Atlanta cut to one race, but it’s large

Aug 28, 2012 3:03 AM

Two races remain in the Race to the Chase as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta‘s 1.5-mile high banked speedway.

Once a staple of the NASCAR nation with two annual races since 1960, this will be the second year in a row that Atlanta only has one race. Even though we haven’t seen any action on the track this year, we still have lots of data to use in helping us find out who might be the best candidates to win.

We can use the races at Atlanta’s sister tracks like Las Vegas, Texas and Charlotte. We can also use a recent race like Michigan from two weeks ago just because of needing major horsepower to get around the track. However, the most similar of them all is Charlotte. The last race run at Charlotte was on May 27 won by Kasey Kahne.

Kahne’s Hendrick teammates all had a successful night as all four finished 11th or better. The Gibbs duo of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished second and third, respectively, and all three Roush cars finished in the top-10.

Kahne looks to be comfortably set in the Chase with his two wins on the season and sitting in 11th place, but after that we have a mad scramble for the 12th and final position. Kyle Busch currently leads the drivers with one win and would make the Chase if it started today. But only 16 points separates Busch from Jeff Gordon, 19 from Ryan Newman and 28 from Marcos Ambrose.

Carl Edwards could top them all if he could get a win this week or next week at Richmond. He’s five points ahead of Busch, but doesn’t have any wins on the season which is the criteria required to grab the final two Chase positions. Edwards hasn’t won since last season in Las Vegas.

It should be interesting to see how these drivers bunched together for the final position approach the next two races. A win is obviously what they’ll all try to do, but they also have to point race as well and watch each other to see where their opponent is at and hope they can avoid being involved in a wreck like Newman had happen to him last week at Bristol.

Because of their success at Charlotte in May, it would seem like Busch and Gordon would have the edge this week. Kyle Busch has a 2008 Atlanta win on his resume while Jeff Gordon’s Cup career started in Atlanta.

It was 20 years ago that Gordon made his Cup debut in Atlanta, a race that we also said farewell to Richard Petty who was making his final start. Gordon won this race last season and has five overall during his career.

Jimmie Johnson has three Atlanta wins over his career, but none since 2007. He finished runner-up to Gordon last season. Tony Stewart has been one of the best at Atlanta over his career with three wins, his last coming in 2010.

Despite not having any career wins at Atlanta, we should be able to expect Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth to run well. Their Roush teammate, Carl Edwards, has three wins there over his career, but none since 2008.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his Atlanta career off strong and was always a candidate to win there until moving to Hendrick Motorsports. He had one win and eight top-five finishes in his first 19 starts, but hasn’t cracked the top-10 since in his last six starts. We’ve obviously seen a transition with his team this year and should see him be one of the contenders with his teammates.

Contact Micah Roberts at [email protected].