October 31, 2008
I can’t believe this Jimmie Johnson guy. He falls all the way back to 30th after his team makes a rare mistake at Atlanta, but bounces back to finish 2nd in the race. This team is flawless… and they make my job way too easy.
The fact that we’re heading to Texas also makes this pretty easy to do. Since Texas gained a second race in 2005, every driver who’s won the second Atlanta race has won this race. Texas has been described as Atlanta with more grip and speed, and the best Atlanta drivers usually do well here too.
Here’s what to expect from each of the 12 Chase drivers this week at Texas:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson’s got the best average finish of active drivers here, and it’s the only one above 10.0. He rules the road this time of year and won this race last year. I almost don’t need to bother doing this every week. He’s a machine. Get him if you can.
2-12. Irrelevant. (Just kidding.)
2. Carl Edwards: Carl should win, at least by the recent rule of Atlanta-Texas sweeps. The only question is whether or not he’ll gain enough points on Johnson to turn this Chase into a fight come Homestead.
3. Greg Biffle: Da Biff’s won here before, but that was in 2005. He only has one other top-10 here, a 6th in spring 2007. I want to believe that Biffle can run well here, but two finishes below 30th in his past two races here don’t bode well.
On the bright side, have you seen the new No. 16 paint scheme for next season? Very cool.
4. Jeff Burton: Burton won the first Texas race ever, back in 1997. Since then, he’s had some bad luck, but most of that was while he was still at Roush Fenway Racing. In his past five starts at the track, Burton has one win and three 6th place finishes. He should run up towards the front again this weekend.
5. Kevin Harvick: In 11 starts, Happy’s failed to complete a grand total of 9 laps. He’s only finished outside the top 20 twice, and eight of those finishes were inside the top 15. Harvick finished 11th here in the spring and 10th in this race last year. If the trend holds, Harvick ought to run with the lead pack again this time around.
6. Jeff Gordon: Did you know that Texas is one of the few tracks Gordon has never won at? He has a pole and five top-5s, but he’s never made a mark in the win column. He also finished 43rd here this spring after a crash. Regardless, look to Gordon to challenge for his first win of the season this weekend, for two reasons: he doesn’t want his first winless season since 1993, and he performed pretty well at Atlanta last weekend.
7. Clint Bowyer: Clint’s never finished worse than 19th at Texas, but he’s also only finished in the top 5 once (5th, fall 2006) and has only led four laps. His past record here is pretty consistent with how he’s performed all Chase, though: solid but unspectacular, and around at the finish. Don’t expect anything too divergent come Sunday.
8. Tony Stewart: Smoke has an average finish of 13.0 with one win in 13 career starts at Texas. The win came in this race two years ago, while Stewart was still reeling from missing the then-10 man cutoff for the Chase that year. He’s only finished outside of the top 10 five times, and one of those finishes was an 11th. Stewart should run up front all day and may have a chance at a top 5 finish in his third to last race for Joe Gibbs Racing and the Home Depot.
9. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth’s 10.2 average finish is second best of all active drivers at Texas. Since crashing out of his debut here in 2000, Kenseth’s never failed to finish worse than 20th. He has a win and three 2nd place finishes. If Kenseth wants to get a win this season, this weekend’s his best chance.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Aside from his debut here, Junior hasn’t won at Texas. But once you realize that 10 of his 12 starts have led to finishes of 14th or better, and once you notice that he’s led at least one lap in nine of those races (and four consecutive races here coming into this weekend), and once you realize that his two finishes of 36th or worse have come from circumstances beyond Junebug’s control (one time he was wrecked by Shawna Robinson, the other time his engine grenaded)… I’d call him a pretty safe pick to contend for a victory this weekend.
11. Denny Hamlin: Denny, Denny, who can I turn to? Your five top-10s in six career starts at Texas, and 45 laps led in your other race here (29th this time last year), suggest I can always turn to you. (Poorly worded and obscure Tommy Tutone references aside, Hamlin’s usually a threat at Texas, and probably worth picking up if you’ve got the chance.)
12. Kyle Busch: If Shrub stands a chance to win at any of the next three races, this is probably his best shot. In three of his last four starts here, he’s finished 4th or better. Then again, it’s by far too little, too late to make a run at the title. Here’s to next season, kid. You’ve done well.
So who would I pick to win this weekend? Edwards, plain and simple. The numbers don’t lie, and without a win, it’ll be really difficult to wrestle the title from Johnson’s grasp.
October 31, 2008
NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler took time before the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway to visit students and their parents at Colleyville Heritage High School outside Dallas on Thursday, October 30, to talk about the importance of teen safe driving. Sadler was joined by SPEED TV personality John Roberts.
Sadler, who won at Texas Motor Speedway in 2004, came to the school as part of the Allstate Teen Safe Driving Pit Stop. This program is a national partnership between Allstate and Gillett Evernham Motorsports that highlights the importance of teen safe driving to high school students and their parents in key race markets across the country. Sadler spoke to the crowd of more than 300 about how his racing experiences on the track have made him a better driver off of it.
“I’m a much more cautious motorist,” said Sadler, driver of the No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge. “Having 42 other drivers going around the track at nearly 200 miles per hour makes you very aware of your surroundings – one mistake can cause a major accident, just like on the street.”
According to the Allstate America’s Teen Driving Hotspots study released in May, more than 5,000 teens die each year in car crashes. The study also ranked the 50 largest metro areas by their teen driving fatality score. The Dallas / Ft. Worth metro area ranked 17th worst in the country with a Teen Fatal Crash Rate of almost 27 per 100,000 teens.
Sadler and Roberts encouraged students and their parents to improve their communication as it relates to teen driving. To help make this possible, Allstate has created a Parent-Teen Driving Contract, a catalyst of conversation between the parents and their teens. The contract, available at www.allstate.com/teen, allows both parties to set rules and consequences if those rules are broken as it relates to a teen’s driving.
Roberts, who has three children, including a teenage son, is glad that Allstate came out with this contract.
“Sitting down with my son Jordan to fill out the contract was a great opportunity for us to discuss the dangers of driving,” Roberts said. “Safe driving is one of those topics that can be difficult to talk to your children about. The contract is a great vehicle to start the conversation.”
Although Sadler never had a physical contract with his parents when he began driving, there was a strong verbal agreement.
“I was told by my parents the day I got my license that driving is a privilege and can be taken away just as fast as it is granted,” Sadler recalled. “They told me speed on the race track is fine, but when I was on the street, I had to obey every traffic law and prove that I was responsible enough to have a driver’s license.”
Those who attended the event had the opportunity to visit the Allstate Safety Zone, an interactive safe driving mobile display that features various safety devices that help keep NASCAR drivers safe on the track. They also had the chance to complete the Parent-Teen Driving Contract at computer kiosks. Sadler and Roberts even tested the crowd’s racing knowledge with trivia questions, with autographed No. 19 hats going to those who answered the questions correctly.
Photo credit: Khampha Bouaphanh
October 31, 2008
Since becoming involved with the Fantasy Players Network, OnPitRow.com has paid more attention to NASCAR fantasy gaming than we ever did before. These special, daily posts centered on the Chase to the Sprint Cup are part of that increased focus. We hope you’ve enjoyed and gotten some value from them.
The writers involved – Matt Mercer, Chris Leone and Luke Poland along with Steve and I have put a lot of time and thought into the content. Personally, I feel priveledged to be part of it. These guys are good.
I also want to thank Darren of One Bad Wheel for giving ON PIT ROW the opportunity to be a partial sponsor for his great Champs, Chumps and Sleepers game. It’s a great game and I continue to absolutely suck at it. But so does Steve, so we at least have a bragging rights battle between the two of us – kind of a Fast Lap for fantasy racing picks.
So keep that all in mind if you consider paying any serious attention to the NASCAR fantasy racing winners that either of us suggest. If you are thinking of doing any actual NASCAR betting you may be better served by finding actual NASCAR odds at a service that is involved in online wagering or something. We, most assuredly, are not.
Photo credit: NASCAR.com
October 30, 2008
This ain’t Run’s House, not does it belong to anyone else either. Other than the Thunder Lounge, of course, but we’re talking on the track. Let’s check Atlanta’s top non-chasers, then move onto bigger and better things.
Well neither Vickers nor Bobby Labonte did any spoiling at Atlanta last weekend. Jamie McMurray sure did though, with a nice 7th place run, and right in front of teammate David Ragan. Crossing the stripe right before Jamie was Kurt Busch. Both he and Jamie getting a little redemption from Martinsville.
While we leave the warm-up for this weekend behind, we’re not going to Run’s house.
Actually, we’re not going to anyone’s house. Texas isn’t like Charlotte, where you could call it Johnson’s house. Texas has seen very few repeat winners since coming onto the scene in 1997. In other words, the checkers are fair game for all.
The big winner in Texas sure ain’t the Cowboys. Ever see that clip after last season on YouTube? If you have, you know what we’re talking about.
One big winner has to be Babe’s Chicken. If you make it down here, find ‘em.
Oh, that’s right… we’re talking racing.
So here we come to Texas, and wondering which non-chaser has the opportunity to make a showing.
As much as I hate to say it, those that ran well at Atlanta have a good shot at doing so again. While differences exist between the two, it’s a good possibility for more of the same. If you’re betting against Johnson, it’s going to take bad luck to slow his roll anytime soon.
So who can swipe some points this week? Jamie Mac’s a good bet. Other than that it’s Texas, and you’d better know when to run.
October 30, 2008
Carl Edwards won the battle of Atlanta but Jimmy Johnson surely won the war. With a 183 point lead, only three races to go and a seemingly invincible team, Hendrick Motorsports’ no. 48 has it’s third straight Sprint Cup all but locked up. Edwards is putting up a spirited fight, but the Johnson - Chad Knaus combo is relentless.
Still this column is not about championships. We’ve been mostly using data derived from NASCAR’s scoring loops, mixing in some traditional stats and the random hunch, to try and pick a winner for each upcoming race in the Chase to the Cup. Next up is the 500 miler at Texas Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR’s ubiquitous, intermediate tracks.
Great military leaders throughout history have always strived for command of the terrain. Carl Edwards held the high-ground at Atlanta Motor Speedway for most of the day last Sunday. In the end he managed to hold off the counter-attack of Jimmy Johnson. But it may have been more a matter of Johnson running out of laps than that of Edwards commanding the field. Carl did all he could do. Can he do it again at Texas?
Carl has some things stacked in his favor. He won the first Texas race of 2008. Same year sweeps seem to happen more often on intermediate tracks than on any other type. Cousin Carl has eight wins on the I-tracks during the last five years – a total that trails only Greg Biffle (12) and Johnson (14). And, as Matt pointed out, the fall Atlanta winner has followed up with a Texas Two-step in each of the last three years. Edwards’ Loop Data is strong for Texas too, with a Driver Rating of 96.0 – sixth best – 255 Laps Led and 70.2 percent of his Laps in the Top 15.
Tony Stewart is tied for the top Driver Rating with a 107.9 and has series leading stats of 196 Fastest Laps Run, 2109 – 89.8 percent – Laps in the Top 15, 437 Laps Led and and Ave Position of 8.0. Tony has four I-track wins, including 2006 at TMS.
Biffle, as stated before, has 12 wins on the intermediates. He always seems fast on fast tracks like Texas. But his tenth best DR for TMS and his lack of category leading Loop Stats make it tough to pick him over his teammate Edwards.
Biffle’s other Roush-Fenway partner, Matt Kenseth has a better shot. Kenseth has the second best Driver Rating – 104.9 – and the best Ave Finish and Ave Mid-race Position – 6.9 and 4.9 – along with the top Ave Points Gained for races at Texas. Kenseth is a six-time I-track winner.
Denny Hamlin’sDriver Rating is a strong 101.9 and though winless on intermediates, has the third best Ave Finish on the I-tracks in general and TMS in particular.
Dale Earnhardt Jr is a three-time I-track winner and has a Loop Driver Rating of 98.1 – 5th best. But if you heard any of the in car radio conversation between Junior and crew chief Tony Eury Jr, it will be hard to have confidence in their ability to figure the current car out enough to win at Texas. Eury Jr was at a loss to the point where Earnhardt had to calm HIM down. Not the normal state of affairs with the no. 88 team.
Jimmy Johnson was asked if he felt that, with such a big points lead, he could ease up a bit and drive for points. He said, absolutely not. He plans to drive every race that’s left with the intention of winning it. That should send chills down the rosy necks of Johnson haters everywhere. Johnson has a Driver Rating of 107.9 – tied for best with Stewart – he has the best Ave Start and Ave Finish on I-tracks in general and the most wins too.
The pick is the no. 48 Lowes Chevrolet to win this week. For an upset special take Martin Truex Jr who is seventh in Driver Rating and due for DEI to get a break.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
October 28, 2008
Texas Motor Speedway has made the Chase more predictable. Immediately following Atlanta, just 2 races removed from Lowes, and with only Phoenix sandwiched in between it and Homestead, Texas serves as the place where the best remain on top – just ask the last 3 winners of the fall Atlanta race, as they’re in victory lane the very next week at Texas. For Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson, they haven’t minded a bit.
It’s downright scary how similar these two tracks have been, and look at the finishing order in the top 5 for each of these races:
Atlanta – Texas
1. Edwards – Edwards
2. Gordon – Martin
3. Martin – Kenseth
4. Earnhardt Jr. - Mears
5. Kenseth – Johnson
Atlanta – Texas
1. Stewart – Stewart
2. Johnson – Johnson
3. Earnhardt Jr. – Harvick
4. Kenseth – Ky. Busch
5. Biffle – Bowyer
Atlanta – Texas
1. Johnson – Johnson
2. Edwards – Kenseth
3. Sorenson – Truex
4. Kenseth – Ky. Busch
5. Burton - Newman
The margins seem to be decreasing, but the winners have an uncanny knack for doubling up. Personally, I’d prefer the 2004 schedule to return in some way… Darlington took the penultimate spot in the Chase and Phoenix was third from the end. That’s my editorial soapbox. Let’s see where our champs finished:
2007 – Jimmie Johnson – 1st
2006 – Jimmie Johnson – 2nd
2005 – Tony Stewart – 6th
I went with Jimmie at Atlanta, and the end result was good fantasy-wise. Chase-wise, it was a bummer. Edwards did as much as he could to cut into the lead, slinging a car around the track and making the money move when it mattered. Not to mention that he flat dominated this race in the spring. However, I’m torn this week as I’d love to see the tradition continue for his sake, but I have a feeling it could be broken. I’d look for Carl and Jimmie to be strong again, but Denny Hamlin made an impressive run that could have easily landed him in the win column. I also expect to see Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Jeff Burton to be near the front after varying runs at Atlanta. This has been a Ford/Chevy battleground, and I see no reason for that to end.
Jamie McMurray could win here Sunday. In the last few weeks, the #26 has been on fire only to succumb to misfortune, whether it be parts failure or getting caught in a mess. He was fast at Lowes and ended strong at Atlanta, and is a smart sleeper pick. Another smart sleeper will be Juan Pablo Montoya. He had a piece at Atlanta as well. My third option would be AJ Allmendinger, unquestionably the best driver in the series without a full-time ride for 2009.
We’re going to delve down country music row for Texas. My pick this week is a perfect complement to the Texas moniker The Great American Speedway. It’s the Brooks & Dunn song “Only In America.”
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media
October 27, 2008
Anybody got a coon-skin helmet? Ask the guys who drive for Richard Childress Racing. They may feel about as besieged at Texas Motor Speedway as Davey Crockett and the Texicans did at the Alamo. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. With a total of only seven laps led in the last seven races between the lot of them, TMS hasn’t been good to Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
The RCR trio are the worst of the Chasers, Driver Rating-wise with scores that put them 13th-15th of the rated drivers. That, in itself isn’t all bad. Jeff Gordon is only 12th himself. But if you are looking to pick a winner for Texas, Gordon has at least led 194 laps.
Only Greg Biffle, of the Chase contenders – and after Atlanta, that is a very loose description – has run smaller percentage of Laps in the Top 15 – 46.6 – than the RCR boys, who range from 54.6 to 55.9 percent. But Biffle has 280 Laps Led.
Other drivers with poor stats at Texas include Ryan Newman – DR 67.3 and 5 Laps led with an Ave Finish of 22.3. Elliott Sadler – 68.1 DR and 23.1 Ave Finish and Brian Vickers with a Driver Rating of 62.9 and 25.1 for an Save Finish.
Be safe. Take Jimmy Johnson.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
October 26, 2008
What do Texas Motor Speedway, North Wilksboro Speedway and North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham all have in common?
The former uses the Sprint Cup dates originally owned by the latter two. Bruton Smith, who’s Speedway Motorsports Inc., owns Texas, acquired The Rock and North Wilkboro for the sole purpose of stealing their race dates to redistribute them to Texas. The racing at the 1.5 mile quad-oval has been good and fast. The title of fastest un-restricted track has bounced between Texas and its clone Atlanta.
Since the race track opened to the Cup Series in 1997, there have only been two repeat winners. The #99 has won this race three times; twice with Carl Edwards behind the wheel and once; the inaugural event, driven by Jeff Burton. Burton then won again in the Richard Childress Racing #31 in the Spring of 2007.
Brian Vickers holds the qualifying track record at 196.235mph set at the Dickies 500 in 2006. Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman each have two poles and Tony Stewart has led more laps than anyone with 453.
Texas Motor Speedway’s construction began in 1995. The original configuration called for an unusual dual banking system that had 24 degrees of banking for stock cars and 8 degrees for open-wheel cars. In 1998, Turn 4 was reshaped to ease the transition from the turns to the front straight. That April, a second renovation started and was completed in less than two months. The project eliminated the dual banking and gave the track its current configuration.
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
October 25, 2008
Four races to go and driving a Chevy is as important at Atlanta as it has been everywhere else on the Chase circuit.
The strength of the Hendrick cars and Richard Childress Racing along with Joe Gibbs Racing tenure with the GM brand is the reason it is the brand to beat of late at Atlanta. The question has been; is it the car or does Chevrolet just have the best drivers and teams? It’s hard to argue that the three teams listed above along with Dale Earnhardt Inc. hasn’t been the best equipped over the past ten to fifteen years.
It is difficult to go too far back to try and gain any perspective on how brands do at particular tracks when everything has been changed by the “New Car”. The car makes and models are literally just shells of what they once were. It has been since the mid to late Eighties that definite car makes made a difference in their ability to affect the outcome of a race.
There was a time when car owners would change brands or models of car to gain an advantage over the competition. Going back to the Sixties the Mercury Cyclones were the car of choice over the Ford Torino, later Talledaga, because its shape was more areodynamic. The Monte Carlo Aero Coupe was the answer to the teams that found slipperier makes from Olds, Buick or Pontiac in the Ninties.
But, of course, the days of having all those makes of car are long gone. Granted they were all GM makes, but having the long list of models made for more interesting chatter on Mondays. It has only been a relative short few years since Dodge has returned to the Cup series. Now with the talk of mergers on and off the race track, the future of Chrysler in racing is in doubt. Any time you lose a brand, it isn’t a positive. Dodge came back into the sport with high hopes and eventually re-introduced one of its most popular models, the Charger, because of it.
The new car has stripped all brand identity except for the decals and engine block. It is really too bad that with that little difference in cars; more models, even in name only, aren’t represented. It’s a pipe dream on my part, but since NASCAR didn’t listen to me when I asked for factory roof, hood, deck and glass, what the hell, I can dream can’t I?
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
October 24, 2008
I feel like a fool for picking Kyle Busch last week at Martinsville, when I had such obvious better choices in front of me (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin… the list goes on). I take no consolation in the fact that I called them “easy” or “cop-out” picks, because the fact is that I should have gone with one of them. I’m not making that mistake again this weekend.
Atlanta may be the best track for the 12 Chase drivers overall, because the drivers with the top eight finishing averages at Atlanta (excluding active drivers and those with under five starts) are all eligible for the championship. Only one of them, Kevin Harvick, has an average finish worse than 20.0, and he started his Atlanta career 1-for-1 in one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. The bottom line is, since every Chaser is so good here, one has to examine momentum coming into the event before making any predictions. As has been most of the Chase, it’s all about who’s got the momentum.
Here’s what to expect from each of the 12 Chase drivers this week at Atlanta:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Nobody has more momentum going into the final four races of the season than Johnson, and everybody knows it. He won this race last year as part of a four-race winning streak that propelled him to his second consecutive championship. He’s also won four of the last eight races on the tour, including last week at Martinsville. He has the best average finish of active drivers at Atlanta, a 9.6. It’s getting old to write the same sorts of things about Johnson every week, so take this word of advice: Johnson has one of the best chances to win of anyone this weekend. (Duh.)
2. Greg Biffle: Da Biff had his second-best career finish at Martinsville last week, a lead-lap 12th. Given his abysmal track record there, the team’s spirits are high coming into Atlanta. He won the pole for this race last year and finished 4th here in the spring. In 2004 and 2005, when his team last performed at this level, his average finish was 7.0 in four starts. Another solid finish for Biffle seems to be in the cards, but will he continue to lose points to Johnson?
3. Jeff Burton: Usually 16.5 is a solid average finish at a track, but not when eight of your championship rivals rank ahead of you. Such is Burton’s predicament. He’s not helped by last week’s struggle, in which he wound up off the lead lap in 17th. A total of 13 top 10s and no DNFs at Atlanta since March 2003 are both good signs, but Burton also hasn’t led more than five laps in an Atlanta race since spring 1994, in his fifth career Sprint Cup start. A win is unlikely; a decent finish, however, isn’t out of the question.
4. Carl Edwards: Cousin Carl would have won at Atlanta this spring if not for engine troubles. He’s only finished outside the top 10 at Atlanta twice, and although both of those were finishes of 40th or worse, Edwards is generally a pretty reliable bet here. Edwards seems poised to regain momentum after a 3rd place finish at Martinsville, and he certainly has a chance to capture win no. 7 of the season at Atlanta.
5. Clint Bowyer: Clint has finished 6th in his past three starts at Atlanta, which makes him a reliable bet to finish well here again. He hasn’t finished any worse than 12th since Michigan, and although he hasn’t finished any better than 5th in that span of nine races, he’s been consistently towards the front. Don’t expect that to change for any reason.
6. Kevin Harvick: Here’s a shocker. Since his dramatic win in the spring of 2001 and a 3rd place finish that fall, Happy hasn’t finished in the top 5 at Atlanta. He didn’t even finish in the top 10 again until this spring. His average finish of 23.3 here is worst of all 12 Chase drivers. One reason for hope, however, is the fact that Harvick’s only finished outside the top 10 twice since the debacle at Indianapolis.
7. Jeff Gordon: It has been five years since Gordon’s won at Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean he’s been a slouch here. Gordon’s average finish at Atlanta in his past six starts is a fantastic 6.0. Gordon’s led significant amounts of laps the past two weeks as well, and his desire to avoid his first winless season since 1993 is probably at its peak. Gordon could surprise this weekend – although, if you look at the team’s performance the past two weeks, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
8. Tony Stewart: Smoke finished second here in the spring. Since the fall race in 2001, he’s only finished outside of the top 10 twice – a lead lap 17th in spring 2005 and a 30th in this race last year after losing oil pressure in the middle of the race. Most of Stewart’s momentum from Talladega is gone, however, after a 26th place run last week at Martinsville. Stewart should keep up his stout Atlanta record, but a win for the hometown sponsor might be a lot to ask.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junebug’s got a lot of momentum after having one of the strongest cars in the field at Martinsville. He has no chance at a championship, but he can certainly go out and steal some races from the contenders for the final month or so. His average finish of 8.7 in his past six starts here is certainly stout, and it would be higher if he didn’t crash late in this race last year and finish 25th. Important to note is that Earnhardt Jr. has four top 5s in those six starts, the best of which came at Atlanta in the spring. There’s no reason he can’t win this weekend.
10. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth’s average finish of 6.2 with four top 10s in his last six starts here is one of the best in the business. His Chase has been terrible, with Martinsville last week one of the lone bright spots, but that gives the team a push to do well in these final four races. Although Kenseth’s never won at Atlanta and has only led 12 laps here in the past six years, he knows how to get to the finish without too many issues.
11. Denny Hamlin: Atlanta is one of the few tracks in the Chase where Hamlin has not consistently run well over his brief career. An 8th place finish in this race two years ago is the brightest spot on a record that includes four finishes of 19th or worse. It’s important to note that while Hamlin has only failed to complete six laps in his career at Atlanta, he’s only finished on the lead lap once. You can’t win a race if you can’t finish on the lead lap.
12. Kyle Busch: Shrub’s record at Atlanta looks like his record at a few other tracks: Save a fantastic performance this spring, in which he won after leading 173 of 325 laps, he hasn’t done much in the way of top 10 finishes. However, he did lead 77 laps in this race last year, when he finished 20th. He also has three 12th place finishes, and has only failed to complete seven laps here since becoming a full-time Cup driver.
A brief aside: I feel really bad for Busch. Kyle’s 2008 has been one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history, and the Chase format has robbed him of a chance to win his first well-earned championship. In this age of NASCAR parity, winning 20 out of the 73 races he’s contested in the face of adversity is quite the accomplishment. One can only hope that we’ll someday see another season this dominant (from a driver other than Jimmie Johnson, anyway – this sort of year seems to come naturally to him).
So who would I pick to win this weekend (other than Jimmie Johnson)? I have to go with Jeff Gordon. He’s got the same equipment as Johnson, he’s had a similar sort of career here, and he desperately wants to avoid a goose egg in the win column for this year.