Driver Handicaps: Atlanta

This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to the lightning fast Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 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 Motor Speedway
  • Kasey Kahne is the defending pole and race winner.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. has captured eight finishes of sixth or better in the last 10 races.
  • Jeff Gordon has led 1020 laps and has posted four wins.
  • Carl Edwards has the best average finish (10.4) among all drivers with two or more starts.
  • Mark Martin leads all active full-time drivers with 13 top-five finishes.
  • Tony Stewart finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races

    Keep an Eye on at Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • Jimmie Johnson, the 2004 winner of this event, has the best average finish (10.9) among drivers that have made six or more starts at Atlanta.
  • Bobby Labonte leads all active drivers with six wins and will be making his third track start in a Dodge. Labonte led 13 laps last spring before losing an engine on lap 56.
  • Casey Mears will be making his first track start in the No. 25 Chevrolet, a car that has had a good track record in the past.
  • Matt Kenseth will be back in the same car (chassis RK-317) that finished fourth at Las Vegas last weekend.
  • Ryan Newman has won six of the last eight poles and has led at least one lap in each of his nine starts at AMS.
  • Greg Biffle has the best average driver rating (116.0) in the last four Atlanta races.

    Track Performers
    At 1.54-miles in length, Atlanta Motor Speedway stands out by itself in uniqueness and speed. NASCAR's fastest unrestricted track has seen 11 different winners among the 19 races that have been contested on the new configuration. Bobby Labonte leads all drivers with five wins with Joe Gibbs Racing in that span. Jeff Gordon (3), Carl Edwards (2) and Tony Stewart (2) are the only other multiple winners since 1997. Gordon leads all drivers with 13 top 10's.

    Rookie Report
    None of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates have made a NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With the exception of Juan Pablo Montoya, all of the drivers have made at least on NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start at the track. David Reutimann has had the most success in the trucks at AMS, capturing four top-10 starts including a pole in his first start in 2004 to go along with three top-five finishes. A.J. Allmendinger, who is still seeking his first Cup start, started second and finished 34th in the 2006 fall truck race after crashing on lap 13. David Ragan ran two truck races at AMS, finishing sixth last fall.

    Qualifying Tidbits
    In this event last year, Kasey Kahne went out early in qualifying and posted a fast lap of 192.553 mph denying Ryan Newman of his seventh consecutive pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Newman came close to tying Buddy Baker's Atlanta pole record mark, running the second fastest lap at 192.540 mph driving the 2004 Dodge body style. Newman's starting average of 3.3 leads all active drivers. The last person to win a pole besides Kahne and Newman was Bill Elliott in the 2002 spring race. Qualifying for the 2006 fall race was cancelled due to rain. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Atlanta Winners

    Looking for Speed
    Jeremy Mayfield holds the best average start (16.9) among the drivers required to qualify on time as he attempts to qualify for his first race driving the No. 36 Toyota. Joe Nemechek, who is second in starting average, was the highest qualifying driver among the group in last year's spring race with a lap of 190.922 mph. In last year's fall race, Paul Menard qualified for his first Cup race at AMS while Kenny Wallace was the only driver of the group that was entered in that race that failed to qualify. David Reutimann and AJ Allmendinger have had success qualifying the trucks at Atlanta with Reutimann winning the pole in 2004 and Allmendinger notching the second starting position in the 2006 fall race. 2006 Spring Atlanta Qualifying Results

    Weather for qualifying (7:10 p.m.) as of Thursday March 15 is calling for partly cloudy skies with a temperature of 57°F according to The Weather Channel.

    Atlanta Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2006 season)
  • Greg Biffle is the fastest driver early in a run during the first 25 percent of a green flag run since a pit stop. Biffle's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of 1.6734 leads all active drivers. Jimmie Johnson (1.4975), Mark Martin (1.1048), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1.1006) and Tony Stewart (1.0198) round out the top five.
  • Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson, respectively, hold average running positions of 6.2 and 6.3. They are closely followed by Mark Martin (7.4) and Tony Stewart (7.9).
  • Mark Martin is the fastest driver late in a run since a pit stop. Martin's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of 1.0587 leads all active drivers. Paul Menard (.7710), Greg Biffle (.6935), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (.6002) and Jimmie Johnson (.5803) round out the top five.
  • Mark Martin and Greg Biffle, respectively, have completed 148 and 141 quality passes (Passing a car running in the top 15 while under a green flag).
  • Greg Biffle has the best average Driver Rating at 116.0.

    Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes

    Average: 24.2

    Last Five Number of Cautions Laps

    Average: 38.8

    *RacingOne Staff Picks

    Jeff Wackerlin: Mark Martin
    Pete Pistone: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    Jorge Mondaca: Carl Edwards
    Rachael West: Jamie McMurray

    *Note: Drivers can be selected only one time per season. Race points will be added up each week. This is the first race of the season for this section of the handicaps.

    More Driver Notes

    1. Mark Martin (Points: 495): Mark Martin leads all active drivers with 13 top fives at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In fact, four of his last finishes at the track have resulted in finishes of fourth or better after leading 272 of 924 career laps. Martin's last of two victories at AMS came in the 1994 fall event, and all but four of his 42 track starts have come with Roush Racing. This weekend Martin will make his first start in a Chevrolet at AMS as he prepares to take a scheduled couple races off after Sunday.

    2. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -6): Jeff Gordon has recorded four wins in 29 career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He is first in laps led among active drivers at the track with 1,020. His last two finishes have resulted in his first top-six finishes since winning the 2003 fall race. In the 2005 spring race, Gordon posted his first DNF since 1999 after a lap two accident.

    3. Jeff Burton (Points Behind Leader: -42): Jeff Burton's best finish in five career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Richard Childress Racing came in the 2004 fall race when he placed sixth. Last spring, Burton was forced to pit while running fourth because of a vibration relegating him to a 25th-place finish. Prior to RCR, Burton competed in 20 races at AMS, four with the Stavola Brothers and 16 with Roush Racing, capturing eight top 10s. This weekend's chassis (No. 155) is the same car that Burton finished fourth with at California last month.

    4. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind Leader: -89): In the 2005 fall race, Johnson battled an ill-handling car to finish 16th. The finish was his only outside the top 10 in the last seven events. Johnson's only win came in the 2004 fall race after leading 17 laps. The next race, in the spring of 2005, he led 156 laps en route to a runner-up finish. Johnson continued his success at AMS in 2006 by finishing sixth and second, respectively. This weekend's chassis (No. 359) was tested at Las vegas and was last raced at Texas where it finished second.

    5. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind Leader: -98): Matt Kenseth has competed in 14 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, capturing four top fives and seven top-10 finishes. His best effort is three fourth-place finishes with the most recent coming in October. Kenseth, who has only led one lap at AMS in the last nine races, will be back in the same car (chassis RK-317) that finished fourth at Las Vegas last weekend.

    6. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind Leader: -106): Since winning his first NEXTEL Cup race in the 2001 spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Harvick has gone on to score one more top five, coming in that same season. His only other finish inside the top 20 was a 19th-place finish in the 2003 spring race. Harvick's 39th-place finish in this event last year was one of six finishes of 30th or worse in 12 starts at AMS. This weekend Harvick will race the same chassis (No. 63) that finished 13th last June at Pocono.

    7. Kyle Busch (Points Behind Leader: -113): Prior to his 27th-place finish in the fall last year at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Busch finished 12th in three consecutive races. The trio of 12th-place finishes follows a 43rd-place finish in his debut at the track in 2004 when he piloted the No. 84 for Hendrick Motorsports. In 2005 at AMS, Busch drove the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports Chevrolet to victory in the Truck Series race for his third of four career series wins

    8. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind Leader: -121): Hamlin's best finish in three NEXTEL Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway came in last year's fall race when he came home eighth. Last year in this event, Hamlin started seventh and led 16 laps before handling and pit road issues forced him to a 31st-place finish. This weekend, Hamlin will pilot chassis No. 137 for the second time this season. This car finished 11th in its last outing at California.

    9. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind Leader: -130): Yeley has three NEXTEL Cup starts under his belt at Atlanta Motor Speedway where he posted an average finish of 15.5 in his two starts during his rookie season in 2006.

    10. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind Leader: -153): Sadler, who will make his second track start with Evernham Motorsports, is still in search of his first top-five finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He has three top 10s - most recently two consecutive 10th-place finishes in 2005 - in 16 starts. This weekend Sadler will pilot the same car (chassis No. 129) that finished 16th last fall at Dover.

    11. David Stremme (Points Behind Leader: -156): David Stremme looks to use his solid start in 2007 in hopes of scoring his first top-30 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Last year he finished 33rd and 39th, respectively, which included a crash in the fall race.

    12. David Gilliland (Points Behind Leader: -160): Gilliland finished 15th in his first NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway last fall.

    13. Tony Stewart (Points Behind Leader: -163): With the exception of the 2005 spring race, Stewart has finished in the top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the fall race in 2001. These 10 top-10s, which include five top fives and two wins, 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 will be driving the same car (chassis No. 120) that won the fall Atlanta race last year.

    14. Robby Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -165): Gordon has a 20.2 average finish in 12 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He finished 10th last fall, but then was fined $15,000 and penalized with the loss of 50 driver points after deliberately causing a debris caution in that race.

    15. Ryan Newman (Points Behind Leader: -167): Last spring, Newman came up one position shy of scoring his seventh consecutive pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His 3.3 starting average is the best among all active drivers. In the 2004 spring race, Newman posted his best finish (fifth) at AMS in 10 starts. He has a total of four top-10 finishes and with the exception of last fall's race, he has led in every race for a total of 159 laps. This weekend Newman will race the same car (PRS-71) that earned an eighth-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas.

    16. Greg Biffle (Points Behind Leader: -169): Biffle has finished in the top five twice, most recently in October, and top 10 four times in eight starts at AMS. He has an average finish of 12.0 and has led 286 laps. Despite leading 128 laps last spring at Atlanta, he posted his second-worst finish of 16th at the track. This finish ended a four-race streak of top-10 finishes. In Busch Series competition at the track, Biffle has one win, five top-five and six top-10 finishes in six attempts. His team is bringing a brand new Cup chassis (RK-440) to Atlanta that has only seen action in the wind tunnel.

    17. Carl Edwards (Points Behind Leader: -170): Edwards became the first driver in NASCAR history to win his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and NASCAR Busch Series races on the same weekend in Atlanta in March 2005. He went on to sweep Atlanta that year in the NEXTEL Cup Series, becoming the sixth driver to sweep Atlanta since the track opened in 1960. In this event last year, Edwards finished 40th after an early pit-road collision caused heavy damage to his car. This was his first finish outside the top seven at AMS. The No. 99 team is bringing chassis RK-270, which was last raced at California in February where it finished 29th.

    18. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind Leader: -171): Bowyer holds an average finish of 26.0 in his two starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This weekend he will race a new a DIRECTV NASCAR HotPass paint scheme on chassis No. 152. This car last raced at Texas in May, 2005 where it started 12th, finished 19th.

    20. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind Leader: -187): Nemechek will attempt to make his 27th career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. His best finish with Ginn Racing (seven races) came in the 2004 fall race when he finished fourth. Overall, Nemechek has captured three top fives, seven top 10s and has led six times for 137 laps. He led 57 of those laps en route to his best finish of second (with Hendrick Motorsports) in the 2002 fall race.

    21. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind Leader: -187): Six of Labonte's 21 career wins have come at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Joe Gibbs Racing. 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 led 13 laps before losing an engine, resulting in a 43rd-place finish in his first track start with Petty Enterprises. He finished 12th in the fall.

    23. Kurt Busch (Points Behind Leader: -214): Busch captured his first superspeedway win at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in the 2002 rain-shortened event. In the 2004 fall race, the championship tightened after Busch exited 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 12 overall starts. Busch's only finish of 32nd or better in the last five races at Atlanta came in the 2004 spring race when he came home 12th and last fall when he finished 14th. Busch's AMS debut with Penske Racing last March started off well up until lap 126 when the No. 2 Dodge was booted into the wall. Prior to the incident, Busch qualified ninth and led 22 laps. This weekend Busch will return in the car (chassis PRS-090), nicknamed "Rusty" that won the spring Bristol race in 2006.

    24. Johnny Sauter (Points Behind Leader: -225): Sauter started 39th and finished 30th in his only NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The start came back in 2004 with Richard Childress Racing.

    25. Tony Raines (Points Behind Leader: -231): Raines, who will start his sixth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, hopes to get his first top-15 finish driving a brand new car (chassis No. 018) that Joe Gibbs Racing built.

    26. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind Leader: -239): In his last attempt at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jamie McMurray ended a streak of four top-15 finishes with a 40th-place finish. McMurray, who has yet to lead a lap at AMS, saw his best finish at the track come in the fall of 2005 when he placed sixth with the Ganassi team. Last year in this event, McMurray finished 14th in his first track start with Roush Racing. McMurray will look to score his second consecutive top 10 of the season at AMS driving the same car (chassis RK-428) that competed in Las Vegas last weekend.

    27. Martin Truex, Jr (Points Behind Leader: -245): Truex Jr. has an average finishing position of 33.3 in four starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He finished 19th and 37th, respectively, last year.

    28. Dale Earnhardt Jr (Points Behind Leader: -250): Earnhardt Jr. is working on a string of three straight top five finishes and will make his 16th career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. He visited victory lane in 2004 and has a total of nine top-10 finishes.

    29. Ricky Rudd (Points Behind Leader: -255): In 56 career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Rudd has one victory as well as well as seven top five and 22 top ten finishes. His average finishing position is 17.5. This weekend will mark his seventh start with Robert Yates Racing at the track. His best finish with the team came in 2001 when he finished sixth.

    30. Sterling Marlin (Points Behind Leader: -259): Career start number 45 is on tap for Marlin on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he’s finished in the top five four times with 13 top ten finishes to his credit. He has a 27.0 average finish in his two AMS starts with his current team, Ginn Racing.

    31. Reed Sorenson (Points Behind Leader: -267): Sorenson has three career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a top 10 to his credit.

    32. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind Leader: -267): Jarrett has gone to victory lane once in his 38 career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has eleven top fives and 18 top 10s as well as a pole position to his credit. This weekend will mark his first track start in a Toyota where he hopes not to use a provisional to start the race.

    33. Kyle Petty (Points Behind Leader: -277): Petty will be making his 53rd career Atlanta Cup start Sunday and has two top fives and eleven top 10s to his credit. Petty’s average finishing position is 21.8.

    34. Casey Mears (Points Behind Leader: -279): Mears has struggled in his eight starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with an average finishing position of 23.4. He hopes to turn that luck around by making his first start at the track in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 25, a car that has done fairly well in the past at AMS.

    36. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind Leader: -282): Last year’s spring winner, Kahne will be making his seventh career NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kahne has four top fives and also a pole to his credit.

    38. Scott Riggs (Points Behind Leader: -334): Riggs has one top-10 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in five career starts.

    40. Dave Blaney (Points Behind Leader: -351): Blaney has 14 career NEXTEL Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway and although he does have two top-10 finishes, his average finishing position is just over 23rd. This weekend he will make his first track start in a Toyota.

    41. Brian Vickers (Points Behind Leader: -361): In seven career NEXTEL Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Vickers has two top-10 finishes. He will be looking to qualify his No. 83 Toyota on Friday in hopes of giving the team its first track start.

    43. Ken Schrader (Points Behind Leader: -382): Schrader will make his 46th career NEXTEL Cup Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. He has one win, three top five and eight top-10 finishes to his credit.

    49. Ward Burton (Points Behind Leader: -461): Burton hasn’t made a NEXTEL Cup start at Atlanta Motor Speedway since 2004. Burton’s last top-10 finish came in 2002 and he carries an average finishing position of 15.0 into the weekend.

    50. Michael Waltrip (Points Behind Leader: N/A): If Waltrip makes the field, and that’s a big if these days around MWR, he’ll bring a spotty Atlanta track record into Sunday’s race. His average finish is 21.4.

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