Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Atlanta Preview: Emory Healthcare 500

By Micah Roberts

This weeks NASCAR Sprint Cup race takes us to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second of their two races this season. This will be the last year the track will host two races a year after having at least two annually since 1960 -- a span of 103 races run -- due to Speedway Motorsports Incorporated moving one of their Atlanta dates to their Kentucky facility for the 2011 schedule. It will be good to have a new venue for fans in the rabid NASCAR fans in Southern Ohio and Kentucky to be closer to, but it won’t necessarily produce better racing and is sure to be a much shorter event.

Kentucky’s race will be a 400 mile race as opposed to both of Atlanta’s races traditionally being 500 milers. The latest trend in NASCAR over eight of the last 10 races has seen events less than thee hours. The shorter races have been in part to longer green flag runs, drivers respecting each other more than ever and the handful of jalopies who start and park their cars just to steal a paycheck each week. The start and parkers are good in a way because those have been the type of cars that helped stockpile cautions throughout a race just by being in the way of faster cars. NASCAR is now getting races in at a faster pace than it took to repair the pot-hole during this year season opening Daytona 500.

With Atlanta only having one race a season, we still have the luxury of seeing two Charlotte races a year which runs the most similar and then Texas twice a year, which is close, along with the March Las Vegas date. All four of the SMI sister tracks are high banked 1.5-mile tracks. The other 1.5-mile tri-oval tracks, although much flatter in banking -- a category Kentucky will fall into, are Chicagoland and Kansas. Homestead-Miami is the only other 1.5-mile track, but it’s shaped more like a paper-clip with high banks making it sort of unique among them all.

So far we have seen five of those 1.5-mile tracks run this year which is a great tool of reference to go back on when attempting to figure out who presents the best value to win this week. Kasey Kahne is the only driver to have finished within the top-12 of all five races with Kevin Harvick having done so at all four of the SMI sister tracks. However, neither Kahne nor Harvick won any of those races, they just showed great consistency throughout.

The driver that should top the list of consideration is Kurt Busch who won at both Atlanta and Charlotte this season. Busch even won the non-points all-star race at Charlotte the week prior to the marathon race of the Coca-Cola 600. Busch is a three-time winner in Atlanta and has won two of the last three races run there.

Jimmie Johnson has been in a funk over the last seven races after coming off of back to back wins at Sonoma and New Hampshire in June. Over those seven races, five have seen him finish 22nd or worse which has dropped him way down in season points from second-place all the way to ninth. Something isn’t clicking with the No. 48 teams because they certainly have a car capable of winning each week, they just can’t finish. At Chicagland, Johnson led a race high 92 laps, but finished 25th. Two weeks ago at Bristol, Johnson led 192 laps, but finished 35th. If this were baseball with a contender having the same type of issues, the club would sacrifice their entire farm system to get a quality closer.

Johnson’s slump has also elevated his odds at Las Vegas sports books. Generally at tracks like Atlanta, a bettor would be lucky to find Johnson at 4 to 1 or higher, but this week can be found at 6 to 1 or higher. It may not seem like a big hike in price, but a 50% increase from normal odds is pretty chunky when considering just how good Johnson has been on these types of tracks and knowing that the issues he had wasn’t just because of having a car lacking horsepower. This team has speed, and most of all they have Johnson himself behind the wheel, the defending four-time NASCAR champion.

The drivers that have taken the biggest dip in odds over the last five races have been a trio of Roush-Fenway drivers who are all showing they are the upswing just as the Chase arrives. All the tinkering and testing to get their engines to produce more horsepower has finally come to fruition. It only took half the season to figure out, but luckily for Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle they were able to finish well enough to have themselves firmly entrenched in the Chase with hopes that the best is yet to come.

For Edwards, he’s a three-time Atlanta winner who had one of his better runs of the season as runner-up on the 1.5-mile track of Chicago a few weeks ago. Kenseth has never won in Atlanta, but despite not having the best horsepower output early on, still managed to finish within the top-13 in four of the five 1.5-mile races this season, including runner-up in the first Atlanta race.

Greg Biffle is the only Roush driver to capture a win this season and finished eighth in the March Atlanta race. In his last five starts, Biffle has a win, third, fourth and eighth-place finishes and has given himself a nice comfortable cushion in the race to the Chase where he currently sits 11th with two races to go.

The driver who has been charging hard in the standings in points has been Jamie McMurray. When July came around, McMurray was mired in 18th position, but yet still showing in practices and races that he was good enough to compete with the best. He put it all together at the Daytona Firecracker with a fifth and has charged all the way to 13th in points coming into this week only 100 points behind Clint Bowyer. His team obviously found something that was wrong and fixed it, but is it too late?

History says possibly, but there have been five drivers who have made the Chase while trailing with two races to go. The largest gap at the same juncture to have made it was Kasey Kahne’s 90 points in 2006.

Early Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
3) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)
5) #2 Kurt Busch (8/1)

Get all your sports betting information and stats at VegasInsider.com

Clinch Scenarios For Each Driver Heading Into Atlanta

Two Chase Spots Locked Up…Who’s Next?
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon have already clinched berths in the 2010 Chase. A number of drivers can add their names to that coveted list. Leaving Atlanta, a driver must be 196 points ahead of 13th place to officially clinch a spot in the Chase. A few seem likely to do that; others have a chance; still others might have to wait until Richmond to cement a spot. Here’s the breakdown:
Sure Things?
There’s no such thing as a sure thing. But these guys are as close as it gets. Below are the finishing positions each driver would need to guarantee a Chase spot this weekend, regardless of how any other driver finishes:
Kyle Busch
40th or better, no laps led
42nd or better, at least one lap led
43rd or better, most laps led
Carl Edwards
21st or better, no laps led
23rd or better, at least one lap led
25th or better, most laps led
Denny Hamlin
20th or better, no laps led
22nd or better, at least one lap led
23rd or better, most laps led
Likely Candidates
Here are a few drivers who have a better than average shot at clinching this weekend:
Tony Stewart
19th or better, no led
21st or better, at least one lap led
23rd or better, most laps led
Jeff Burton
17th or better, no laps led
19th or better, at least one lap led
21st or better, most laps led
Matt Kenseth
15th or better, no laps led
17th or better, at least one lap led
19th or better, most laps led
There’s Always Richmond
Finally here are the remaining drivers who can clinch this weekend. They may have to wait until Richmond to lock up their spot:
Jimmie Johnson
10th or better, no laps led
11th or better, at least one lap led
13th or better, most laps led
Kurt Busch
9th or better, no laps led
10th or better, at least one lap led
11th or better, most laps led
Greg Biffle
4th or better, no laps led
5th or better, at least one lap led
7th or better, most laps led
Clint Bowyer
Currently 100 points ahead of 13th, Bowyer would need to gain 96 points. Therefore, there is no finish that would guarantee a Chase spot. He would need to finish strong, and get some help.

Emory Healthcare 500 Odds & Ends: Atlanta Motor Speedway

compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services

·         Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole.
·         The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970.
·         It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990.
·         The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.
  • There have been 102 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta Speedway, two races per year except 1961, which had three.
  • Fireball Roberts won the pole and race for the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 1960.
  • 44 drivers have won a pole, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman, each with seven.
  • Six of Newman’s seven poles came in consecutive races between March 2003 and October 2005.
  • 42 drivers have won a race; 22 have won more than once, including Kurt Busch, who won two of the last three races.
  • Dale Earnhardt scored nine victories, more than any other driver. Cale Yarborough is second, with seven.
  • Bobby Labonte heads the list of active drivers with six victories. Labonte is tied with Richard Petty for third on the all-time win list at Atlanta.
  • The Wood Brothers have 12 victories, more than any organization. They last won there in 1993 with Morgan Shepherd.
  • 14 races have been won from the pole. The last to do so was Kasey Kahne in 2006. Both races last season were won from the second starting position.
  • 58 races at Atlanta have been won from the first five starting positions.
  • Bobby Labonte won the 2001 fall race from the 39th starting position, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta.
  • There have been seven season sweeps, most recently by Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
  • Two of the last three races had a margin of victory under a half second.
NASCAR in Georgia
·         There have been 161 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Georgia.
·         169 NASCAR national series drivers all-time have their home state recorded as Georgia.
·         There have been 14 race winners from Georgia in NASCAR’s three national series:
Bill Elliott
Tim Flock
Jack Smith
Fonty Flock
Bob Flock
Frank Mundy
Gober Sosebee
Harold Kite
Sam McQuagg
Jody Ridley
Reed Sorenson
Buckshot Jones
David Ragan
Ronald Cooper
Atlanta Motor Speedway Data
Race # 25 of 36 (9-5-10)
Track Size: 1.54 miles
Race Length: 325 laps/500.5 miles
·     Banking/Corners: 24 degrees
·     Banking/Straights: 5 degrees
·     Frontstretch: 2,332 feet
·     Backstretch: 1,800 feet

Driver Rating at Atlanta
Jimmie Johnson            109.5
Jeff Gordon                   101.8
Carl Edwards                99.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.          98.7
Tony Stewart                 98.7
Kurt Busch                    97.0
Matt Kenseth                 96.5
Greg Biffle                     95.0
Denny Hamlin                94.5
Kasey Kahne                 93.3
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (11 total) at Atlanta.
Qualifying/Race Data
2010 pole winner: Martin Truex Jr. (184.149 mph, 30.106 secs.)
2010 race winner: Kasey Kahne (134.033 mph, 9-6-09)
Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 secs.,
Race record: Dale Earnhardt (163.633 mph, 11-16-97)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 48-52 laps, based on fuel mileage.