Driver Handicaps: Atlanta
March 6, 2008 | 10:04 P.M. EST
- This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500. To help you make your fantasy racing picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 325-lap event.
- Jimmie Johnson swept both events in 2007.
- Two-time winner Carl Edwards has finished seventh or better in six of his seven starts.
- Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with 14 top 10s on the 1.54-mile configuration.
- Tony Stewart has a 9.4 average finish in his last five starts.
- Atlanta is Dale Earnhardt Jr's best intermediate track on the circuit based on finishing average (12.2).
Keep an Eye on at Atlanta
- Ryan Newman has won seven of the last 10 poles and has scored four top 10s.
- Mark Martin leads all drivers with 22 top 10s at Atlanta.
- Jeff Burton has finished in the top five in his last two Atlanta starts.
- Although it was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, Kyle Busch was fast in last year's test session at Atlanta with Joe Gibbs Racing.
- Kasey Kahne has finished in the top 10 in five of his eight Atlanta starts.
- Greg Biffle will be driving a car similar to his Las Vegas chassis, which finished third.
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 in the 21 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), Jimmie Johnson (3), Carl Edwards (2) and Tony Stewart (2) are the only other multiple winners since 1997. Gordon leads all drivers with 13 top 10s while Stewart is tops in laps led at 790.
Atlanta Rookie Report
None of the four contending rookie of the year candidates have made a Sprint Cup start at AMS. Three, however, did participate in COT testing there in October last year. Regan Smith led the rookies during the two-day test with a fastest speed of 184.321 mph. Patrick Carpentier posted a best lap speed of 182.832 mph and Dario Franchitti's best was 182.075 mph. All three were quickest in the morning of the second day of testing. Sam Hornish Jr. didn't participate in the test but has made one Nationwide Series start at the 1.54-mile track. He started fifth and finished 15th in the race last year. Smith has made four starts at Atlanta, two each in the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series. His best finish there (18th) came in last year's Truck race. Since 2001, one or more rookies have finished in the top 10 in the Atlanta Spring race. Rookie Standings
Ryan Newman knows his way around Atlanta Motor Speedway when it comes to qualifying. Newman is tied with Buddy Baker for the most poles at Atlanta, seven. He won six straight poles there from 2003 to 2005 and took his seventh pole position there at this race last year. In 12 starts, he's only started the race once outside the top 10, and that was because qualifying was rained out. Despite Newman's success in qualifying at AMS though, the qualifying speed record belongs to Geoffrey Bodine who set the record speed of 197.478 mph in November, 1997. More recently, Greg Biffle (Fall 2007) and Kasey Kahne (Spring 2006) have been the only drivers, besides Newman, to win poles at AMS since the 2002 race. Kahne won the 2006 race from the pole. The pole position has produced the most race winners of any starting position at AMS. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Las Vegas Winners
Atlanta Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2007)
*Fastest Early in a Run*Fastest Late in a RunAvg. Running Position1. Jimmie Johnson1. Mark Martin1. Jimmie Johnson - 5.72. Greg Biffle2. Jimmie Johnson2. Greg Biffle - 9.43. Dale Earnhardt Jr.3. Martin Truex Jr.3. Tony Stewart - 10.24. Tony Stewart4. Matt Kenseth4. Jeff Burton - 11.45. Matt Kenseth5. Greg Biffle5. Carl Edwards - 11.7Laps in Top 15*Quality Passes*Driver Rating1. Jimmie Johnson - 18301. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 2101. Jimmie Johnson - 118.22. Greg Biffle - 16512. Jeff Gordon - 2022. Tony Stewart - 104.23. Carl Edwards - 16063. Carl Edwards - 2003. Greg Biffle - 103.54. Tony Stewart - 16004. Matt Kenseth - 1964. Carl Edwards - 102.85. Mark Martin - 15555. Mark Martin - 1935. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 100.2
*Fastest Early In a Run: Ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Fastest Late In a Run: Ranks each driver during last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Quality Passes: Passing a car running in the Top 15 while under a green flag.
*Driver Rating : Formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.
RacingOne Staff Picks
Jeff Wackerlin: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior looks to put all of Hendrick's early issue to rest and become the next Hendrick driver to conquer AMS.
Pete Pistone: Greg Biffle - Biffle was strong in testing at AMS in October and redeem himself from his 2007 disappointments at AMS.
Rachael West: Jeff Burton - Burton has a head of steam behind him heading into AMS this weekend and will capitalize on the team's success there last year to win his first race there.
Kym Opalenik: Tony Stewart - After hitting the wall twice last week, Stewart is ready to bounce back and climb the fence for the first time this season.
Additional Driver Notes - Ordered by Current Standings
Kyle Busch: 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. Last year he finished 32nd and 20th, respectively, to drop his finishing average to 22.6. Last October, Busch had the overall fastest lap of the two-day Atlanta test with a lap of 187.095 mph in a Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet. This weekend will mark his first track start in a Toyota.
Ryan Newman: Newman holds the best starting average among all drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 3.6 in 12 starts. His only start outside the top six came in the 2006 fall race when he started 17th. Last spring Newman rebounded to score his seventh pole at AMS. In the 2004 spring race, Newman posted his best finish, and fourth top 10, after he came home fifth. The last three races have marked the only events at Atlanta where Newman did not lead a lap. This weekend Newman will race the same car (PRS-519) that was tested at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last season.
Kasey Kahne: Since winning the 2006 spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kahne has gone on to post an average finish of 28.7 in his last three starts. Prior to finishing 35th in the 2005 fall race, Kahne posted three consecutive top fives at AMS.
Kevin Harvick: Since winning his first NASCAR Sprint 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 finishes inside the top 20 was a 19th-place finish in the 2003 spring race and a 15th in the 2007 fall race. Harvick's 25th-place finish in this event last year is one of seven finishes of 25th or worse in 14 starts at AMS. This weekend Harvick will race the same chassis (No. 238) that finished eighth at California two weeks ago.
Greg Biffle: Biffle has finished in the top five twice and the top 10 five times at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His last top five came in the 2006 fall race when he finished fifth. Overall, Biffle has an average finish of 15.9 and has led 287 laps. Despite leading 128 laps in the 2006 spring race, Biffle went on to take the checkered flag in 16th. That finish ended a four-race streak of top-10 finishes. Last spring's 41st-place finish marked Biffle's worst in 10 starts at AMS. This weekend Biffle will be driving a new car (chassis No. RK-603) that is very similar to the car he finished third with at Las Vegas.
Jeff Burton: Burton's best finish in seven career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Richard Childress Racing came in this event last year when he finished fourth. The finish was his fourth top 10 with RCR at Atlanta, which includes a fifth-place finish last fall. Burton had a shot for another in the 2006 spring race when he 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 Fenway Racing, capturing eight top 10s. This weekend Burton will pilot a new chassis (No. 236) in the Kobalt Tools 500.
Carl Edwards: Edwards became the first driver in NASCAR history to win his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races on the same weekend in Atlanta in March 2005. He went on to sweep Atlanta that year in the Cup Series, becoming the sixth of seven drivers to sweep Atlanta since the track opened in 1960. In the 2006 spring race Edwards finished 40th after an early pit-road collision caused heavy damage to his car. The finish is his only outside the top seven at AMS. This weekend the No. 99 team is bringing a brand new chassis (No. RK-558) to the track.
Martin Truex Jr: Truex Jr's only top 10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway came in this event last year when he finished eighth. Four of his six starts resulted in finishes of 31st or worse when crashes and one mechanical failure took him out of contention. Last fall he led his first laps at AMS for a total of 135 up until a crash on lap 322 of 329.
Elliott Sadler: Sadler has competed in 18 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has finished in the top 10 three times. All of his top 10s came with Robert Yates Racing. Sadler has made three starts with his current team, Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, and has posted an average finish of 17.7. This weekend he will be piloting the same chassis (No. 124) that finished 40th at Martinsville last fall.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: Earnhardt Jr. ended a streak of three consecutive top fives at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 14th and 25th-place finish in 2007. His best finish, and one of nine top 10s, was a win in the 2004 spring race. This weekend will mark Earnhardt Jr's first track start with Hendrick Motorsports and he will return in the same car (chassis No. 483) that he tested at AMS last fall. The test session marked Junior's first official outing with Hendrick Motorsports after signing with the team in June.
Tony Stewart: Stewart has finished in the top 10 in 11 of the last 13 events at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The top 10s, which include seven top fives and two wins, are his only at the 1.54-mile oval. Stewart, who finished second in this event last year, will be driving the same car (chassis No. 203) that finished seventh at California.
Kurt Busch: Busch captured his first career win on a track one mile or more in length 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 14 starts. This weekend will mark Busch's fifth track start with Penske Racing. Last fall he captured his first top 10 with the team with an eighth-place finish. Busch will debut a new chassis (No. PSC-554) in the Kobalt Tools 500. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is coming off his third career win at Atlana Motor Speedway after sweeping the season in 2007. 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 nine events. Johnson's first 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. 48480) is a brand new car, with the backup being the chassis that finished second at California.
Bobby Labonte: 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. The 2006 spring race marked Labonte's first track start with Petty Enterprises. In that event Labonte led 13 laps before losing an engine, resulting in a 43rd-place finish. In the last two races he has finished 12th, 16th and 41st, respectively.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has competed in 16 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, capturing six top fives and nine top-10 finishes. Last year in this event, Kenseth scored his best finish at AMS in third. Kenseth, who has posted an average finish of 3.7 in the last three Atlanta races , will be racing a new chassis (No. RK-564) in the Kobalt Tools 500.
Mark Martin: Martin leads all active drivers with 22 top 10s at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Martin's last of two victories at AMS came in the 1994 fall event, and all but six of his 44 track starts have come with Roush Fenway Racing. His last two starts at Atlanta driving the U.S. Army Chevrolet have resulted in an average finish of 26.5.
Reed Sorenson: Last Fall Sorenson recorded his career-best Sprint Cup finish, in third, at his hometrack - Atlanta Motor Speedway. Overall, Sorenson has made five starts at AMS, posting three top 10s and an average finish of 18.4.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's best finish in five Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway came in the 2006 fall race when he came home eighth. In the 2006 spring event, Hamlin started seventh and led 16 laps before handling and pit road issues forced him to his worst finish, in 31st. Last spring he finished 19th for the second time at AMS. This weekend Hamlin will make his Atlanta debut in a Toyota and chassis No. 189.
Jeff Gordon: Jeff Gordon has recorded four wins in 31 career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He is also first in laps led among active drivers at the track with 1,050. Gordon, who last won at Atlanta in the fall of 2003, has posted an average finish of 6.2 in his last five starts at the track. In the 2005 spring race, Gordon posted his first DNF since 1999 after a lap two accident.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer lowered his finishing average at Atlanta Motor Speedway from 26.0 to 16.0 after finishing sixth in both races in 2007. This weekend Bowyer will be racing the same car (chassis No. 237) that finished 19th two weeks ago at California Speedway.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya captured his first of three career Sprint Cup top fives last spring at Atlanta Motor Speedway after finishing fifth. In the fall race, Montoya blew a tire early and settled for a 34th-place finish.
Paul Menard: Atlanta Motor Speedway is the site of Menard's only top 10 in 42 races in the Sprint Cup Series. His seventh-place finish came in his first of seven starts at AMS.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has posted an average finish of 23.5 in his four races with Roush Fenway Racing McMurray at Atlanta Motor Speedway. All three of his top 10s at the track have come with Chip Ganassi racing. This weekend he will be making his 12 start at AMS driving the same car (chassis No. RK-462) that finished ninth at Martinsville last spring.
Casey Mears: Mears has struggled in his 10 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway with an average finishing position of 22.7. His best finish came last fall, in his second track start with Hendrick Motorsports, when he finished 12th. This weekend Mears will be debuting a new chassis (No. 468) in the Kobalt Tools 500.
Who's HOT at Atlanta