As expected, the list of drivers reads like a who's who of motorsports with names like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon topping the list, but second year drivers Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have their eyes on the title and hope to become the first driver since Dale Earnhardt to win a Cup championship in only their second year of competition. With the depth of talent, two additional drivers in the 2007 Chase and the slate being wiped clean for the start of the 10-race shoot-out, it is anyone's Cup to claim.
One important Atlanta Motor Speedway statistic all Chase contenders need to consider is in the last 10 fall races at AMS, Cup champions have combined to have an average finish of 10th. Kurt Busch recovered from a blown engine and a finish of 42nd in 2004 to claim the title and Jeff Gordon notched a 17th-place finish and still won the championship in 1997. Other than those two races, a champion has never finished worse than 11th at AMS in the fall.
Below is a look at the 12 contenders for the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and their history at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
1. Jimmie Johnson
No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Coming off of a victory in March 2007, Johnson brings momentum to Atlanta as well as eight top-10 and seven top-five finishes. The 2007 NEXTEL Cup champion also has two wins to his credit at AMS.
(Average finish at AMS: 11th in 12 starts).
2. Jeff Gordon
No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
With 19 top-10, 12 top-five finishes and four victories at AMS, on paper Gordon is an immediate favorite heading into the October 28 Pep Boys Auto 500. Gordon's most recent visit to AMS resulted in a 12th-place finish. Logging more than 8,500 competition laps at AMS, Gordon will be in excellent shape to add another check in the win column of his résumé when he returns to AMS. The four-time Cup champion made his first NEXTEL Cup Series start at Atlanta in this event in 1992, finishing 31st.
(Average finish at AMS: 13th in 30 starts).
3. Tony Stewart
No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Tony Stewart became the first defending Cup champion to not make the Chase the next season when he missed the Chase last year. Stewart is back in 2007 and ready to add a third Cup championship to his long list of accomplishments. Stewart won the Atlanta race in the fall of 2006 and finished second behind Jimmie Johnson in March 2007. Stewart has notched three wins and 11 top-10 finishes at NASCAR's fastest track.
(Average finish at AMS: 11th in 18 starts).
4. Carl Edwards
No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion
Carl Edwards charged out of the gate in 2005 claiming victories in both the Busch and Cup series races at AMS on consecutive days. Edwards followed that up with a victory in the fall race at AMS. Since that strong start, Edwards has cooled off a bit, but did record a top-10 finish in the March 2007 race at AMS.
(Average finish at AMS: 10th in six starts).
5. Kurt Busch
No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger
The 2004 Cup Series champion has recorded a win at AMS as well as a top-10 finish, but with an average finish of 22nd in 13 starts, Busch will need to step his performance up if he wishes to add another NEXTEL Cup trophy to his case.
(Average finish at AMS: 22nd in 13 starts).
6. Denny Hamlin
No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Making the 2006 Chase as a rookie, this will be Hamlin's second consecutive Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. Hamlin brings to AMS a best finish of eighth, his lone top-10.
(Average finish at AMS: 19th in four starts).
7. Martin Truex Jr.
No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Like Bowyer and Hamlin, Truex comes to AMS with a limited number of starts and not a lot of good finishes, but in his most recent AMS start, Truex earned a finish of eighth, his best AMS finish in his young career. Truex did record a victory in the October 2006 Crown Royal International Race of Champions event at AMS.
(Average finish at AMS: 28th in five starts).
8. Matt Kenseth
No. 17 DEWalt Ford Fusion
With 15 starts at AMS, Kenseth has recorded eight top-10 and five top-five finishes. Finishing third in March at AMS, Kenseth is still searching for his first win. Changes in the weather don't bother Kenseth as he has been equally successful in both the fall and spring races, with four top-10 finishes in each.
(Average finish at AMS: 16th in 15 starts).
9. Kyle Busch
No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Busch is the only driver in the Chase without a top-10 finish at AMS. With only six starts, Busch has recorded three 12th-place finishes but has a finish of 43rd in his inaugural start as well as a 32nd-place finish in the spring of 2007. Busch does have a victory in the 2005 EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 Craftsman Truck race at AMS.
(Average finish at AMS: 23rd in six starts).
10. Jeff Burton
No. 31 AT&T Wireless Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
AMS has not been the kindest track to the South Boston, Va. native, especially in the fall. Burton's best fall race finish of fourth came nearly a decade ago in 1998. With 10 top-10s and five top-five finishes in 24 Cup starts, as well as back-to-back Nicorette 300 Busch Series victories, Burton has experienced some success at AMS.
(Average finish at AMS: 17th in 26 starts).
11. Kevin Harvick
No. 29 Shell / Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
The driver of the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has two top-five finishes, one of which was a victory in his first AMS start in the spring of 2001. His most recent trip to AMS brought him a finish of 25th, and apart from the win and a third-place finish in his first two races, Harvick's best finish is 19th.
(Average finish at AMS: 25th in 13 starts).
12. Clint Bowyer
No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Bowyer has just three starts at AMS, but did post a sixth-place finish in the March 2007 Kobalt Tools 500. Bowyer is the only driver in the Chase to go winless so far in 2007. No driver has ever won the Cup title without scoring at least one win during the season.
(Average finish at AMS: 19th in 3 starts).
"The Pep Boys Auto 500 really plays a pivotal role in shaping the closing events of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup," said Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark. "When the teams leave Atlanta, some will be long shots and a few remaining teams will be set to make an all out stretch run for the 2007 championship."
For information on these ticket specials and more, fans can contact the AMS ticket office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211, at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com or at an authorized Ticketmaster retail outlet.