Atlanta Motor Speedway is the best track in NASCAR. Just ask the drivers.

Sports Illustrated did just that, anonymously polling 36 NASCAR drivers. Results published in the Feb. 21 issue put Atlanta Motor Speedway at the top of the chart for favorite track, with 27 percent of the vote. Daytona (20 percent) and Bristol (17 percent) followed.

¿Drivers love Atlanta for one reason: speed,¿ Sports Illustrated writes. ¿The 1.54-mile oval is the fastest track on the circuit, and its long, wide straightaways create plenty of side-by-side racing. ¿ Add it all up, and Atlanta usually produces heart-pounding, outrageously fast races, which is why most drivers (and fans) relish a trip to the Capital of the South.¿

None of this is any surprise to Ed Clark, President and General Manager at AMS since 1995. He¿s seen the photo finishes, the four-wide racing, the ultra-fast speeds. In fact, the only thing that surprises Clark is that Atlanta this honor wasn¿t bestowed long ago.

¿Our fans know that there isn¿t a bad seat in the house here, and that when they come, they are going to see some of the fastest and most competitive racing of the whole year,¿ Clark said. ¿The great thing is, what makes a great show for the fans also makes a great race for the drivers. They like going fast ¿ they¿re race car drivers. They like running side-by-side at 200 mph. And the fans love to watch it.¿

Atlanta Motor Speedway has held the distinction of being the fastest track in NASCAR since its reconfiguration during the summer of 1997.

 During the first qualifying event following reconstruction, Geoffrey Bodine blazed a lap around the smooth, wide lanes of Atlanta¿s new quad-oval raceway in just 28.074 seconds, or 197.478 mph.

Since then, speeds have slowed down slightly ¿ in the low 190-mph range ¿ but are still faster than other 1.5-mile NASCAR tracks. In addition to being ultra-fast, the track has widened into a three-groove race track, producing two fantastic side-by-side photo finishes in the past few years. In fact, AMS even adopted a new slogan last year to remind fans just what the speedway was all about: Real Racing. Real Fast.

¿I love this race track,¿ defending Golden Corral 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ¿You can move around so much. It¿s the best race track we run at, and through the race it seems like you always get a real close three- or four-car battle going, and they¿re always right there at the end. I love it. Whether I¿m first or 20th, I¿m having fun. I wish they could build a lot more of ¿em like this. It¿s always fun here.¿

Earnhardt Jr. will be back at his favorite track next month to defend his title in the March 18-20 Golden Corral 500. Great seats are still available and start at $30. For more information contact Ticketmaster or the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.