The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship has hit critical juncture as eight drivers are separated by just 89 points entering Atlanta Motor Speedway's Pep Boys Auto 500, the penultimate race preceding the Chase.
Of the eight drivers fighting for the final six positions in the 12-driver Chase, each is certainly of the caliber to make the postseason and most have remarkably-strong histories at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Among those vying for the final Chase positions, three have wins at Atlanta - Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin - but only Martin has more than one (1991 Hardee's 500 and 1994 Hooters 500). Ryan Newman is tied for the most pole wins in Atlanta Motor Speedway with seven, while Matt Kenseth has nearly as many top-10 finishes in Atlanta as he has starts (11-in-19 AMS appearances).
Below are the drivers on the Chase bubble and their history at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
7. Ryan Newman, 2995 points
Newman has a storied history of Sprint Cup qualifying success at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but this has rarely translated to success over 500 miles. Newman is tied for a record seven pole wins at Atlanta, but has posted just one top-five finish and only three top-10s in 15 Sprint Cup races at Atlanta. Newman has a career-average finish of 19th in Atlanta.
8. Greg Biffle, 2986 points
With a career-average finish of 16th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Biffle may not be your top pick for the Pep Boys Auto 500. But keep this in mind that Biffle has posted at least one top-10 finish at Atlanta each year dating back to 2004. He finished 34th in March's Kobalt Tools 500, which begs the question; ‘Will Biffle claim his 2009 top-10 in Atlanta in the Pep Boys Auto 500?'
9. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2975 points
Juan Pablo Montoya has just one top-five finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in five starts and an average finish of 24th, worst among the Chase contenders. However, Montoya's numbers more reflect poor luck than poor driving. Montoya has often looked electric at Atlanta Motor Speedway, running the high line to perfection where drivers can often get the best surge for a fantastic finish.
10. Mark Martin, 2971 points
Martin has two-career wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the most among Chase contenders. Considering his three night race wins in 2009 and pole win at Atlanta in March, Martin will enter the Pep Boys Auto 500 as a favorite. Martin has posted four top-five finishes in Atlanta since 2004.
11. Kasey Kahne, 2963 points
Kahne is one of three Chase contenders with a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but has an average finish of 21st in 11 Atlanta races. Kahne has three-career top-five finishes in Atlanta and posted a seventh place showing in March's Kobalt Tools 500.
12. Matt Kenseth, 2945 points
Kenseth is remarkably consistent at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has posted 11 top-10 finishes at the track in just 19 starts. Despite being winless at Atlanta, Kenseth has finished third on one occasion and has posted four fourth-place finishes. He has an average-career finish of 14th in Atlanta.
13. Kyle Busch, 2911 points
Sitting 39 points behind the final spot in the Chase, Busch is returning to a track where he has had success and is one of three Chase chasers with a win. In addition to his Sprint Cup win at AMS, Busch has four Camping World Truck Series wins in Atlanta. Despite having a career-average finish of 18th in Sprint Cup races at AMS, Busch has an average finish of 8th in his last three races in Atlanta, including his one win.
14. Brian Vickers, 2906 points
Only five points behind Busch and 44 behind the final Chase position, Atlanta is a critical race for Vickers. With a career-average finish of 19th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, fans might be down on Vickers' chances. But upon a closer look at the record book, one might note that Vickers has an average finish of 9th in his last five races in Atlanta and has finished in the top-10 in one third of his AMS starts (four-of-12).