Will Dodge Be Gone With the Wind in Atlanta?

 by Frank Ryan
March 9, 2001

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This weekend the NASCAR Winston Cup series takes on the fastest track on the circuit when they invade Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500. The fourth stop on the tour, the qualifying speeds are expected to be approaching 200 miles per hour as the cars will be running sans the aero package or restrictor plates.

Geoffrey Bodine set the qualifying record in 1997, running a blistering 197.478 miles per hour on the 24-degree high-banked 1.54-mile super speedway. If history holds true at Atlanta you want to be fast on qualifying day, as thirteen races have been won from the Bud Pole. Nine drivers have won from the second-place starting position, and nearly 60% of all the winners have come from the top 5 in the starting grid.

Dale Jarrett is the defending Bud Pole Award winner for the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, but he wasn't able to turn the point into a podium last year as his engine expired on lap 257, eventually coasting to the pits and a 36th place finish.

Since 1990, a total of 19 different drivers have claimed the Bud Pole at AMS, with only Rusty Wallace and Bobby Labonte being able to claim the top spot twice. Looking at this weekend's event, Bill Elliott and his Evernham Motorsports Dodge Intrepid just might be the car to beat. Elliott is the leader among active drivers with four Bud Poles and five victories at Atlanta. Rest assured, the Intrepid will be slick, and without the Daytona aero package, or the restrictor plates, don't be surprised if Elliott can return to his old ways at Daytona, last year he finished 10th in the spring race.

Working as hard off the track as on it, Elliott was honored Tuesday by the March of Dimes with a special "Race Car Driving Legend Award" at its National Athletic Awards ceremony in Detroit.  "It's really an honor to be recognized as a legend in this sport," said Bill Elliott. "The March of Dimes is a great organization that helps thousands of children every year. I'm proud to be a part of this event and help them raise funds to continue their efforts." 

If Elliott and his Dodge are not quite up to the task, then keep an eye on Sterling Marlin. Marlin is holding a slight lead in the Winston Cup points chase and has flexed his muscle at every track this year. If Marlin can claim a top 5 in qualifying, then watch out because he will be up near the front at the end of the race.

The Wood Brothers (12) and Junior Johnson (nine) have won more races at Atlanta than any other owner. The Wood Brothers last won there in the spring of 1993 with Morgan Shepherd as their driver, but this year they are back in the top 10 in points with Elliott Sadler, who is currently tied for ninth place in the Winston Cup points chase.

There have been a total of 83 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race was held there in 1960. There have been two races a year except for 1961, which had a third event, the 250-mile Festival 250. Additionally, one race was a 300-mile event, six were 400 miles and all the others were 500 miles.

The author can be contacted at frankr@autoracing1.com

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