HAMPTON, Ga. – That chorus you hear in the background is coming from the Nextel Cup garage, where crew chiefs and drivers are singing "Georgia on My Mind."
As expected, coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway after last weekend's debacle in Las Vegas was likened by nearly everyone in the Cup garage to visiting your grandmother's house for Sunday dinner.
Although drivers love to say that once a race is over, it's over and it's time to move on, Las Vegas was still very much on everyone's mind on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who was perhaps the most vocal critic of the racing conditions in Las Vegas, said it was nice to be able to get back in the car and not have to worry about the tires or a new track.
"For a driver it still comes down to feel," he said. "If you're comfortable, you're going to go fast. If you're not comfortable, you're going to be a little timid and it doesn't matter whether it's because of a tire, a race track or having a different race track.
"If you're comfortable, you're going to go fast in it and you're going to push it to its limit. Really, that's kind of the moral of the story. As long as you're comfortable, you're going to go fast."
For Denny Hamlin, who has had mixed success at Atlanta, it's all about coming to a track you can work with.
"I have always liked this place," Hamlin said. "Any track where you can manipulate your race car by the line you choose is good. It gives us options that we wouldn't normally have. Whether you run good or bad here, most of the consensus in the garage is they like this race track."
Matt Kenseth compared the situation with Las Vegas to Atlanta, as the Georgia track was reconfigured in 1997. Kenseth said that although Las Vegas had its faults, it also had its virtues.
"Yeah, the [Vegas[ track was great," Kenseth said. "I thought it was really wide right away and I think as it ages a little bit it will get better.
"This place [Atlanta], when they first did it, everybody was like, 'It's way too fast. You've got to run around the bottom.' It was way too fast, but as it's aged I don't think you ever hear anybody say anything about this track except for how great it is and [how] they can't wait to come here. I think Vegas will be similar to that."
Wallace signs Austin
Officials with Rusty Wallace Inc. announced on Friday that they had signed 17-year-old Chase Austin to a developmental driver deal.
Austin is scheduled to compete in the 14-race Busch East Series with sponsorship from HomeLife Communities.
The Kansas native had made a name for himself on the dirt tracks of the Midwest and was eventually signed to Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. The following year, in his rookie season on pavement, Austin earned two wins, one top-five and six top-10 finishes along with a pole award and a fast time award running short tracks on the East Coast.
But in 2006, Hendrick Motorsports officials had decided to change direction and refocus their efforts on their current programs, so Austin found himself back working with his family's race team in 2006.
"This is an incredible opportunity for me," Austin said. "Rusty Wallace is one of the true legends in racing, and it's really an honor for me to get to drive for him. RWI has great equipment and I know that they'll give me some of the best cars out there."
It is expected that Austin will be ready to compete in the Busch Series beginning in 2008.
Austin was one of more than a dozen drivers who participated in last fall's GM Driver Development program. Ironically, another driver in that program, Landon Cassill, was at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday as a guest of Hendrick Motorsports.
"I'm just here hanging out," said Cassill, who just months ago graduated from high school. "It's great to get a chance to watch everyone at Hendrick Motorsports working on a race weekend."
Cassill has been involved at HMS as a test driver, primarily in the development of the Car of Tomorrow. He also has spent time at the race shop learning the ins-and-outs of NASCAR racing.
Park searching for a ride
Steve Park, whose last NASCAR race was in a Busch car at O'Reilly Raceway Park last August, was in the garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday knocking on doors in the hopes of finding a ride for 2007.
While driving a Cup car for DEI in 1998, Park was seriously injured in a crash at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He returned to race later that year, but in 2001 he suffered a brain injury in a violent crash during the Busch race at Darlington.
In his only full season in the trucks (2004), Park finished ninth in points. The following year he won the second race of the season at California Speedway, but by the end of the season, Park and team owner Steve Gaughan went their separate ways.
In 2006, Park started the season driving 10 races for James Harris' CTS team but moved over to the Busch Series to compete in six races for James Marsh.
"I'm here looking for a job," Park said. "Atlanta is the first stop on the East Coast for a lot of these teams and I wanted to be here to talk to a few people about a ride in the truck or Busch series."
Park says it's been tough for him to sit at home.
"I was born to race," he said. "I should be on the race track right now."
Park said he had a deal to get back in the Busch Series this season, but it fell apart a month before Daytona.
"I spent a lot of time in the Craftsman Truck Series and enjoyed it," Park said. "I'd like to get back into one for the rest of this season."
Park joked that during his time away from racing, he cut 10 strokes off his golf game.
"Playing golf is great over the winter time when you know you have a job to go racing again in the springtime," Park said. "But when the spring time comes and you're not out there racing, it's a bummer."