Driver Handicaps: Atlanta

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This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Golden Corral 500. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 325-lap event.

Who's HOT at Atlanta
  • Carl Edwards has a 1.7 finishing average and will be seeking his third consecutive win.
  • Tony Stewart has the best finishing average (9.0) over the past 10 races.
  • Mark Martin leads all active drivers with 20 top-10 finishes.
  • Greg Biffle has captured four consecutive top-10 finishes, which is the longest current streak.
  • Jeff Gordon has led 975 laps and has posted four wins.
  • Ryan Newman has won six consecutive poles and has led at least one lap in every one of his eight starts.

    Keep an Eye on at Atlanta
  • Jimmie Johnson led 156 laps en route to a second-place finish in this event last year.
  • Matt Kenseth will be driving the same car that dominated at Chicago in 2005, leading the most laps. The car also finished fifth in its last Atlanta appearance.
  • Dale Jarrett has the best average finish (11.5) among all drivers that have competed in every race since 1998.
  • Bobby Labonte leads all active drivers with six wins and will be making his first track start in a Dodge.
  • Kasey Kahne has a 12.0 finishing average.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. has captured seven finishes of seventh or better with Tony Eury Jr. in their last eight races.
  • Elliott Sadler has finished 10th in his last two races.
  • Brian Vickers finished sixth in this event last year driving a car number that has had previous success at Atlanta.

    Eye on the Rookies
    Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have made at least one NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta. Hamlin has the best Cup finish among the group after placing 19th in his AMS debut last October. Truex is the only rookie with more than one Cup start, but didn't fair well at the end with respective finishes of 37th and 40th. Every rookie has competed in at least one Busch race at Atlanta with Truex (average finish: 10) and Stremme (average finish: 11) posting the best results.

    Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes
    2005-27
    2005-27
    2004-16
    2004-16
    2003-28

    Last Five Number of Cautions Laps
    2005-39
    2005-40
    2004-33
    2004-17
    2003-63

    Qualifying Tidbits: Ryan Newman has won the last six poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway. If he can win the pole Friday he will tie his mentor Buddy Baker for the all-time track lead with seven. Newman's starting average of 1.75 leads all active drivers. The last person to win a pole besides Newman was Bill Elliott in this event in 2002. Along with Newman, Carl Edwards was the only driver to post a top-five starting position in both Atlanta races in 2005. Past Pole Winners

    RacingOne Staff Picks
    Jeff Wackerlin (Senior Editor) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- The Jr's of Earnhardt and Eury are the perfect combo at Atlanta.
    Pete Pistone (Managing Editor) -- Jeff Gordon -- A nice run in Las Vegas will be enough momentum to carry him to his fifth career Atlanta win.
    Jorge Mondaca (Assistant Editor) -- Mark Martin -- With Roush's dominance at these style tracks, and Martin's three straight top-five finishes, he looks ready to break his 0-16 record in Atlanta.
    J.J. O'Malley (RacingOne Contributor) -- Greg Biffle -- About time his streak of bad luck comes to an end.
    Shawn Akers (RacingOne Columnist) -- Jimmie Johnson -- How about 3 out of 4? Johnson's a roll and he's not going to stop.

    More Driver Notes - In order of point standings

    1. Jimmie Johnson (Points: 540): Johnson ended his four race streak at Atlanta Motor Speedway of finishing fourth or better with a 16th-place finish last fall. In the four race span he won one race (Fall 2004) and led a combined 174 laps, including 156 in this event last year. This weekend, the Lowe's team will unload the same car (chassis No. 48359) that raced to a 19th-place finish at Michigan in June in 2005.

    2. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind -52): Kenseth has yet to reach Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but has posted six top-10 finishes in 12 starts. Last year in this event Kenseth finished 31st after getting caught up in an early wreck. Kenseth will be back behind the wheel of the same chassis (RK-267) that turned in strong runs at Chicago (second) and Atlanta (fifth) last fall.

    3. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind -85): Kahne finished fifth or better in his three starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His fourth start came last October, but an accident knocked him out of the race (finished 35th) ending his top five streak. Kahne's career-best finish, of third, came in his first start at the track in March 2004. The fall event in 2004 was the only time Kahne has led a lap at AMS - a total of four. Last year in this event, Kahne scored his best starting position of fifth. He will pilot a brand new chassis (No. 128) at Atlanta.

    4. Casey Mears (Points Behind -86): Mears will be making his seventh NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His best finish of 13th came in the 2004 fall race and has been his only top-15 finish there. This weekend Mears will race a brand new chassis (No. 607) in the Golden Corral when he shoots for his fourth consecutive top 10 of 2006.

    5. Mark Martin (Points Behind -110): Martin will make his 585th consecutive NEXTEL Cup start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the same car (chassis No. RK-314) that he finished second with at Texas last November. In the last three races at AMS, Martin has finished second, fourth and third, respectively. Also in those three races, Martin led 272 laps and started no worse than 12th. Overall Martin leads all active drivers with 20 top 10s at AMS. He is also second to part-time driver Bill Elliott in top fives and races led.

    6. Kyle Busch (Points Behind -137): Last year in the event, Busch battled from a 42nd starting position to post his best finish (12th) in his second start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the fall he equaled his 12th-place finish and led his first laps (4) after starting a career-best seventh.

    8. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind -155): Sadler is still in search of his first top-five finish at Atlanta. He has three top 10s, most recently two consecutive 10th-place finishes in 2005, in 14 starts. In October Sadler equaled his best starting position of third and led laps (10) for the first time since leading one lap in both 2003 races.

    9. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind -166): Gordon has captured four wins in 27 career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He is second only to Bill Elliott in laps led among active drivers at the track with 975. In October he posted his first top five since winning the 2003 fall race. Last year in this event Gordon posted his first DNF since 1999 after a lap two accident.

    10. Jeff Burton (Points Behind -167): Burton has posted 10 top 10s in 22 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Burton has finished sixth, 15th and eighth in his three Atlanta races with Richard Childress Racing. He has led a total of 100 laps at AMS, with the last time being in 2001. He will pilot the same car (chassis No. 164) that has already posted two top-10 finishes in 2006 (California and Las Vegas).

    11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind -171): In this event in 2004, Earnhardt Jr. captured a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway after a run at the track of five straight top-10 finishes. In those races Junior led at least one lap in every one of those races for a total of 323 laps. After two finishes of 33rd and 24th, respectively, Junior got back in the groove at AMS leading 142 laps en route to a fourth-place finish last October. Junior is currently tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most top fives in the last 10 Atlanta races.

    12. Brian Vickers (Points Behind -178): Vickers has posted his two top 10s in five starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His sixth-place finish in this event last year is his best-to-date.

    13. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind -188): Jarrett has one win, 11 top fives and two poles in 36 career races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His lone win came on the old configuration, but since 1998 Jarrett has been fairly consistent, posting a finishing average of 11.5, which is the best among all drivers that have entered the last 16 races. The UPS team will be racing the same car (chassis No. 56) that started ninth and finish 14th in last October at AMS.

    17. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind -208): In his first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2001, Harvick captured an emotional victory in just his fourth career Cup start. He scored his second, and last top five at AMS the same year in the fall. Since then, his best finish has been 19th in the spring event in 2003.

    18. Ryan Newman (Points Behind -233): Newman will be shooting for his seventh-straight Bud Pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway Friday night. His 1.8 starting average is the best among all active drivers. In this event in 2004, Newman posted his best finish (fifth) at AMS in eight starts. He has a total of four top-10 finishes and has led in every one of his seven races for a total of 157 laps. Newman will race the same car (PRS-79) that earned a seventh-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway last October. This is also the same car that won the his sixth pole at the track.

    19. Tony Stewart (Points Behind -236): With the exception of the last year's spring race, Stewart has finished in the top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the fall race in 2001. These eight top 10s, which include four top fives and one win, are his only at the 1.54-mile oval. Stewart followed his 2002 spring win with his only AMS pole in the fall race. Stewart, who has the best average finish (9.0) in the last 10 races at Atlanta, will be driving the same car (chassis No. 100) that finished 17th in last year's Golden Corral 500.

    20. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind -239): McMurray will make his eighth start at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. Last fall he finished of sixth at AMS for his best finish and third top 10 at the track. McMurray, who will debut the IRWIN colors on his Roush Ford, will be racing the same car (chassis No. 65) that Kurt Busch piloted to victory at Pocono last July.

    22. Kurt Busch (Points Behind -251): Busch captured his first superspeedway win at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in the 2002 rain-shortened event. In the 2004 fall race Busch tightened the championship together after exiting the race only 51 laps in when the engine in his No. 97 Ford let go. Busch was credited with his worst finish at AMS (42nd) and second DNF in 10 overall starts. Busch only finish of 32nd or better in the last four races at Atlanta came in this event in 2004 when he came home 12th. Busch, who will make his first start in a Dodge at AMS, tested a 2004 (Intrepid) and 2005 (Charger) model at Kentucky this week in preparation for Sunday's Golden Corral 500. Busch also participated in the Goodyear tire test at AMS in January.

    23. Carl Edwards (Points Behind -256): Edwards captured his first NEXTEL Cup Series win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in this event last season. That weekend Edwards also became the first driver to sweep both Atlanta races in one weekend after winning the Busch race. He backed up his spring win by sweeping both Cup events in 2005 after leading 115 laps from his best AMS starting position - second in the fall race. Edwards will race the same car (chassis RK-270) that most recently raced at Las Vegas, and won at Atlanta and Pocono in 2005.

    24. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind -270): Nemechek will be making his 24th career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. Last year in this event Nemechek posted his fifth DNF, finishing 35th - his worst finish since placing 39th in 2001. Overall Nemechek has captured three top fives, six top 10s and has led five times for 134 laps. He led 57 of those laps en route to his best finish of second in the 2002 fall race.

    25. Greg Biffle (Points Behind -271): Last fall Biffle posted his series leading fourth consecutive top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In this event in 2005, Biffle posted his best finish (third) at AMS after leading 151 laps. Biffle will drive chassis RK-210 this weekend when he makes his seventh career start at AMS. This is the same car that finished ninth in the spring race at Bristol. The No. 16 will carry the Subway colors for the first 11 races in 2006.

    28. Jeremy Mayfield (Points Behind -300): Mayfield has captured four top fives and five top 10s in 20 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the last two spring races at AMS Mayfield has finished 13th (2005) and second (2004). He led 22 laps in the 2004 race. Mayfield will race a brand new chassis (No. 133) in Sunday's Golden Corral 500.

    36. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind -334): Six of Labonte's 21 career wins have come at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His last win came in the 2003 spring race and his last of 13 top 10s came later that year in the fall, when he finished fifth. Last year in this event Labonte posted his first DNF at Atlanta since finishing 33rd in 2001. This weekend will mark Labonte's 27th start at AMS and first in a Dodge.

    38. Scott Riggs (Points Behind -355): Last year in this event Riggs posted his best finish (9th) in three overall starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Riggs, who will make his debut in the No. 10 Dodge at AMS, still needs to qualify the No. 10 Dodge to guarantee a spot in Sunday's show. If he makes it, Riggs will race the chassis No. 105 in the Golden Corral 500. This car was last driven by Jeremy Mayfield, but was completely rebuilt in the offseason.

    39. Sterling Marlin (Points Behind -357): Marlin makes his 43rd start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His best finish at the track is second, twice, most recently in the 2001 fall race. In total he has four top fives, 13 top 10s and has led eight times for 90 laps.
    
            
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