter Nemechek won at Atlanta for his second career victory and a likely spot in the new truck Chase. That is, if the family's Nemco Motorsports can find sponsorship.
Nemechek's father, long-time NASCAR racer Joe Nemechek, hopes the team can make it every week. But they don't have the funding currently to do it.
"We're working our tails off just figuring out how we're going to get to the next race, just the business part of it -- it's tough," Joe Nemechek said. "Days like this, when we come in -- I still consider our team an underdog team -- it's so gratifying to have a win."
The younger Nemechek hopes they can continue because now he has his sights on vying for a championship.
"Being locked into the Chase, it's something you have to do -- you have to run up front, you have to contend for wins," John Hunter Nemechek said. "Now we can go out and we can run as hard as we can each and every week and go for wins."