Its crunch time, with just two races before the cutoff for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup the race for the final spots is as close as ever.
With positions 7-13 all within one race worth of points, Sunday’s race at Atlanta is as important as ever as drivers jockey to secure a playoff position.
The Set Up
What: AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway-Hampton, GA
When: Sunday September 1, 2013 Green Flag 7:45 PM ET
Broadcast: ESPN 7 PM ET and the Performance Racing Network 6:30 PM ET
While Sunday night’s race is huge for those drivers, still battling for a chase spot it also could foreshadow those drivers who will be championship contenders come playoff time in three weeks. 5 of the 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup are on 1.5 mile intermediate speedways. Therefore, drivers who run strong on Atlanta may not only race their way into the postseason but also establish themselves as a challenger for the title.
Of course, before we can talk about championship contenders we have to set the chase field. After Bristol, three drivers are locked into the chase; Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and last week’s winner Matt Kenseth. Any driver who is 49 points ahead of 11th after Sunday night is also locked in. Currently Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are all 49 points ahead of 11th after Bristol and could clinch a spot in the chase this weekend. While clinching may be unlikely for Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kasey Kane and Greg Biffle to secure a chase spot they can give themselves, breathing room going into Richmond with strong runs at Atlanta. Kane is always a threat to win on mile and a half tracks while Jr and Biffle need to step up their games and post a top 10 at Atlanta if they want to sleep easy heading into Richmond.
Tenth place Joey Logano has no margin for error the next two weeks, as he is just four points ahead of 11th. The same applies to Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon who are on the outside of the 10 ten but are four, six and eleven points behind Logano respectively.
Finally, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex with one win a piece both are securely in the wild card spots as the points stand this week. Tony Stewart will fall out of the top 20 in the next two week and David Ragan the only other driver with a win outside the top ten is 207 points behind Newman meaning even if he did crack the top 20 there is no way he could catch the current wild card drivers.
All of the above could and likely will be rendered useless by the time the checkered flag falls Sunday at Atlanta and that is what makes the Race to the Chase must see TV!
Drivers to watch in the AdvoCare 500
Jimmie Johnson- Johnson has made his Sprint Cup career and raced his way to 5 championship by dominating 1.5 mile tracks. Johnson has 15 career wins on mile and a half tracks and after a rough August the 48 team will be looking to build some positive momentum for the chase with a win at Atlanta a track where he has 3 wins, 11 top 5s and 13 top 10s in 21 career starts.
Kurt Busch- The elder Busch is a 3 time winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway and has 4 career top 5s and 9 career top 10s. His back is against the wall in terms of making the chase and has been fast all year, so look for Busch to be in contention for the win Sunday night.
Matt Kenseth- Last week’s winner picked up his 3 of his five wins this year on 1.5 mile tracks. Though he has no wins at Atlanta he does have 8 top 5s and 14 top 10s which mean he’ll be in the hunt Sunday night at Atlanta.