Fantasy Racing: Atlanta
Pep Boys 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, September 6, 7:30 ET, ESPN
Race Facts: This is the first race at Atlanta under the lights, so the trends for the fall race probably aren’t all that applicable… However, track position is pretty important, as 79 of the 100 race winners at Atlanta have started in the top 10… Bobby Labonte has the most wins of anyone at Atlanta, and was second to Jeff Gordon on the consecutive starts list. Now he’s at 0 consecutive starts, and the odds are very strong that he won’t get another Atlanta win.
Drivers to Watch:
Kevin Harvick: Hey, Harvick ran well here in the spring, finishing fourth. And this week RCR made a bunch of organizational changes in hopes of getting out of the rut that they’ve been in this year. None of the changes directly affect Harvick as much as they do Jeff Burton—crew chief Scott Miller was given a new role—but I’m going to bet on a good run inspired by the changes and the official announcement that Harvick would be returning to the 29 in 2010.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr: Atlanta is easily one of Junior’s best tracks, and with the way he’s slowly been improving with Lance McGrew, he may actually be a contender to win on Sunday night. At Hendrick, Junior has two 11th place finishes and a third place finish at Atlanta, and with expectations basically eliminated, Sunday night would be the perfect time for Junior to have a complete race.
Matt Kenseth: Since 2006, Kenseth has been Mr. Consistency at Atlanta despite not visiting Victory Lane. In those seven races, Kenseth has five top 10s and his lowest finish is a paltry 13th. Not bad, eh? Like normal, Kenseth probably won’t qualify well, but he should be near the front after nightfall envelops the track.
Drivers to Watch Out For:
David Reutimann: Reutimann’s average finish at Atlanta is just 23.7, and he finished 32nd in the spring race here. It seems that Reutimann has completely fallen off the radar since that wreck at Pocono severely damaged his Chase chances, and at a track that he hasn’t had much success at, there’s no reason to expect a good run from Reutimann.
Juan Montoya: Juantoya may be hanging on by a thread when he leaves Atlanta Sunday night. Yes, he does have a fifth place finish, but in the other four Atlanta races, he has finishes of 16th, 27th, 34th and 40th and the 27th place finish came earlier this year. I have a feeling that Montoya may be outside the top 12 after Richmond—no, not due to any NASCAR conspiracy—and a bad run this weekend could really harm him.
Ryan Newman: Newman may be another driver who will be in peril next weekend given his past history at Atlanta. You want to know the last time that Newman had a top 10 at Atlanta? You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find it. That’s shocking. He hasn’t been awful, as he’s got five finishes in the teens in those 10 races, but given the way that Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers have run at Atlanta recently, 17th place may not cut it.
Stone Cold Lock of the Week:
Tony Stewart: Yeah, this is kind of a bizarre pick because there are other drivers that have run better than Stewart at Atlanta, but Stewart has nothing to lose this weekend and can afford to go for broke. Everything that could go wrong went wrong at Bristol, and that may actually end up being a good thing, as all the bad stuff happened in the same race and is now out of the way. Look for Stewart to qualify mid-pack, and be at the front when the transition to the night is complete.
To Watch: Kyle Busch 1st, Burton 18th, Bowyer 21st
To Watch Out: Johnson 8th, Labonte 36th, Stremme 20th
Stone Cold Lock: Hamlin 5th