Earlier this season, the thought of Tony Stewart contending for the lead in the Chase for the Championship seemed off-base. Sure, the two-time champion is one of the sport's top drivers and certainly knows how to win. But as the season entered late August, Stewart hardly had the look of a championship contender.
In fact, with the way Stewart's season was going at the time - two top five finishes prior to the month of September - some projections didn't rule out the chances of him missing the Chase all together, and Stewart even suggested that if his team were to be in the Chase, he questioned if it'd even be able to contend for a title.
That all changed at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day Weekend. Stewart was a factor during most of the AdvoCare 500, eventually finishing third behind Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. That finish gave Stewart a spark, and it has since propelled him to his first two wins of the season to start the Chase.
Now, Stewart finds himself just nine points out of the lead in the Chase, a position which he finds himself in partially due to one of the No. 14 team's best showings which came at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day Weekend.
Stewart's not the only driver using a showing at Atlanta to give his team a strong nudge. Of the top-five finishers in the AdvoCare 500, four of them are currently in the top five among all Chase drivers. Carl Edwards, who finished fifth on Labor Day Weekend in addition to winning the Sept. 3 Great Clips 300, is currently tied for the points lead with Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson, who finished second to Jeff Gordon in the AdvoCare 500 is fifth in the standings, just 13 points shy of first place. Kurt Busch, who won a Dover in the most recent race, finished fourth in the AdvoCare 500.
Race weekend may have past at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the impact of the AdvoCare 500 appears to be playing a sizable factor in determining this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.