Chevrolet Dominance At Atlanta Motor Speedway Will Be Key During Chase for NEXTEL Cup
Friday, September 24, 2004
Roush Racing has scheduled a critical testing session for Monday, Oct. 17, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. You can bet all of the Ford teams will show up, and the Dodge teams may beg to join in.
That¿s because only two Fords ¿ and no Dodges ¿ have visited Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the last 10 years. Kurt Busch and Dale Jarrett are the only Ford drivers to interrupt General Motors¿ dominance at the track, with Busch winning a rain-shortened fall race in 2002 and Jarrett earning the fall 1997 win.
Over the last 19 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, General Motors has dominated the top spot, winning 17 times with 7 drivers.
Twelve of those wins went to Chevrolet, five to Pontiac with current Chevy drivers Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte.
The potent stable of drivers includes four competing in the new Chase for the NEXTEL Cup: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart.
Suddenly, the Oct. 31 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta takes on a whole new importance. Should the Chevy drivers shut out the other manufacturers again, it will have huge implications for the championship.
¿The key to winning the NEXTEL Cup isn¿t just to do well at the tracks where you usually perform well,¿ said Ed Clark, president and general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway. ¿The key is to do well at the tracks where you usually don't do well. That¿s why testing here in Atlanta will be absolutely critical for the Ford and Dodge teams. A great run in the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 is crucial for any team hoping to take home the NEXTEL Cup trophy.¿
With only three races remaining after the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, though, a quality performance at Atlanta is a must for every contender ¿ and they will all be feeling the pressure.
¿It¿s no-mistakes racing time,¿ fellow Chase driver Matt Kenseth said. ¿Our ultimate goal is to go out and defend our championship from last year, but that¿s the same goal of the nine other teams out there in the Chase right now. We have to break it down to a week-by-week goal, and that's to go out and get the best finishes we possibly can over the next 10 weeks.¿
For the Ford and Dodge drivers, that will mean overcoming history at Atlanta.
Gordon, a four-time winner at Atlanta and the defending Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 winner, will certainly be a favorite to up Chevy¿s win streak and gun for his fifth NASCAR championship. One of the best drivers in history at Atlanta, Gordon has finished outside of the top 10 just once in the last 10 races at AMS
Right behind him will be Stewart, who ¿ after a slow start at Atlanta ¿ hasn¿t finished outside the top 10 in his last six races. Another strong Atlanta performance will only strengthen his bid for the championship.
Then there¿s Earnhardt Jr., who just won his first race at Atlanta in the spring Golden Corral 500. He¿s always liked the speeds and the high banks of AMS, but now his results are reflecting that. A sweep of Atlanta could position him for his first NASCAR title.
Finally, there¿s Johnson, who¿s experienced the most highs and lows of any Chevy driver in the Chase. Johnson has finished in the top 10 three times; his other three finishes have been 22nd or worse. To be a factor in the championship, Johnson will need gain some consistency at this fast track.
But in the end, all four of these drivers have something going for them that the other six Chase drivers don¿t: They drive Chevrolets.