Atlanta track shapes up well for Biffle

Oct 25, 2005 6:23 AM

The four races remaining in the NASCAR Nextel Cup chase for the championship leave at least five drivers as contenders to take home the title with three good long shot possibilities.

Rusty Wallace needed a strong run at Martinsville to stay in contention. While still sixth in points, the tracks coming up are not where he is expected to contend for top 5 finishes. You can also say goodnight to the inevitable, Jeremy Mayfield, who is not going to win the title though mathematically still eligible.

That leaves us with just eight drivers.

The tracks remaining are Atlanta this week followed by Texas, Phoenix, and Miami. All four are tailor made for the Roush gang. The favorite of the Roush clan is Greg Biffle, followed by a much longer shot in Kurt Busch. Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth still have outside chances.

Of the remaining four tracks, three have had races on them this season with Roush drivers winning each one. In the spring Atlanta race, Edwards won by a nose over Jimmie Johnson. In April, Biffle took Texas with Busch winning at Phoenix. When going back to the last Miami Cup race, the final event of the 2004 season, Biffle won there too.

Granted, the shape of the season has changed drastically since the last time any of these tracks had races. Most notably, current point leader Tony Stewart has dominated after just starting to take things up a notch at the mid point of the season. Nevertheless, Roush drivers will still be the ones to watch this week.

In normal circumstances we are able to use the information gained from similar tracks when handicapping Atlanta. Texas is a similar venue, but nearly identical to Charlotte. The abnormal circumstance when looking at the three tracks together is the surface issues Charlotte had that didn’t allow the drivers to use all their horsepower without blowing a tire. So you can basically toss both Charlotte’s results this year when compiling like-circumstances.

What you can do is recall some of the Charlotte instances that happened last week that aren’t in a result sheet. Regardless of what happened during the actual race, Johnson and Stewart had the cars to beat with Tony possibly gaining a slight edge. In a practice session held there a few weeks ago, Greg Biffle also stood out.

During the actual race Elliott Sadler was strong as well as Kyle Busch. It should be expected that both of those non-contenders will do well again this week. Throw in Joe Nemechek for good measure.

I don’t necessarily think this a layup situation like we might see at this juncture of the season, with some Cup title contenders just looking to do well and accumulate valuable top 5 points. Biffle, Kurt Busch, Martin, Kenseth, and Edwards all fall into the category of needing make something happen quickly and go for the win. Stewart and Johnson can both settle for a top 5 and be happy, but something tells me TS will lay it all out and run for the win — at least more so than Johnson.

On purely a nostalgic look, let’s not forget about Bobby Labonte (30-1) and how well he’s run there over his career. Labonte has had six lifetime Cup wins in Atlanta, but none since 2003. With the way Stewart has been smoking the field, you’d think they would share some of their fortune and divulge things to make their Gibbs teammate better. It’s a real long shot, but worth a dabble at 30-1 or more.

On a side note: To keep track of following Friday’s qualifying session is the data showing just how important qualifying is in Atlanta. Generally, it’s not wise to pay too much attention to the start position as much as focusing on times and the average lap times during those practice sessions.

This week, there is no way to deny that over 55 percent of all Atlanta winners start from the first five spots, including the spring’s winner Carl Edwards who started fourth.

Races won from position:

 

Position/# Wins Position/# Wins

1 13 Wins 2 9 Wins

3 8 Wins 4 9 Wins

5 13 Wins 6 2 Wins

7 5 Wins 8 6 Wins

9 6 Wins 10 1 Win

11 2 Wins 12 1 Win

13 1 Win 14 2 Wins

15 1 Win 17 2 Wins

18 1 Win 19 1 Win

20 2 Wins 21 2 Wins

22 1 Win 31 1 Win

35 1 Win 37 1 Win

39 1 Win

 

As for the Championship run, with both Johnson and Stewart hovering around the even money to +120 odds range, there really isn’t much value on them unless hedging some of your other future bets. Biffle can still be found in the 5-1 or 6-1 range, which holds great value considering the four tracks he has left on his schedule, all of which he runs extremely well on.

Biffle is only 83 points behind, which is equivalent to finishing first and 21st in race. If you believe anything can happen, then Kurt Busch may be worth a risk at 40-1 to win the title. Should he run well in each of the four races with Stewart and/or Johnson faltering, he could make it interesting for the final race of the season at Miami. There, Busch has one career win. This week may be the last opportunity to shop around for championship numbers.