Matts Atlanta Race Recap
October 23, 2002 | 11:15 A.M. EST
In a Nutshell – A whole lot of raining but not too much racing.
Dramatic Moment Tony Stewart’s charge from 32nd place back the front was unreal. It’s not often you’ll see a points leader driving like that especially with his closest challenger having experienced problems.
Every time a new green pit flag sequence started crew chiefs had to have one eye on their cars and the other on the skies.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
They’ve got lights at Atlanta. Did they have to end it right there or was that a sop to the networks to keep the race out of prime time?
How many people have drowned near Winston Cup racetracks this year during this “drought”?
Did nerves finally catch up with Jimmie Johnson or was the track surface rain slick?
I guess this means the title chase is over now?
Think someone should tell Dale Junior that Jerry Nadeau has been out of the 25 car for sometime?
How come the 20 car’s pit inspector didn’t see that the car left the pits with two loose lugs. It was pretty clear the tire changer was panicked.
Did someone have a stopwatch on Kurt Busch leaving the pits during the fourth caution period? He sure seemed to make up a lot of ground leaving.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
What a weekend for Joe Nemechek. He ran out of gas leading the Busch race on the last lap, then rain stopped the race while he seemed to be sizing Kurt Busch up at the end of Sunday’s event when weather cut things short.
You’ve got to feel for Atlanta track management. They gave up the prime season finale honor to move the race to October, the driest month of the year in that section of Georgia. Well, except for this October. How much you want to bet it’s runny and warm in Atlanta the day of the Homestead race?
Jimmie Johnson’s two unforced errors crippled his title hopes.
Had it not been for daylight savings time, John Andretti’s wreck would never have occurred in the brief segment of the race run before rain. Rain would have been falling prior to the start.
Whatever Bill Elliott’s problem was with his car, it’s going to make him difficult to finish in the top 10 in points after being in the top 10 most of the season.
Fans of the Gravity Games have to be getting really annoyed.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Kurt Busch was leading the race when the unpredictable weather finally ended things.
It’s not often a driver who has two lug nuts left loose will rally to fourth place finish. That could have really hurt Stewart in the points but the problem was discovered under the red flag.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit crew was slow most of the day but he still managed to drive the car to a fifth place finish.
It’s the Pits
The decision to short pit Kurt Busch proved to be the move of the race. But had it started raining before the rest of the lead lap cars pitted they’d have been goats not heroes so it was a high stakes gamble.
Neither Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew did their drivers any favors on pit road today while Busch’s team was stellar.
Ford wins the manufacturer’s title for the third time in four years. Busch’s win was the first by a Ford pilot at Atlanta since the reconfiguration.
Wow, talk about an unexpected set of circumstances. Kurt Busch now matches Jeff Gordon’s totals as far as race wins, top 5s, and top 10s, and he’s four points ahead of Jeff.
Jamie McMurray is batting 1000 now as far as top 10 finishes in Cup races, but he still hasn't had to qualify a Cup car.
Ryan Newman leads all drivers with 21 top 10 finishes to date this season, but Tony Stewart passes him for most top 5s with fifteen after today’s race.
Kyle Petty’s 14th place finish was his best since the first Michigan race.
This is the third time this season Kevin Harvick has finished 40th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five straight top 10 finishes.
What’s the Points?
The points got scrambled today, but the big story is Stewart leaves Atlanta with a 146 point lead over new second place man Mark Martin. If he finishes 40th or higher at Rockingham next week he will leave with the points lead. Stewart’s “magic number” is now ninth. (If Stewart finishes ninth in the last three races, Mark Martin can not catch him even if Martin wins every race and leads the most laps in each event.) It’s over folks.
Inside the top ten there were a lot of single position changes in the points. Mark Martin took over second from Jimmie Johnson. Ryan Newman took over fourth place from teammate Rusty Wallace. Race winner Kurt Busch wrested sixth place from Jeff Gordon. Dale Jarrett passed Ricky Rudd to take over ninth. Bill Elliott lost eleventh place to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and falls to twelfth. Junior is now 46 points out of the top ten, and Elliott is 102 markers away from having to rent a tuxedo in December.
All drivers outside the top 10 in points are now mathematically eliminated from chances a championship as long as Stewart attends the last three races of the year.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) Two cans of very watery beer gone warm during the rain delay. I wish they’d just cut their losses and moved Atlanta to the season finale after Homestead where it should be anyway.
Next Up – It’s on to Rockingham, the last of the classic tracks on this year’s schedule.