Hot ‘lanta.. fast track with one goal

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 21: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the  Lowe's Chevrolet, leads Tony Stewart, driver of the  Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, and Carl Edwards, driver of the  Aflac Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2010 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

With the spots for the Sprint Cup Series’ chase all but locked up this weeks race at Atlanta figures to bring us back to the days were drivers drove their race car with the idea to win and we didn’t have to be reminded hundreds of times by someone announcing that they were attempting to make “the chase”.

Despite dropping to one race next season, Atlanta remains a track very high on everyone’s list. With no restrictor plates and no breaking it’s known as the fastest track on the circuit and there are plenty of guys in the garage looking to prove they are the fastest there.

Like so many other tracks the cars to beat likely are the #48 and #24 of Hendrick Motorsports. Combined Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have won 7 events at the track and amassed 23 top-5’s in 54 starts. Their teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr has been in a downward spiral of late but his career numbers at the track cannot be over looked should you be seeking to buy low.

Perhaps the driver with the best numbers to never win a race is Matt Kenseth. Kenseth ranks behind only the aforementioned and Tony Stewart when it comes to average finish at the 1.54 Quad Oval. Kenseth has 8 top-5’s in 21 starts.

Speaking of Stewart his average finish (12.) is only bested by that of Johnson. (10.8) However it’s worth noting that while Stewarts run with his own race team has netted him solid finishes of 8th, 11th, and 13th it’s a far cry from the run he had with Joe Gibbs motor-sports from 2001-2008 a time in which he had 12 top-10’s in 14 starts. I wouldn’t count Stewart out (as I am suggesting this week) but much like Kenseth it remains to be seen if he can be a winning car or just a contending car right now.

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 13: Carl Edwards, driver of the Aflac Ford stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 2010 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The first career win for Carl Edwards came at Atlatna in an amazing duel with Jimmie Johnson back in 2005. He went on to sweep the 2005 season at Atlanta and added another win in 2008 but any talk about Edwards and Atlanta unquestionably brings up the memory of him wrecking Brad Keselowski earlier this year. This very well could be the race in which Edwards moves from a contending car to a winning car this year as in addition to the 3 wins he had 8 top-10’s in 12 starts.

All this and I haven’t even talked about Kurt Busch who has won two of the last three events at the track. In addition to the wins Busch has posted top-10’s in four of his last six starts. The other finishes were an 11th and a 38th following a crash last fall.

While it’s never a good idea to count out Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick it’s worth noting they’ve had a mixed bag or results. Mark Martin and Jamie McMurray who is chasing Clint Bowyer for the final chase spot also falls into the category. For what it’s worth I’m picking Bowyer to best Martin and McMurray this weekend which will just about close out the season for the drivers of the #5 and the #1.

If you are looking to hit it big then Juan Pablo Montoya is a great gamble this weekend. Montoya has finished third in the last two races at Atlanta and for those playing fantasy or pick em leagues they will find him an inexpensive option.

Despite AJ Allmendinger’s high career average at Atlanta he’s a hard pick at best. ‘Dinger has mostly ran as a 15th-20th place car in his five starts but managed a 6th place finish this spring due to gambling on tires which in turn skews his data rather largely.

Two of the truly great Atlanta drivers are in also-rans this weekend. Bill Elliott has 5 career wins at his home track and fellow former champion Bobby Labonte has six.