Minter: Notes from Atlanta
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
The NASCAR cream is rising to the top, well almost to the top. Saturday’s qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway saw eight of the top 10 starting spots go to drivers contending for berths in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins after next Saturday’s race at Richmond International Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr., who is 23rd in the standings and in his lame-duck year at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, spoiled the Chase party by winning the pole for the Pep Boys Auto 500, AMS’ first scheduled night race, with a lap at 184.149 miles per hour.
Truex, who is headed to Michael Waltrip Racing next year, said that whether there’s a Chase berth on the line or not, when the cars hit the track, the effort is the same.
“It’s so competitive,” he said. “Everybody’s giving everything they have.”
Kasey Kahne, who will start second, ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, said his main goal heading into Sunday’s race is to make the cut for the Chase. “I look at [tonight] as going for it, getting all we can,” said Kahne, who is 11th in the standings, just 52 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch.
“We should have a great shot at making the Chase,” said Kahne, who won the pole and the race at AMS in 2006. “Everybody wants to make the Chase.”
The only Chase contenders who stumbled in qualifying were Greg Biffle, who was 26th, Juan Pablo Montoya (22nd) and Ryan New man, a seven-time pole winner at AMS, who was 23rd.
Missing the race were Regan Smith, Patrick Carpentier and Tony Raines.
Chevy Boss Promises Continued Support
Chevrolet is in NASCAR to stay, according to Brent Dewar, the new head of General Motors’ Chevrolet division, who was at AMS on Saturday to assure his teams and drivers that he was solidly behind them.
Although spending cuts have been made because of the automaker’s poor financial condition, Dewar said he hoped to maintain the current level of participation at least through 2010 and planned to keep his stable of teams and drivers at the current level. And he said he hoped to be able to spend more in 2011 and beyond when car sales and profits are expected to increase.
“We’ve been in [racing] from the beginning, and we’re in it for the long haul,” Dewar said.
He said that although dealer inventories are at all-time lows and potential buyers are dealing with credit challenges, he still believes in “race on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
He also said his company still gets a return on its NASCAR investment, and that the Cup series returns far more for the dollars than the Nationwide and truck series.
Stewart on Danica
Tony Stewart appears to have taken the unofficial position of NASCAR mentor for Indy Car star Danica Patrick. And it sounds like her flirtation with NASCAR is about to turn into a long-term relationship.
Stewart said Patrick visited his North Carolina race shop again this week, asking him numerous questions and seeking advice about the best way to transition from a relatively light open-wheel car to a heavier NASCAR one with fenders.
“She’s excited about doing this…. And I can pretty much guarantee that at some point she’s going to be over here,” Stewart said, adding that he doesn’t believe Patrick is using her NASCAR inquiries to get a better Indy Car deal.
Stewart said he showed Patrick some things about seat placement in cars and talked to her about a workable game plan to make the transition.
“I just spent some time while she was in town answering her questions,” Stewart said. “I’m glad I could be there for her to have somebody to bounce ideas off of.”
He said a likely game plan would be for Patrick to start off in a Nationwide car, especially given that other Indy Car drivers have struggled trying to go straight to Cup. And he said that if Patrick makes the move, it’ll be big for NASCAR.
“It would be awesome for our sport if she could come out here and be successful,” he said.
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.com