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Monday Morning Crew Chief: The King Reigns Again

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 7 2009
Kasey Kahne and Richard Petty Racing smoked the field at Atlanta Sunday night. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kasey Kahne and Richard Petty Racing smoked the field at Atlanta Sunday night. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Hampton, Ga. – Evidently, the demise of Atlanta as a NASCAR hub is greatly exagerated. How fitting that Richard Petty, one of the men who helped build the sport, ended up with driver Kasey Kahne in victory lane in front of a near-capacity crowd.

It looks like the Labor Day weekend date may make it in Atlanta. It’s a little like The Chase and the Car of Tomorrow. Somehow they might survive – along with NASCAR.

The Sprint Cup race last spring in Atlanta and the painfully sparse grandstands represented the bottom for NASCAR in a bad economy. Old mo’ had checked out, hit the road, flat disappeared. The Kings of the Road had blown up, jumped the tracks, couldn’t keep the shiny side up.

Sunday night’s race, with a crowd filling most of the facility’s 115,000 seats, turned things around. There was more side-by-side racing than I-285 at rush hour. There were as many story lines as there were drivers in the field – just like the old days, when every one of the crackerjacks in the wheelhouse carried some sort of dream the fans in a full grandstand and a jammed infield could identify with.

* Max Papis, an Italian working his way up for the love of racing while pressing age 40, had hard luck and smacked the wall. Matt Kenseth, the epitome of consistency, struggled to get to the finish line and hang on to The Chase. Bobby Labonte, a former champion who can identify with anybody who’s lost a job overnight, proved maybe he can drive after all, carrying into the lead pack a car prepared by a crew of 11 hardy souls.

* Richard Childress Racing pulled itself out of the mire as Kevin Harvick scored a near-miss in the Cup race for RCR on Sunday’s eve, backing up his Nationwide Series victory on Saturday night. Kyle Busch proved yesterday’s victories don’t mean a free pass to The Chase. Mark Martin knows that story, too. Both pushed to the front and got pulled to the rear in the ebb and flow of night racing after no night practice on NASCAR’s fastest track.

* On Atlanta’s northside at the little ol’ dirt oval at Woodstock, they revived chain racing on this weekend and went old school. They went back to old school on the superfast oval down south of town, too, making chassis adjustments every stop, in the wheelhouse and underneath the helmet lap after lap for 500 miles.

* Juan Pablo Montoya hung it out and hit the wall, then got faster and nearly won his first oval event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the pole on Saturday and then had the high groove singing like the church choir on Sunday night. David Reutemann, whose family hails from modified territory in nearby Florida, looked right at home at the front for Michael Waltrip Racing, another revival in the making.

* Brian Vickers is close to breaking into The Chase with Red Bull Racing. Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards thought they were a lock before ill fate and misfortune set in. After getting sideways like a dirt tracker on the high banks more than once while hustling his Chevy, Jimmie Johnson lost track of his momentum toward a fourth championship in a row after breaking an axle on the pit road with too much gas, too soon. Tony Stewart’s crew missed a lug nut and now is missing that critical forward mo’.

* Give a call to old number 9, Bill Elliott’s ticket to glory, except now it belongs to another fresh-faced kid named Kahne. Awesome Bill was home nursing sore ribs and probably was even more sore if he saw all this excitement and realized what he was missing, especially with a red Dodge in victory lane again  just like in the old days, this time with his understudy on board.

* Thanks now go to Richard Petty Motorsports majority owner George Gillett for maintaining the momentum once he purchased this  team from Ray Evernham and then took the tall slender fellow from Level Cross, N.C. in as a partner.

* Maybe, just maybe, NASCAR can survive without Danica Patrick, should her latest bid to run some races in the Nationwide Series fail to come to fruition. On the other hand, come on down girl, the racing’s fine.

* Richmond and the final countdown beckons. The smoke from the post-race fireworks show has cleared. The moon is shining bright, maybe even striking some of the ol’ moonshiners out there with smiles glinting in its silvery hue. It’s one of those late summer moons just shy of full, highballing at top dead center in what appears to be a Petty blue sky in the cool of night.

* The King! Back in victory lane in Atlanta. Man, that smile looks a mile wide.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 7 2009
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