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It’s two to go to make the show and NASCAR Cup teams that are in the hunt for getting into the Chase are going to be doing all they can over the next two races to make it happen. I don’t often like to repeat myself, but, I just couldn’t contain myself. It may be hard to believe, but the 2011 NASCAR season is winding down to its last two weeks for teams to make it into the Chase and for those that have even an outside chance, winning over the next two weekends becomes more important than ever.
There are only a handful of teams that have a realistic chance, but the possibilities of success or failure are many and diverse. With six teams already locked in, that leaves only six spots unclaimed and, for a couple of those spots to be given up, a major disaster would have to happen to somone. Performance is one of the keys for teams to get or keep their spots and no one, particularly those in ninth through twelfth, can afford to have a bad weekend. Winning is the other key for all that are in, or hope to be in, the Chase and that makes these two races as important as any. Add to all of that the challenges of the track at Atlanta and it appears this weekend is one that has absolutely more drama in store for drivers, their teams and fans. The tension and stress levels are high going into this weekend and I expect they won’t let up until either the field is set after Richmond next week for some or, when the race tonight in Atlanta ends and getting into the Chase is no longer a possibility for others.
Atlanta is a track that most of the Cup drivers love to race on. It is also one of the fastest, (if not the fastest track) NASCAR Sprint Cup teams see only once a year now instead of twice. For a mile-and-a-half track there is really none more challenging than this one. In listening to the commentators, crew chiefs and drivers talk about the track, many are of the opinion the track changes almost every lap. Some say it is one of the hardest tracks to anticipate what and when a change is going to take effect and it seems that whatever you think it should or might do, something totally different takes place. Many seem to like the track for this reason; simply because it is so unpredictable and challenging.
From this fans view, just the fact that the track is so fast and has multiple grooves for racing makes it a race with a great deal of unknowns and intensity. One important thing to remember is that this is one of the last two races drivers and teams have to make the Chase. It is my opinion that alone will make it more intense that it would normally be and with so much riding on this night race I expect the level of competition to be raised to the next level as well.
With all of the people that seem to have something to prove tonight, it could prove to be a night where the complete unexpected happens. Personally, I think after a checking the top ten starters tonight, anyone of them could win. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say just about anyone in the top thirty-six have a good chance, depending on how the cards fall over the course of the night. In reality, I don’t think some could win, but if certain things happen (like that divine intervention I mentioned before), it is possible someone from that far back in the lineup could win.
This is one race where I definitely pick how they ran in the second practice over how they qualified or unloaded off the truck. Although a Toyota won the pole, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Bush didn’t really look that strong in the second practice. That makes this fan wonder how they will fare over the extended green flag runs expected tonight. The Fords and Chevys definitely occupied my attention and, of course, who knows what the Dodge of Brad Keselowski will do. With the tear he’s been on over the last four weeks, I just don’t think he can be ruled out of being chosen as a possible winner.
Mother Nature is going to figure into the race as much as anything is tonight. From this fan’s view, we already know the drivers are going to have to find the consistently fastest way around the track tonight and since there is the threat of rain, it is likely the competition could be fast and furious from the drop of the green flag. Other than the weather; tires, fuel mileage and of course mistake free pitting will have the next biggest impact, (in no particular order.)
Of those that need to win, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer looked strong and either one could pull off exactly that. Both showed a lot of consistency over the second practice session and it goes without saying both need a win in the worst way. Of the two, I would pick Stewart to win but I’m not sure how Bowyer will do, considering how the RCR teams have been running lately. I’m sure there is a little bit of mixed emotion running through their camp at the moment.
Other than those all ready mentioned, I have to say Jeff Gordon is my real pick to win tonight. With the strength he’s shown over the last several weeks and his obvious determination, he has about as good a chance at making the trip to Victory Lane as anyone tonight, that is if the weather holds…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 4, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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