The last time it happened was 1985 when "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" made it a clean sweep at Atlanta Motor Speedway's two NASCAR Sprint Cup events. Since Elliott in '85, not a single Georgia-born driver has won at Atlanta Motor Speedway over the course of 23 years.
But that drought may soon be over.
With local NASCAR upstarts David Ragan and Reed Sorenson already established in the sport, plus a wily veteran running a part-time schedule in Elliott, Atlanta Motor Speedway has a fair chance to see a local driver win in Atlanta. When you include a transplanted rookie who calls Atlanta Motor Speedway home in Joey Logano, Georgia has the second highest number of active Sprint Cup drivers from any state with four, second to only California (seven).
Logano, Ragan and Sorenson all made names for themselves racing Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway as youths. Now, all three sit in a driver's seat in NASCAR's top tier and represent an infusion of youth into a sport where success is often afforded to the most experienced, like Elliott. With four local drivers geared up for 2009, Georgia-racing fans can only hope a hometown hero will find their way to the winner's circle following the Kobalt Tools 500 on March 8.
Below is a brief preview of each driver for the 2009 season:
Nicknamed "Sliced Bread" by the two-time NASCAR Nationwide champion Randy Lajoie and called the "real deal" by Mark Martin, Joey Logano faces immense expectations in his first full Sprint Cup season. However, the 18-year old has never failed to meet expectations at any level, including his days in Bandolero and Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway where he still holds the record of 14-consecutive feature wins.
In addition to his natural ability, Logano takes over a talented team with the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car and has a championship crew chief in Greg Zipadelli.
"Joey's going to experience a lot of new things," said Ragan. "He'll be seeing a lot of things and tracks for the first time. But, he's a quick learner and he's certainly got a good team and a great crew chief behind him, so his learning curve will be short, but he'll absolutely experience some things he's never seen before."
With a second-full year under his belt and barely missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup by just one position in 2008, most pundits expect David Ragan to compete to make the Chase in 2009.
Yet to have a truly successful finish at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ragan has already proved he can compete with the big boys: Ragan posted five top-10 finishes during the 2008 Chase, including a third-place and two eighth-place finishes.
"I think David Ragan has the opportunity and integrity to be a big surprise," Mark Martin recently told NASCAR Illustrated. "He is a really fine young man, but somewhat overlooked. When he manages to start making some real noise on the race track, that will change."
Moving from Chip Ganassi Racing to Gillett Evernham, only to see that organization merged into Richard Petty Motorsports, Reed Sorenson faces the challenge of being a young driver with a new team in 2009. However, the youthful driver has an unparalleled mentor in his corner - the King, seven-time champion Richard Petty.
Now driving the King's famed No. 43, Sorenson is aware he faces enhanced pressure.
"I guess the pressure is to get [the No. 43 car] back in victory lane," said Sorenson. "I think that's going to be the biggest pressure point on that. Once everybody on our team found out that we were going to be the 43, you could kind of tell in their eyes that it was something different than most of the other numbers that we could have had."
Sorenson also knows that meeting winning expectations with a new team will require patience and determination.
"This season is going to be good, but there are a lot of unknowns with the testing ban and not being able to test at a lot of these tracks," explained Sorenson. "We are kind of going in blind with me being a new driver with a new team. It hurts us not being able to go test at these tracks, so we are just hoping California and Vegas go well and that way, once we get to Atlanta, we will know what we have. But it's definitely going to be a challenge the first few races."
Running a partial schedule of 12 races in 2009, Bill Elliott will return to Atlanta Motor Speedway for both race dates this season, beginning with March's Kobalt Tools 500. The 1988 NASCAR champion still maintains a semi-retired status, but has run 20 races each of the last two seasons.
Wood Brothers Racing, once one of the premier teams in NASCAR when David Pearson and Cale Yarborough made a habit of taking checkered flags, is using the shortened schedule to restructure their team for future viability. Elliott understands the reasoning and the importance of Wood Brothers Racing to NASCAR.
"Len and Eddie [Wood] are trying to back up and regroup because they know they can someday be a competitive team again," Elliott said. "They're just getting back to what they know they can do given what they have. And they need to be part of this sport because of what they've brought to it through the years."
Making the Wood Brothers long-term goals for success look much more immediate, Elliott turned heads in practice and qualifying for the Daytona 500. After running the fastest practice times at Daytona on Saturday, Elliott went out and ran the fifth-fastest qualifying speed (187.739 mph) on Sunday and the fastest among drivers not locked in to the race.
To see Elliott and these hometown heroes run when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the March 8 Kobalt Tools 500, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at 877-9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849) or 770-946-4211, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com, or contact your local Ticketmaster retailer.