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Race Day (Again): Stewart Is On The Spot At AMS

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 6 2011

Tony Stewart will be teetering on the brink when today's rain-delayed AdvoCare 500 gets under way at Atlanta. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

With just two races to go before the Chase – starting with Today’s postponed-by-wet-weather AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – the scramble for final berths is still on.

That’s especially true for the two wild card berths and that situation will undoubtedly not be unscrambled until the checkered flag waves at Richmond next weekend.

And while the competition for the final berth based on points is also far from over, today’s Sprint Cup race will begin with one certainty when it comes to that fight: Tony Stewart owns 10th place right now – by 22 points over equally winless Clint Bowyer – and will be driving his best to keep it.

Over the weekend, Stewart answered a couple of questions about his current situation and how he will approach racing at super-fast, now-super-green AMS today.

His Q and A went like this:

Question: Is this a last ditch race?

Stewart: “I don’t think so. We’re still 21 points to the good of where we need to be so we are in the spot we need to be in we just need to maintain it. So, obviously if we had a win this weekend we wouldn’t have to worry about it next week so it would be a luxury to win the race this week but it’s not a necessity. It could work against us too. It may not work out after

Tony Stewart has his eye on a Chase berth. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Richmond but at least going into this weekend we are where we need to be. Everybody keeps saying last ditch and we have to make something happen, we don’t have to make anything happen we’re in the spot we’re supposed to be in and need to be in to be in the Chase so we just have to not have a disaster happen. We just need two solid weeks.”

Question: You look calm. Are you?

Stewart: “I can’t say that I’m ecstatic where we’re at. I think we have a lot of room to be better than where we are but as a competitor Jimmie Johnson can probably tell you after each of the last five years there was room for improvement too to make their program better so you’re always looking as a competitor to make your program and your system better than what it is. Definitely not happy with where we are at but I don’t think anybody really is, I think everybody feels like there are things they can do better and some of those organizations are questioning what they have to do to get better than what they are. We’re one of those teams right now.”

Question: Can you talk about racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway?

Stewart: “I used to think it was being able to get through the bumps here and I think we’ve seen in the last couple of years that you don’t have to be able to run right on the bottom of the race track. This track is one where tire management is big. You run so fast at the beginning of a run but the pace just falls off so much that you just have to have a car that is hopefully balanced enough on the front of a run that you can take care of it and not have to overdrive the car and wear one end whether it’s the front tires or rear tires out, keeping the balance is key. Most of the guys are going to end up on the top of the race track midway through a run. The biggest part is knowing when to move and being able to have a car that is balanced across the whole race track not just one particular area. That will get you in trouble.”

Fast facts

What: AdvoCare 500

When: Today, 11 a.m. ET

Radio: PRN-Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 1.54-mile oval

Banking: 25 degrees in corners

Race distance: 325 laps/500.5 miles

2010 winner: Tony Stewart
2010 polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Tuesday’s polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Desperate for cash?

Kyle Busch is one of four drivers who are eligible to win $3 million – a million for himself, another million for fans, another million for charity – at Atlanta as part of the Sprint Summer Shootout promotion.

He was asked if he would “play dirty” to get that cash. He didn’t say no.

“I don’t know,” Busch said. “Hopefully, if it’s against another guy who’s not eligible, they can put themselves in our shoes for a minute and think about the rewards of a fan and of the charity that certainly are going to be able to achieve that.  I think you do what you got to do to win.”

Trivia time

Races at Atlanta have been won from the pole 14 times since the track began hosting cup 103 races ago. Who is the only driver to have won from the pole twice?

Toss the keys

The keys to winning at Atlanta are explained this week by Travis Geisler, director of competition at Penske Racing:

Durability:  “This is definitely a tough place on cars.  It’s super-fast but it’s also kind of high contact.  There’s a pretty good chance of getting in the wall.  That high lane comes in as the race goes on and the guys get closer and closer.  Taking care of your equipment throughout the night is the key.”

Changing Track Conditions:  “The toughest thing I think for this race is changing track conditions.  We only really had practice last night that’s going to be representative of what the track is going to be.  This practice today is almost a squeaks and rattles run.  You can’t really tune your setup but it’s not going to be anything like we’re going to have tomorrow night.”

Driver Patience:  “If you want to go after it and run as hard as you can for the first five laps of the run you’ll be the fastest car out there but you’ll also be the slowest car at the end of the fuel run.  It always seems like we have some long runs here that you’ve got to take care of your car and be good at the end because you can pass a lot of cars at the end of a run if you’ve took care of your tires at the start of it.”

Track Position:  “You’ll see a lot of short-pitting going on.  I doubt you’ll see anybody run until the end of a fuel run unless it’s maybe the last run of the truck race there with [Ron] Hornaday.  If you’re running 10th or 15th and need to make some gains, I think you’re going to be able to short-pit eight or 10 laps and really get an advantage on guys because you’re going to be a second and a half, two seconds faster. I think early to middle of the race it’s a pretty good time to take advantage of that short pit thing.  As you push later in the race you’re risking more and more because you have less time to overcome the problem.”

Does it pay to focus?

Brad Keselowski has gone on an impressive streak since breaking his ankle in a testing

Brad Keselowski has been doing a lot of celebrating – and limping – this summer. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

wreck. During that time, he has opted to just race Cup and skip Nationwide. Any correlation?

Carl Edwards, who also races both series, said:

“The only Nationwide race that I skipped this year was Road America and we ran really well at Sonoma, so maybe there is something to that – maybe there is a correlation there between staying out of the Nationwide car and making you run better in the Cup car.  I don’t know if that’s true because you look at Kyle Busch, he runs Truck, Nationwide and Cup it seems like every weekend and he runs really well, too, so I think it’s different for each person.  I think if you’re not focusing on the Cup car because you’re spending too much time in the Nationwide car, then maybe there is a gain there.”

Trivia answer

Richard Petty is the only driver to win two Cup races from the pole at AMS. He did it in 1975 and 1977.

Track tidbits

Most victories at Atlanta: 9, by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Most top-10s: 33, by Richard Petty

Fewest DNFs (minimum five starts: 0, by Clint Bowyer

Best average finish by current driver: 10.3, by Jimmie Johnson

Narrowest margin of victory: .006 seconds (2001)

Most lead changes: 45 (1982)

Winners of the last five races, starting with most recent: Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards.

Up next:

Richmond International Raceway. It is the final event before the start of the Chase. Denny Hamlin won last year’s fall race at RIR. He beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line by .5 seconds.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 6 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Chris Fiegler says:

    Why doesn’t NASCAR Just Cancel the Advocare 500 & the Next Race at Atlanta will be Next Year?