In what usually is the season finale, this Sunday’s race in Atlanta will be the second to the last race of the season.
Due to the tragic events of September 11, the New Hampshire scheduled for that weekend was rescheduled to run the next Friday during Thanksgiving weekend making that race the 36th and last of the 2001 campaign.
Next season’s fall race in Atlanta was moved to October. Track officials said the prestige of having the final race of the season means little considering the Atlanta hasn’t determined a NASCAR champion since Alan Kulwicki won 10 years ago.
The November fall race in Atlanta is always welcomed by the southern rainy season which can make attending a race not so fun. Rain can be expected again this Sunday, and next week’s Thanksgiving New England race, a first in Winston Cup, can expect snow.
Last season’s fall Atlanta race was postponed a whole day and ran on a Monday. Jerry Nadeau (20-1) won that race in dominating fashion leading the most laps.
The win came as a surprise to many despite the fact that he had been fast in every practice leading to the race. Nadeau went off at 45-1 at several books around Las Vegas and closed out the season nicely for a few bettors.
The thought of capturing a longshot in this race might be en vogue now with last week’s Miami winner, Bill Elliott, opening as a 45-1 choice. The Top 3 finishers at Miami behind Elliott were Michael Waltrip at 75-1, and Casey Atwood at 100-1.
After the practices and qualifying, all three of those drivers were perfect candidates to win based on their times. But based on their recent history, it may have been considered an unwise bet.
Elliott won his 41st career race, but his 40th came 226 races ago. However, based on this season’s history which has set an all-time record with 18 different winners in one season, there might not be an unwise bet out there other than Kyle Petty.
By monitoring those early practices and happy hour times with disregard to who the driver is, most of the longshot winners this season could have been had. Nadeau’s win last season is another example.
Past history also plays a role as well. Two years ago in this same fall race, Bobby Labonte opened 8-1 at The Las Vegas Hilton. When he qualified poorly at 37th, they moved him to 18-1. Labonte didn’t do particularly well in practices either, but what he did have going for him was three past victories in Atlanta along with a second place finish there in the spring.
Here are a few drivers to watch going into this weekend’s practices. What we are looking for is that combination of past track success, similar track success at Charlotte, and current state of well being.
The first driver we take note of is Jeff Burton (9-1). Due to his strong performance in the last two months, he’s elevated himself into the Top 10 points standings. He’s the hottest driver on tour finishing in the Top 5 in five of his last six races.
Burton’s best finish in Atlanta during his career has been fourth, which he’s done three times, but at Charlotte, he’s won twice in the last three years including this year’s Coca-Cola 600. He never qualifies well, and doesn’t have very good practices, but the underlying factor with Burton lies with his current hot streak. No one is running better right now.
Jeff Gordon (4-1) is favored this week and that rests entirely with his past performances. Currently, Gordon is thinking vacation. He’s been so average the last six races. However, this type of track has been good to Gordon throughout his career.
Gordon got nipped at the line in the Atlanta spring race by Kevin Harvick (10-1). Perhaps this week will be the week Gordon resumes his topform especially when considering there is no pressure to win the title. All he has to do is start the next two races and the title is his, even if he finishes dead last in both.
Bobby Labonte’s (5-1) win total of six almost matches extraordinary feats of Gordon. Labonte has had one fewer race than Gordon at the two tracks, but does have the same amount of Top 5 finishes.
Sterling Marlin (14-1) has become a factor at the two tracks as well this season. Like Gordon, he has done well in the three happy hour sessions. He managed to capture victory last month in Charlotte.
Jerry Nadeau (20-1) is a candidate due to his success in each practice session the last two years at Charlotte and Atlanta.
Station Casino’s properties are offering a new prop this week using the final two races as a combined effort. The prop lists 16 drivers with varying odds asking who’ll have the most combined Winston Cup points for those two races. Gordon, Labonte, and Jeff Burton are all 3-1 co-favorites.
Next season, Station Casino’s will have some local competition in the NASCAR wagering world. The Palms has NASCAR expert Marcus Hurd on board and he is sure to offer plenty of variety giving the local player more to choose from. Hurd was the chief NASCAR oddsmaker at the MGM Grand and had some of the greatest, most inventive props in Las Vegas during his tenure there.
Top 5 finish prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (4-1)
2) #25 Jerry Nadeau (20-1)
3) #99 Jeff Burton (9-1)
4) #18 Bobby Labonte (5-1)
5) #40 Sterling Martin (14-1)