Last 2 NASCAR races crucial to Chase run

Sep 1, 2009 5:04 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

Atlanta and Richmond not dissimilar

Only two races remain in the Race to the Chase before the 12-driver field will be set for the final 10 races of the season in NASCAR’s version of a playoff. Only 162 points separate the driver currently in seventh, Ryan Newman, from the driver in 15th, Clint Bowyer.

The next two races are in the deep South of Atlanta, and then the capital of the Confederacy, in Richmond. Both tracks are a fitting finale for what is essentially a wild card chase to advance.

The last time we visited Atlanta was in early March for the fourth race of the season. Kurt Busch dominated the race for its entirety. With the way his car performed that day on the 1.5-mile high banked fast track, it was thought that Busch might be able to duplicate that kind of success later on the sister tracks of Texas and Charlotte, but it didn’t happen.

Busch’s win that day remains his only win of the season, but he has been consistent enough throughout the season to be firmly entrenched in the Chase, currently sitting sixth. Over his career, Busch has an average finish of 18th in Atlanta with two wins in 17 starts.

Jeff Gordon has had one of the better combined runs on these type of tracks this season, which also includes Las Vegas. Gordon finished second in Atlanta, then came back to win at Texas. He also ran very well in Charlotte, but the finish doesn’t reflect it because it was rain shortened.

His Texas win remains his only win of the season. Knowing how good his car has been on these tracks, his team has to be elated to be getting back on it since they haven’t raced on one since Charlotte in late May.

Atlanta is where it all started for Gordon. He started his first career Cup race there; 34 races later, Gordon has four career wins and 22 top-10 finishes. Look for Gordon to contend for the win and be a force in the playoffs, where two of the 10 races are at Texas and Charlotte.

Kyle Busch is 34 points from the 12th and final position. He’s only got two races to make it, but his chances look pretty good based on his record in Atlanta and Richmond.

Since moving to Joe Gibbs Racing last season, Busch has been one of the best in Atlanta, and that includes a win and a top-5 finish last season there. On like-tracks, Busch claims a win in Las Vegas and led the most laps at Charlotte before the rain came out.

Busch appears to have had an attitude adjustment over the last two weeks and no one from the Gibbs organization is taking claim to any kind of pep talk. Busch may have done his own soul searching and figured out that in order to be consistent each week, he’s got to be a little better mentally prepared.

Immediately following his change in demeanor, Busch captured his fourth win of the season by sweeping Bristol.

Jimmie Johnson is the favorite to win this week on the basis of his continued domination of these kinds of tracks. In Atlanta, Johnson has a track best average finish of ninth with three wins in 16 career races. What makes Johnson extremely tough to bet against this week is that he’s going flat out for wins. He’s got enough points, so what he needs now is wins to get him tied with Mark Martin with four – that would give him the lead to start the Chase.

Brian Vickers is only 39 points out of the 12th and final position in the Chase. He finished fifth in Atlanta and Charlotte this season and appears to build off his momentum from his big Michigan win three weeks ago. Vickers has to run well this week and duplicate, or better, what he did in March’s Atlanta race because relying on a great Richmond finish will be a tall task.

Carl Edwards is still looking for that elusive first win of 2009 after winning the most in 2008 with nine. Atlanta has always been good to Edwards, a place where he claims three wins. In March he ran very well with a third, but after that, Edwards couldn’t duplicate the Roush-Fenway success they traditionally had on the fast 1.5-mile tracks.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts