By Pete Pistone
AdvoCare 500 Preview
There would be no better way for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to celebrate his new contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports than with a win Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But right behind finally ending his more than three year winless drought would be for Junior to lock down a spot in the Chase, which is within his reach with a good finish in the Advocare 500.
Earnhardt can punch his ticket to the playoffs of he leave Atlanta 49 points to the good of 11th place in the standings, an additional ten markers ahead of where he stands now in the ninth spot.
The good news for Earnhardt is the lightning-fast, 1.5-mile track is one of his favorites and a place where he’s excelled over the years including visiting victory lane back in 2004.
“Atlanta is a driver's track because it is so wide and races so wide that there's groove after groove after groove,” Earnhardt said. “I always look forward to going down to Atlanta. It’s incredibly fast, and we’ve run well there. I’m looking forward to working with Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the guys to see what we can do this weekend.”
Tony Stewart is hoping past success at Atlanta can also play into his night on Sunday, which is critical to keeping his Chase hopes alive.
Stewart is hanging on to the tenth and final points position Chase transfer spot but has a hard-charging Brad Keselowski only 21 points behind with twelfth place Clint Bowyer a mere 22 out.
Stewart is well aware of his recent struggles including finishing three laps off the pace in Bristol last week and is still focused on getting into the Chase in addition to trying to turnaround his team’s entire program.
“I want to make the Chase more than anything,” Stewart said. “I want it for our sponsors. I want it for our organization. But most of all, I just want us to get back on track. If that means we miss the Chase in the process, we do. But we’re going to try to do everything we can to make it. Like I say, the most important thing is getting our program back on track.”
Stewart is still winless after 24 races this season but believes if he can find a way to stop the struggles of recent weeks he can return to victory lane as well as be competitive once the Chase begins.
“Obviously, if we knew what the problem was, we would fix it,” Stewart said. “But you know it could turn around in a week, it may not turn around the rest of the year. We don’t know. But the thing is, our main goal right now is to get this program turned around and get us back on track and get us where we know we need to be and deserve to be. We’ll keep working hard toward that and we’ve got to take it one day at a time. I would love for it to be sooner rather than later, obviously."
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Track Size: 1.54-miles
Race Length: 500 miles/325 laps
Banking/Corners: 24 degrees
Banking/Straights: 5 degrees
2010 pole winner: Denny Hamlin (187.38, 29.587 seconds)
2010 race winner: Tony Stewart (129.041 mph, 9-5-10)
Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds, 11-15-97)
Race record: Dale Earnhardt (163.633 mph, 11-16-97)
There have been 103 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta Speedway, two races per year except 1961, which had three. This year marks the first season with only one.
Fireball Roberts won the pole and race for the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 1960.
45 drivers have won a pole, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman, each with seven.
Six of Newman’s seven poles came in consecutive races between March 2003 and October 2005.
42 drivers have won a race; 22 have won more than once.
Dale Earnhardt scored nine victories, more than any other driver. Cale Yarborough is second, with seven.
Bobby Labonte heads the list of active drivers with six victories. Labonte is tied with Richard Petty for third on the all-time win list at Atlanta.
The Wood Brothers have 12 victories, more than any organization. They last won there in 1993, with Morgan Shepherd.
14 races have been won from the pole. The last to do so was Kasey Kahne in 2006. Both races last season were won from the second starting position.
59 races at Atlanta have been won from the first five starting positions.
Bobby Labonte won the 2001 fall race from the 39th starting position, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta.
There have been seven season sweeps, most recently by Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
Who’s Hot at Atlanta
Tony Stewart – He’s definitely been hot at Atlanta during his Sprint Cup career and desperately needs to keep that going this weekend as Stewart hangs on dearly to his Chase hopes. The defending race winner has the best career average finish of active drivers at AMS over the last ten years with a mark of 9.0.
Jeff Gordon – Unlike Stewart Gordon has an impressive performance record at Atlanta over the years in addition to momentum at this point of the season. His third place finish at Bristol last week locked him into a Chase position so look for a bit of a “win or bust” mentality to come from the 24 team Sunday night.
Jimmie Johnson – A three-time Atlanta winner, Johnson has an average finish of 10.4 at the track in 19 career starts. Like his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, winning is all that matter rights now for Johnson as he tries to improve his seeding in the Chase.
Brad Keselowski – He’ll have to overcome past challenges at Atlanta to keep his incredible hot streak alive Sunday night. In two career Cup starts the Penske racing driver has finishes of 36th and 25th.
Joey Logano – The added pressure of performing well at the home track of sponsor Home Depot is compounded by Logano’s disappointing Sprint Cup career at AMS. Four starts have produced a best finish of 22nd and an average mark of 28.5
David Reutimann – While there are other 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule were Reutimann has performed well during his Sprint Cup career, Atlanta is not one of them. Seven starts have added up to an average finish just over 25th.
Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole.
The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970.
It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990.
The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.
There have been 162 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Georgia.
169 NASCAR national series drivers all-time have their home state recorded as Georgia.
There have been 14 race winners from Georgia in NASCAR’s three national series.
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