The Sprint Summer Showdown was introduced earlier this summer as a way to up the level of competition for the five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events leading up to Atlanta Motor Speedway's Sept. 4 AdvoCare 500. So far it is working.
Two of the first three events saw first-time Sprint Cup winners and the third was won by a driver who overcame tremendous pain from a hard practice crash earlier that week.
Beginning at Indianapolis, upset winner Paul Menard earned the right to kiss the bricks in a stunningly popular victory. The win was Menard's first of his Sprint Cup career, and served as a reward to team owner Richard Childress, who added a fourth team for Menard this season.
Last week at Pocono, Brad Keselowski played hurt, which earned the respect of many in the garage area. But Keselowski did more than simply ride around the tricky triangle, as he held off current co-points leader Kyle Busch in winning his second race of 2011. Keselowski's win, backed up with a strong runner-up finish at Watkins Glen, has moved Keselowski solidly into the top-20 in points. His two wins also currently make him the first wild card for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship run later in the season.
This week's exciting conclusion at Watkins Glen booked the third different driver for the Sprint Summer Showdown. Marcos Ambrose survived a wild green-white-checkered restart in overtime, winning his first-career Sprint Cup race. The win marks the fifth different first-time winner in 2011, and is also the fifteenth different winner in twenty two races.
While these three drivers have staked their claim for the chance at a large payday at Atlanta, the most popular stars of the Sprint Cup series are still looking to become eligible with only two qualifying races remaining at Michigan and Bristol. Names like Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. Jr. have still not qualified, and the next two weeks will be can't-miss racing action. Add in drivers fighting for Chase contention and two wild card spots up for grabs, and the AdvoCare 500 promises to be one of the marquee events of the 2011 campaign.
The five Sprint Summer Showdown winning drivers will have more than their wallets on their mind when the Sprint Cup circuit hits Atlanta. Each eligible driver will be paired up with a lucky fan, and both the fan and a charity of the driver's choice will have a chance to win $1,000,000.
Fans that would like to enter the contest can visit sprint.com/speed.
NASCAR night racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway this Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4. Tickets for the AdvoCare 500 start at $39 and $19 for students. Children 12 and under admitted free for the Great Clips 300 and the Atlanta 200 with an adult ticket. For more information, call the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.