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Atlanta Motor Speedway -- 03/09/08
Author: Becca Gladden
Published: Tuesday Mar 4 2008 11:34pmRead all of Becca Gladden's articles here
Having been at the Cup testing session Monday in Phoenix, I know one thing for certain - the drivers and teams can't wait to get back to the southeast.
Not that there's anything wrong with Fontana, Las Vegas, or Phoenix - but after a grueling two weeks in Daytona at the start of the season and a subsequent two and a half week west coast swing, the NASCAR road show is anxious to head home. There have also been a couple of nasty flu bugs circulating through the garage lately, putting many racers in the unenviable position of racing with nausea, fatigue, and body aches among other symptoms. So now it's time for a three-week southern swing starting in Atlanta this weekend, then on to Bristol and Martinsville - three tracks where NASCAR has raced for many years.
The Cup series first visited Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1960 for a 300-mile race named the Dixie 300, won by Fireball Roberts.
Atlanta is a 1.54 mile quad oval with 24 degrees of banking in the turns, frequently cited by drivers as a favorite track because of its high speeds, high banking, and multi-groove racing. "Atlanta is one of my favorite racetracks," said Jeff Burton (+3300), winner of the last two Nationwide series races here. "I really enjoy going there and Iím excited about running there this year. Itís one of those places where I think we have a good shot of winning. To me, itís a great challenge. The difference between qualifying and racing there is so big. The track gets so slick during the race and becomes a blast to drive on. You have to get up on the wheel and drive the car. Itís so much fun. As a race car driver, thatís the kind of racing you hope for."
Matt Kenseth (+885), whose only Atlanta win was in the Nationwide series in 2004, followed up on the theme of the fun and challenge of the speedway. "Atlanta is a great track, mainly because youíre not only racing your competitors, but youíre also racing the track. The pavement has kind of worn out, and it's real high banked. You start off fast and the track gets slick, so you're always looking for a different groove and for more grip. With the new cars, the racing will be challenging. The cars are tougher to drive and they move around a lot more than the old cars. When the track gets slick, you've got to have a good handling car so that you can change your points and get into the corners. I always have a lot of fun racing at Atlanta because it is always a challenge, and this weekend will be no exception."
The track was completely reconfigured in November of 1997 and since then there have been two races per year on the Cup side for a total of 20 races. Drivers with multiple victories in the post-reconfiguring era include Bobby Labonte (+2650), Jeff Gordon (+645), Tony Stewart (+1085), Carl Edwards (+515), and Jimmie Johnson (+565).
Bobby Labonte leads all drivers with six Cup wins at Atlanta overall, followed by Jeff Gordon with four, Jimmie Johnson with three, and Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Mark Martin (+3150) each with two wins. One-time Atlanta winners include Kurt Busch (+2150), Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick (+3150), Ken Schrader, Kasey Kahne (+1650), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (+985).
While Johnson won both Atlanta races in 2007, the 48 team seems to be off its game a bit right now, finishing 27th at Daytona and 29th in Las Vegas. However, Chad Knaus and the boys have certainly proven their ability to rebound from adversity in the past, and the two-time defending Cup champion can never be counted out as a potential race winner.
Johnson has accumulated more points at Atlanta than any other driver in the past five races, followed by Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Meanwhile, the driver with the hot hand in the series right now is Carl Edwards, who has won two straight races in the Cup series and two of three races to start the season. Edwards went back-to-back at Atlanta in 2005 and has six top-10 finishes in seven starts for an average finish of 8.7, best among active drivers.
Seven of the last 10 races at Atlanta have been won by Chevy drivers, with Edwards the two-time Ford winner, and Kasey Kahne the only Dodge winner during that time. Kahne's victory came in March of 2006 when he led 85 laps and went pole to pole for the victory. Kasey is off to an excellent start this year with three straight top-10 finishes and a fourth-place spot in the standings.
Kyle Busch (+725), currently second* in points behind Edwards, has not finished in the top 10 in seven Atlanta starts. Although he led 77 laps here last fall, he was eventually caught up in a wreck, as was Martin Truex Jr. (+2425), who led a race-high 135 laps.
Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, currently third in points, has started on the pole in seven of the last 10 Atlanta races, but has not been able to convert those P1 starts to a victory. His best finish during that time was fifth in March of 2004. However, Newman is also off to a strong start this year and track position is more important than ever in the COT.
But no matter where a driver starts, the racing will be fast and furious this Sunday. "Atlanta is one of my favorite stops on the schedule," said Kasey Kahne. "Itís wide and fast. The multiple grooves that it offers allows you move around on track, searching for the best and fastest line. Itís a huge advantage to have those kind of options as a driver." (*No penalties have been announced at press time for the No. 99 team's Las Vegas infraction).