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NASCAR Atlanta Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, September 01, 2011

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Tony Stewart won last year in Atlanta
NASCAR's Sprint Cup teams are headed to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday's running of the AdvoCare 500. This is the next to the last race before NASCAR names its official line up for the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. That alone is going to add a lot of high speed drama to a race that will be ran on the fastest track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Going into Sunday's race at Atlanta six teams have officially clinched their starting berths in the 2011 Chase. That includes Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. Kevin Harvick, with three wins, and Jeff Gordon, a two time winner, are currently in the Chase based a guaranteed wild card status but it's highly likely they will officially join the top ten Chase starters this Sunday.

The magic number for the Chase is 49. That means that any driver, in the top ten standings, who is at least 49 points ahead of the 11th position, after Sunday's race, will clinch a starting berth in the Chase.  The Chase scenario for those seeking to clinch a Chase berth this Sunday is as follows:

Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are each 93 points in front of the 11th position. By clinching an official top ten Chase berth they will be entitled to three bonus points for each of their previous wins when the Chase contender's points are reset after September 10th. To make this happen, Harvick and Gordon has to finish at least 40th at Atlanta, 41st with a bonus point for leading a lap or 42nd with the bonus point for leading the most laps.

Ryan Newman is currently 73 points in front of the 11th position. To officially earn a Chase berth Newman needs to finish at least 20th at Atlanta, 21st with a lap lead or 22nd after leading the most laps.

Kurt Busch is 60 points in front of 11th and needs a seventh place finish to clinch, 8th with a lap led or 9th with the most laps led.

For Dale Earnhardt Jr, 39 points in front of 11th, and Tony Stewart, 21 points in front of 11th, there is no real specific numerical formula for them to clinch this Sunday. They are going to need some help at Atlanta as in  the 11th place driver experiencing some bad racing luck. Unfortunately for Earnhardt and Stewart that 11th place driver is the red hot Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt and Stewart may have to consider a conservative racing for points stance at Atlanta and, hopefully, claim their Chase Berths the following weekend at Richmond. This points scenario could get really interesting next Sunday.

Positions 11 and 12 in the official Chase line up are the wild card berths. Going into Sunday's race, Brad Keselowski is locked in due to his three wins this year. Denny Hamlin has the second wild card berth with his one win earlier this year.

However, Hamlin's wild card berth is not 100 percent safe. A win by Clint Bowyer at Atlanta, who is 12th in the points to Hamlin's 13th, could load up the wild card drama. A surprise win from either A J Allmendinger or Kasey Kahne would produce the same result.

The Chase rules states that wild card drivers must be in the top 20 in the championship points. Another surprise, second, win by Paul Menard could put him in the Chase because he's 20th in the points. Other possible wild card surprises, from drivers with one win, includes David Ragan, three points out of 20th and Marcos Ambrose, four points from 20th.

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Also at issue this Sunday is the final resolution of the Sprint Summer Showdown promotion.  After selecting four qualifying races, the Showdown could be won by any one of three drivers at Atlanta. The grand prizes includes $1 million to the winning driver and their team, $1 million to the winning driver's designated charity and $1 million to a lucky NASCAR fan.

Eligible drivers, their winning qualifying race and their charity includes:

Paul Menard, Indianapolis, Habitat For Humanity
Brad Keselowski, Pocono and Bristol, Brad Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation
Kyle Busch, Michigan, Kyle Busch Foundation

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During the Atlanta weekend you will also hear a lot of speculation regarding the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup silly season, the annual process of sorting out rumors regarding which driver is going where next year.

Highlighting the final dregs of this silly season is Clint Bowyer, the driver of the #33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. It's well known that Bowyer wants to remain with Childress. In turn Childress is determined to make that happen and there has been some reported intense contract negotiations as of late. However, according to recent reports from ESPN, one of the problem areas seems to lie with this driver's hesitation to take a pay cut. In the recent past, many Sprint Cup drivers have agreed to salary cuts to help with the high cost of maintaining their teams in the wake of dwindling sponsor dollars.

There is also an issue of sponsorship with the Bowyer team. It appears that Cheerios, along with other General Mills brands, will not be returning. There is already speculation that says Five Hour Energy Drink may be sponsoring some of the 2012 races if Bowyer remains with the team.

But the really interesting silly season rumor regarding Bowyer came up in recent days when it was revealed that he had been talking to other teams including Richard Petty Motorsports. This was confirmed by RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein who, during an interview with the Sirius Satellite Radio NASCAR Channel,  said his organization has been working on the creation of a third Sprint Cup team for the past six months and were definitely talking to Bowyer.

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THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

Which Chase driver is going to pad his Bonus points total at Atlanta? Who's going to clinch a Chase berth next Sunday? Who's going to make waves with the wild card berths? Who's going to shock us all with a surprise Atlanta win?

The best way to determine the answers to these questions is to examine the numbers presented by professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

At the top of the WSE's Atlanta ranking are certified Chase contenders Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson each rated at 8 to 1 odds. Edwards has excellent Atlanta numbers that includes three wins, seven top five finishes and a 14.2 average finish ratio, (AFR). Busch is a previous Atlanta winner with a 17.3 AFR and , as we all know, he's always a threat to find victory lane. Johnson's numbers are also outstanding at this track and includes three wins, including sweeping both races in 2007, along with ten top fives and a very healthy 10.4 AFR. All three of these drivers are potential winners as well as rock solid wager considerations.

At 9 to 1 odds is Chase contender Jeff Gordon who is also a solid wager consideration due to outstanding Atlanta numbers that includes four wins, 14 top fives and a 12.5 AFR.

Kurt Busch leads the Dodge hopes with a 10 to 1 ranking. He's a three time Atlanta winner with three top fives. However, the AFR, 18.0, is a little on the high side.

The same applies to Kevin Harvick, also at 10 to 1, who is a previous Atlanta winner with four top fives. However, his AFR, 20.5, is also very high and there has been mysterious performance issues with this team as of late.

At 11 to 1 odds is car 11. Denny Hamlin presently holds on to the second wild card berth but seriously needs a second season win to fortify his Chase potential. Unfortunately, Hamlin's Atlanta numbers does not reflect that possibility. He's still seeking his first win there and has an 18.4 AFR. However, the element of a surprise win from this driver is not beyond the realm of possibility especially in light of some of the surprises we've seen this season.

At 12 to 1 odds you will find the trio of Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski. All three will be drivers to watch this Sunday. Kenseth is win less at Atlanta but he does have eight top fives and a 13.2 AFR. This driver has a habit of quietly riding around during a Sprint Cup event only to show up as a major player at the end of the event. He's already being touted as a potential 2011 champion.

Tony Stewart is at the height of frustration over performance levels of his team and has dropped to tenth in points, perilously close to falling out of the top ten. If there's going to be a badly needed turn around then Atlanta just might be the place. He's a three time winner with nine top fives and a healthy 11.6 AFR.

Brad Keselowski has locked down the first wild card berth in the Chase and will be seeking his fourth win of the season that could move him into the top ten and the bonus points that comes with it. However his Atlanta numbers does not support the theory. He has no wins, no top tens and a 30.5 AFR. But, then again, six weeks ago we didn't believe he had a chance of making the Chase.

The WSE's middle tier is led by two time Atlanta winner Kasey Kahne who could make some waves toward the second wild card berth with a win this Sunday. Right behind him are Greg Biffle along with previous Atlanta winner, and Chase hopeful, Dale Earnhardt Jr at 26 to 1. Juan Pablo Montoya is ranked at 30 to 1 followed by two time race winner Mark Martin at 35 to 1.

Ryan Newman leads a quartet of drivers at 36 to 1. Newman, still seeking his first Atlanta win, could clinch a Chase berth this weekend. Clint Bowyer could create havoc with the second wild card Chase berth with a win this Sunday despite the fact he's still seeking his first top five finish there. Also in this category are drivers Joey Logano and David Ragan.

In the WSE lower tier is Jeff Burton at 40 to 1 followed by Michael Waltrip Racing team mates Martin Truex Jr and David Reutimann at 41 to 1. Paul Menard closes the Atlanta ranking at 51 to 1.

If you do not see the name of your favorite driver on the WSE Atlanta posting then assume they are listed under "all others" at 15 to 1 odds. The one stand out in this particular group is JTG Daugherty Racing's Bobby Labonte who has six wins, 12 top fives and a 17.8 AFR at Atlanta. If there's a driver who could shock us all ,to the point of yelling "where did he come from?" then this is the guy.

Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events. But if you're going to make those bets anyway, and many of you will, then you may as well use the professional number crunching from the WSE or you can opt to spend your gambling budget on Danica Patrick souvenirs before the prices go up due to the monetary value of those contracts she signed last week.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Sunday's AdvoCare 500 is 325 laps/500.5 miles around the Atlanta Motor Speedway's massive 1.54 mile quad oval and is the fastest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.

The race has 47 entries vying for the 43 starting positions seeking the winner's share of the $6 million plus purse. 12 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a start in the race because they are currently outside of the top 35 in NASCAR owner's points. These teams will have to rely on their qualifying speed to make the race.

The Atlanta Motor Speedway has played a significant role in the history of NASCAR and first opened in 1960. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in July 1960 and was won by the legendary Fireball Roberts from the pole position. Since that time there has been 103 Sprint Cup races at Atlanta that has sent 42 different winners to victory lane. Dale Earnhardt Sr leads the track stats in wins with nine. Bobby Labonte leads all active drivers with six wins. The Wood Brothers leads the category of team wins with 12. 14 Atlanta wins have come from the pole position while 59 wins came from starting positions within the top five.

The Atlanta Motor Speedway is a 1.54 mile quad oval with 24 degrees of banking in the turns. The front stretch measures 2,332 feet, with five degrees of banking, while the backstretch measures 1,800 feet also banked at five degrees. The pit road speed is 45 MPH. The speedway presently has seating for 99,000 fans.

The weather forecast for the Atlanta area calls for sunny skies on Friday and Sunday with temperatures ranging from 88 to 91 degrees. However weather could play a huge role on Sunday race day with cloudy skies and a 30 to 40 percent chance of thunder storms from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night.

Sunday's AdvoCare 500 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the "Countdown" program beginning at 7 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, September 7th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.

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