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Nascar At Atlanta: Two To Go To Make It In “The CHASE”

Rusty NormanNASCAR Cup teams hit the 1½ mile oval at Atlanta this weekend and it is definitely now or never for the ones that have even the slimmest chance of making it into the Chase.

The question in everyone’s mind is whether or not the three closest to Clint Bowyer can make it into the top twelve and have a chance for the Cup Championship. Those three are Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman and to put it lightly, Clint Bowyer would definitely have to have a couple of bad weeks for any of the three to make it in before him.

From this fan’s view the one with the best chance is Jamie McMurray. He has definitely been performing as good as anyone over the last several weeks and he has won two of the most prestigious races on the Cup circuit, the Daytona 500 and the Indy 400. If anyone has a chance at making it into the top twelve for the Chase, I think it is Jamie if for no other reason than he has gained so many spots in the last several races. Of course, Mark Martin is only one point behind him and that does pose interesting options.

There comes a point in any season where you’re either in or out. I think the biggest problem any of the three I just mentioned have in getting into the Chase is the performance of the other drivers in the top twelve already. To simplify, it means the ones that have a mathematical chance of making it in depend on the ones that are already in the top twelve having extremely bad races over the next two weeks. In either case, all of them performing just as they have (or only slightly better) means there will be no noticeable change in the standings and those that are in the top twelve will remain the top twelve for the Chase.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the tougher tracks for the teams to get a handle on. Two things come to mind making it a little more of a challenge and that is the speeds they run and the abrasiveness of the track. Tires are the most important factor at AMS and the ones that can manage tire-wear the best throughout a run will be the ones challenging for the win at the end, or at least that is my opinion. As I think about it, three things will come definitely into play on Sunday night when it comes down to running for the checkered flag; tire-wear, track position and fuel mileage.

I’m not sure what is going on in the Hendrick camp but it sure appears they are struggling to find the speed needed to be as competitive as they need to be. Earlier in the season, the same could be said about the Roush teams and it looked doubtful at times they would even make the Chase. Right now, both Dale Jr and Mark Martin are struggling more than the other two Hendrick teams. Jeff Gordon has been consistent and is in second spot in the points so far, but he hasn’t looked as strong as he did earlier in the season. Jimmie Johnson has struggled lately and it looks as if they are going to have to work hard to strongly defend their Cup Championship titles and shoot for that history making fifth in a row.

Right now, at least from this fan’s view, the Richard Childress Chevys and the Jack Roush Fords look very strong. For RCR that is a big turnaround from last year. All of the Childress teams look strong and, barring the absolute unforeseen, two of them are definitely going to be challenging for the Cup title this year. Kevin Harvick has been rock solid for most of the season and Jeff Burton could be even higher in the points and possibly even have a win or two had circumstances worked just slightly different for him. I look for both of them to do well this weekend at Atlanta.

At AMS, one can never discount the performance of the Bush brothers. Kurt Bush has won the last two spring races in Atlanta and Kyle Bush is almost always in the mix for the win at the end of 500 miles. Although they drive for different teams, I cannot count them out for possibly winning Sunday night. In my opinion, Penske and Gibbs teams generally perform one of two ways at this track and that is feast or famine. I expect Kurt to be a contender, but a lot can happen over 500 miles on a Labor Day weekend at AMS.

Stewart/Haas Racing has one team in and one team out as far as the Chase is concerned and both have to run well this weekend to either stay in the Chase or stay in contention to make the Chase. Of course the one that is in and mathematically can’t afford to have two bad weeks is Tony Stewart. Ryan Newman on the other hand has to have two really good weeks and those ahead of him in points have to have really bad weeks.

Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much ruled out the chance of Ryan making it into the Chase, but, I do know stranger things have happened, although not in recent history. He does have a good chance at finishing out the year in the thirteenth position at the end of the year. Don’t forget, Stewart/Haas Racing also runs Hendrick equipment and engines and, from this fan’s view, as a whole all of the Hendrick teams have been struggling in particular during these summer months.

When it comes to who might win this weekend, I’m definitely at a loss. It could be any of the ones mentioned above or it could be someone else. Some are talking about Kasey Kahne and he is a good possibility, but I’m thinking more along the lines of one of the Roush teams. Greg Biffle has been showing himself to run strong and Matt Kenseth has been running consistently. Carl Edwards is still struggling, but this could be a break out week for him.

Personally, when it comes down to who I would like to see win in particular this weekend I would have to pick Jeff Gordon. His car was designed by his daughter this weekend to highlight the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation and he has won at the track before. I would really like to see Jeff finally get into the win column this year. Like Jeff Burton, if things had been slightly different in a few races earlier in the year, he could have won more than a couple of races by now. Oh well, maybe he’s saving up all his wins for the Chase…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 4, 2010 – all rights reserved

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By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.