After two straight weeks at the newbie NASCAR tracks of California and Las Vegas, the Cup circuit hits the old traditional grounds of Atlanta in the Deep South.
No more Hollywood mega stars and the Oscars, showgirls and bright lights. It’s good old fashion racing in the confederation.
Atlanta will be hosting its 100th Cup race this weekend in its 50th season of NASCAR events. Sitting atop the standings after three races is Jeff Gordon, whose program is vastly improved from last season. Gordon is likely to win a race sometime soon this season, possibly even this week in Atlanta, where he made his Cup debut in 1992.
Overall, Gordon has four career wins in Atlanta (second most among active drivers) and 13 top 5 finishes. Last season he ran very well there with two top 10 finishes, including being the pole sitter. This week looks to be a great opportunity for him to break his 44 race winless streak.
Jimmie Johnson has run well thus far into the season without much to show for it, currently sitting 19th in points. He led the most laps last week in Las Vegas and was fastest in the final practice, but in the end it just wasn’t his day. Look for Johnson to bounce back this week with a strong finish in Atlanta, a place he’s won at three times including a sweep of the 2007 season.
Kyle Busch is fresh off his Las Vegas win and now goes to a place where he won the first race ever for Toyota last season. It was Busch’s first of eight victories last season. The Vegas win should signal an end to his collapse that began with the Chase last season where he crumbled.
It seemed like that trend was continuing with Daytona when he had the best car but was in the wrong place when Dale Earnhardt Jr decided to wreck all the leaders. The Vegas triumph should be a confidence builder for the entire team and could be a prelude to what he did at the beginning of last season when he piled up all those wins.
Matt Kenseth has the dubious distinction of either finishing first or last after three races. Early engine problems sent Kenseth packing the hauler after just a few Las Vegas laps following wins at Daytona and California.
Kenseth will be back ready to contend again this week with his Roush equipment in seeking his first career Atlanta race. He has seven career top 5 finishes at the track.
Bobby Labonte used some of that Roush equipment in Las Vegas to have his first top 5 finish since 2006. In the old days, no one was better in Atlanta than Labonte. He is the active leader in wins there with 6.
Labonte will be looking to use his track knowledge along with what appears to be a solid car and build on another good finish. I’m not sure Labonte can actually win, but he’s one of the better all around people in NASCAR.
Carl Edwards hasn’t come close to duplicating what he did in 2008 after three races. Last season after Vegas heading to Atlanta, he had already won twice. This season he has only one top 10 finish and is ninth in points.
Edwards won the fall race last season giving him three career Atlanta wins. Like Atlanta, both California and Las Vegas were places where Edwards traditionally runs well at. He’s not running well at the moment and it’s likely that he’ll be closer to what we saw the last two weeks than the 2008 Edwards.
The Richard Childress car looked terrible in California two weeks ago and there was a feeling here that their performance in Las Vegas would resemble Cal’s. However, the team made a 180-degree turn and excelled in Vegas with Clint Bowyer grabbing second place and bringing teammate Jeff Burton in tow to third.
Kevin Harvick was very good in practice and finished 12th For Harvick, Atlanta will always remain special because it’s where he got his first career win in what was only his third start. That was in 2001, the year he took over the famed No. 3 car following Dale Earnhardt’s passing.
Let’s go with Johnson to right himself this week. He’s probably been the best overall in three races, but doesn’t have anything to show for it. It’s not like last season when he started slow because they didn’t have the right make-up with their car.
Johnson is dialed in to make that car run well at places like Atlanta and probably better than everyone else.