That's Atlanta Motor Speedway and Saturday's EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 that marks the return of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to the scene of March's closest superspeedway finish in series history.
Ron Hornaday Jr. pushed the nose of his No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet just far enough ahead of the bumper of Bobby Labonte's No. 47 Econo Lodge/Rodeway Inn Chevrolet to win by .008-second.
"It was awesome," said Hornaday, recalling his 27th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory. "We even made a little contact right before we crossed the stripe.
"The fans had to enjoy it."
And oh, by the way, last year's edition of the EasyCare 200 was decided in the final turn of the last lap around the 1.54-mile track.
Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) took the white flag in the lead, lost the advantage to Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge) on the backstretch and spun backwards across the start-finish stripe after his low-groove challenge wasn't quite successful.
"It's the best side-by-side racing you'll ever see," said Skinner of competition at Atlanta and on the series. "We see it every week."
Labonte, who captured his first series victory a few weeks later at Martinsville Speedway, said there's a simple explanation for Atlanta's tight competition.
"Atlanta creates great racing because of the fact you have multiple groove racing," said the former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion. "You can run high or low and that is what really does it. There is grip in both grooves so it doesn't seem to matter as long as your car or truck works in one or both of them."
Hamilton concurs - although he still can't believe he won the series debut at Atlanta in March 2004.
"I didn't ever expect to win the race when he got by me," Hamilton said of Skinner's pass for the lead on Lap 126 of an eventual 133. "There's a huge draft there - the closest thing to Daytona."
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES NEWS AND NOTES - ATLANTA
Expect to see a competitor with the experience level of a Hornaday, Skinner, Hamilton and Labonte battling at the front of the pack when the checkered flag flies late Saturday afternoon.
"A veteran knows what the feel of the draft is and how and when to take advantage of it," said Hamilton, a winner earlier this year at Daytona. ***
Two months ago, Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge) figured his chances of winning the 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title were pretty close to nil. Following his fourth victory of the season, Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Z71 Silverado Chevrolet) owned a huge, 227-point lead exiting Indianapolis Raceway Park.
On Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, on an afternoon Musgrave finished fourth and Setzer 19th, the points battle rotated full circle.
Musgrave regained the championship lead he lost on June 18 in Michigan and heads to Atlanta with a 54-point advantage.
Surprise might be an understatement.
"After Indy, it was like 'engrave the trophy and give it to him,'" said Musgrave.
But the 49-year-old veteran told his Ultra Motorsports team that the season wasn't over.
"I've got a lot of faith in these guys and we weren't completely down and out," said Musgrave. "We just wanted to keep working real hard. It's very seldom that a driver gets good luck all year long and we still had the capability to come back."
With six consecutive top-six finishes and an assist by Setzer's sour fortunes, Musgrave did exactly that.
Said Setzer, who's had but a single top-10 finish since Indianapolis: "We've been having some tough luck this fall and we can't get out from under it. Maybe it's going to be better to be the chaser in these last four races."
NEWS & NOTES, PART II
Ø Craven's Martinsville win ties the record … With his first series victory, Ricky Craven (No. 99 Superchips Ford) became the record-matching 14th different winner of the 2005 season. Craven, the eighth different Roush Racing driver to win on the series, gave Jack Roush his 37th career victory and undisputed possession of the top spot among series owners. With Raybestos Rookie leader Todd Kluever (No. 50 World Financial Group Ford) finishing second, Roush Racing nabbed its first one-two placing since October 2003 when Jon Wood and Carl Edwards swept Martinsville's Kroger 200. Craven is the 15th different driver to win in all three of NASCAR's national series.
Ø ETC. … Raybestos Rookie Timothy Peters (No. 4 Bailey's Dodge) at Martinsville became the record, 36th different driver to lead a series race. The old mark was set last season. … How competitive is the series in 2005? Consider that nine of the top 10 championship positions changed at Martinsville - and that after 21 races in the books. … England's John Mickel will make his NASCAR debut at Atlanta on Saturday behind the wheel of the No. 05 dsi nexdox/Dodman Group/RS Capp Dodge prepared by Bobby Hamilton Racing. Mickel, from Cambridge, is a former World Legends Car champion and European stock car competitor. … A victory or second-place finish at Atlanta - if a Toyota does not win - will give Chevrolet its sixth NASCAR Craftsman Truck manufacturer title. … The 27 lead lap finishers in Saturday's Kroger 200 matched the series record. … 2002 series champion Mike Bliss will be back in the No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet at Atlanta. He won the title for the same Xpress Motorsports team.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Ø Hamilton seeks trifecta this week … Hamilton is the only driver to have finished among the top five in each of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' visits to Atlanta Motor Speedway. He followed last year's victory with a third-place finish in March's World Financial Group 200. Hamilton and Musgrave, among entered drivers, are perfect in top-10 finishes.
Next Event: EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200. (Race No. 22 of 25).
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway (Hampton, Ga.).
When: 3:15 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 29.
Track layout: 1.54-mile banked paved oval.
Race length: 200.2 miles/130 laps.
Posted awards: $506,529.
TV: SPEED Channel, 3 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2004 winner: Bobby Hamilton.
2004 polesitter: David Reutimann.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday - Practice 2:35 p.m. - 3:35 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday - Qualifying 11:30 a.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.
Top 10 drivers: 1. Ted Musgrave 3,037. 2. Dennis Setzer 2,983. 3. Ron Hornaday Jr. 2,815. 4. Todd Bodine 2,727. 5. Bobby Hamilton 2,698. 6. Mike Skinner 2,691.7. Jimmy Spencer 2,675. 8. Matt Crafton 2,610. 9. David Starr 2,607. Ricky Craven 2,566.