With the start of the race weekend only one day away, many fans got their start to the biggest Labor Day party in the USA today. Infield camping opened at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, allowing those fans to get their campsites set up in advance of the on-track action tomorrow. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series haulers will enter the speedway this evening at 6:00 p.m., marking the beginning of a huge weekend of racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. On-track activity begins early on Friday with the first practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at 10:00 a.m.
Wild-Card Battles Come Into Focus at Atlanta
With only two races remaining before the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set following Richmond, Atlanta will play a pivotal role in shaping the participants in the Chase.
This year’s wild-card battle has thrilled fans week-after-week and has made for exciting, can’t-miss racing throughout the summer. Here’s a breakdown of those drivers battling for wild-card positioning, and how they shape up this weekend:
Kasey Kahne: Kahne, who currently holds the first wild-card, is a two-time winner at AMS. Kahne is quickly closing in on potentially moving into the top-10 in points. Kahne has two wins in 2012 and is currently 11th in the standings.
“Atlanta is my favorite track on the circuit,” said Kahne. “It’s wide and fast, so we can race a lot of different lines. We have a good history here, and I expect a good weekend with a Hendrick Motorsports car under me.”
Carl Edwards: Edwards has yet to win in 2012 but is a three-time winner at AMS. Edwards desperately needs a win to try to work his way into the wild-card, but likes the schedule for the next couple of weeks. Edwards is 12th in the current points standings.
“I don’t think there could be two better tracks coming up,” said Edwards. “Atlanta, it’s one of my personal favorite tracks to drive on. I don’t think there’s a more fun track on the circuit to race on. (Crew Chief) Chad (Norris) and all the guys, we spoke a lot about our strategy for the race. We feel like we have a car sitting there in the hauler that can go win that race.”
Kyle Busch: With a win earlier this season at Richmond, Busch currently holds the second wild-card spot and is 13th in points. Busch has claimed one win at Atlanta, in March of 2008. This win was his first with new team Joe Gibbs Racing, as well as Toyota’s first in Sprint Cup competition. Busch will run all three races this weekend at AMS as he looks to gain some momentum into the fall.
“(To be successful at Atlanta), it takes a lot of things,” said Busch. “You have to have a lot of grip, you have to have a lot of downforce, you have to have tire management, a great engine, and fuel mileage, too. There are a lot of circumstances it can come down to at the end and what it will boil down to.”
Jeff Gordon: A five-time Atlanta winner, Gordon enters the event as the defending winner of the AdvoCare 500. Gordon trails Busch by 16 points in trying to earn that second wild-card position, but a second 2012 win by No. 24 would immediately move him into that spot. Gordon is currently 14th in the standings.
“I expect the track to be a lot faster at night,” said Gordon. “But I think we will still be able to race high, low and everywhere in between. I think one of the reasons so many drivers and teams love this place is the track has a lot of grip, a lot of banking and it is a very fast race track, especially when looking at the qualifying speeds. It’s very fast during the race but it has a lot of fall off, so tire wear is significant and the balance of the car changes throughout a run.”
Ryan Newman: Newman, who is 15th in points, won earlier this season at Martinsville to make himself wild-card eligible, but a wreck last week at Bristol knocked him from the second wild-card position. Newman has seven poles at AMS, but only a best finish of fifth. A win at Atlanta could put him in a more secure position to gain the second wild-card position.
“Atlanta is fast, especially when the conditions are right,” said Newman. “You have to hit your marks. It’s bumpy enough that those bumps can spit you right out. Getting into turn one and the middle of three and four, you’ve got to catch everything just right. It’s kind of like surfing or wakeboarding, you’ve got to catch the waves right, and obviously put the car in the right spot to do the things with the gas and the steering wheel.”
Marcos Ambrose: Currently 16th in points, Ambrose placed himself in the middle of wild-card competition a few weeks back with his win at Watkins Glen. With a recent string of three consecutive top-five finishes, Ambrose is a threat at Atlanta. He enters the event with one top-10 in six events. Like Newman, Ambrose could desperately use another checkered flag to feel better about his chances of earning the final wild-card spot.
Joey Logano: Logano won his second-career race this summer at Pocono, and enters Atlanta hungry for another win. Logano grew up racing on the AMS quarter-mile in the Legends program, so a win at Atlanta would be a “home track” type of victory. It would also be big for sponsor The Home Depot, which is headquartered in Atlanta. Logano is 18th in points, but a second victory would put the final wild-card squarely in his crosshairs.
Notable Cars Running in the AdvoCare 500
Several drivers are bringing chassis to Atlanta this weekend that have been battle tested on the track. Some of those include:
Marcos Ambrose: Chassis 784 has been on the track several times this year, competing at Fontana, Kansas and both Michigan races.
Kurt Busch: Busch brings chassis 557 to Atlanta for its third race of 2012. This chassis ran at Darlington and Dover earlier this year, and was a road course car prior to 2012, but being built with a universal clip to allow for great adjustments, Phoenix Racing converted it to an intermediate-track car for this year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt’s primary car for this weekend is the same car Earnhardt piloted to a win in the Sprint All-Star Showdown in May at Charlotte.
Jimmie Johnson: Chassis 714 has competed at Texas, Charlotte and Kentucky this year, all 1.5-mile tracks, where Johnson has been his strongest this year.
Mark Martin: Chassis 729 finished third earlier this year at Texas and won the pole at Dover.
Ryan Newman: Breaking the trend of the other drivers listed, Newman will pilot chassis 39-738 at Atlanta, a brand new car to the No. 39 team. It will turn its first laps on the track during Friday afternoon’s practice.
Atlanta to Show Readiness for Chase
Atlanta is pivotal for those drivers looking to make their way into the wild-card for the Chase standings. Those at the bottom of the top-10 are also looking for good runs to maintain their current positioning.
But Atlanta is crucial even for those drivers comfortably in the Chase, as Atlanta serves as a final benchmark for teams as the Chase nears.
With Atlanta being a 1.5-mile quad-oval, it will feature race characteristics similar to many of the track that make up the Chase schedule.
Chicago, Charlotte, Kansas, Texas and Homestead all are 1.5-miles in length, making up half of the races during the Chase. Loudon, Dover and Phoenix are all one-mile in length, providing some similarities to those tracks of 1.5-miles in length.
The only two tracks during the Chase that are totally unlike any others are the restrictor place venue of Talladega Superspeedway and short track bullring of Martinsville Speedway.
With so many tracks featuring characteristics, familiarities or a similar layout of Atlanta, this weekend’s AdvoCare 500 will truly serve as a benchmarks for teams heading into the Chase, and could provide a preview of who will be fast in the season’s final 10 events.
NASCAR night racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2012. Reserve your AdvoCare 500 tickets now. For more information, call the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.