Prediction Atlanta: Bass Pro Shops 500 Top Ten (10/29/06)
This Sunday, Nextel Cup drivers make their second of two 2006 appearances at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the running of the
Bass Pro Shops 500. Drivers will make 325 laps around this high-speed, 24 degree, 1.54 mile oval. The following are my top
ten drivers for this race. This list is based on recent performance on this or similar tracks, coupled with “who’s
hot” over the last several weeks of racing.
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson
2) #9 Kasey Kahne
3) #99 Carl Edwards
4) #20 Tony Stewart
5) #6 Mark Martin
6) #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7) #17 Matt Kenseth
8) #16 Greg Biffle
9) #5 Kyle Busch
10) # Jeff Gordon
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is third in the points race, 41 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. His victory at Martinsville last
Sunday was his fourth of the season. He has completed 3,152 of 3,173 laps in his ten starts at Atlanta, posted a victory in
2004, and has an average finish of 11.8 - second best of all Chase drivers. Team 48 will take chassis 48363 to Atlanta this
weekend, which most recently finished second at Lowe's Motor Speedway and 14th at Kansas after leading 105 laps. Johnson:
"Atlanta is a great track. The asphalt they have used is older technology and it is real abrasive and chews the tires up.
Handling is a premium. The pace slows down so you can run side by side and you can look for other lanes to race in. That really
makes for good racing. Some day they are going to have to resurface it and we will be faced with issues of a new surface there.
But right now it has aged perfectly. It is probably is one of the best places to challenge drivers."
Kasey Kahne: Kahne is the only six-time winner in the Nextel Cup Series this season, with wins at Atlanta, Texas, Lowe’s
(both races), Michigan, and California. In his last race at Atlanta, Kahne drove to victory from the Bud Pole, leading 85
laps in the process. He has four top-five finishes in five races at AMS, and an average finish of 9.8 - best among the 10
Chase drivers. Kahne: “We’ve had a lot of success at Atlanta, so we’re definitely looking forward to returning
this weekend. We’ve finished in the top five four times and had a great car for this event last year, but got caught
up in an accident. I really like the track. You can run several lines and be fast. If you have a good car, you can definitely
pass people. We had a great car in the spring. We started first and Kenny (Francis, team director) had the car perfect for
the finish. The crew has been great all year, but they were awesome that day getting me in and out of the pits. Three weeks
ago, The Chase picture didn’t look too good for us. Now, that’s changed. We’ve had three great races. The
next two races are at Atlanta and Texas. They’ve been very good to our Evernham Motorsports team. We’ll race the
next four just as we have the last three, doing everything we can to win. It would be great to be able to do it this weekend
and get McDonald’s back to victory lane.”
Carl Edwards: Edwards became the first driver in NASCAR history to win his first Cup and Busch Series races on the same weekend
in Atlanta in March 2005. Edwards has an average finish of 11.2 in four career Cup starts at Atlanta. Edwards: “I love
racing at Atlanta. I feel like I am always fast there, and the track is a blast to get around. You can pretty much drive any
line. I’ve got some great memories of racing there already in my career, especially my first wins. It’s a special
place for me. We had a really tough outing in Atlanta in March when a pit road crash pretty much ruined our day, and I’ve
definitely wanted to race away that feeling. Hopefully we can do that on Sunday. I think this could be a really awesome weekend
for our No. 99 Office Depot team.” Crew Chief Wally Brown: “Carl isn’t the only one who loves racing at
Atlanta—our entire No. 99 Office Depot team really gets pumped up to race there. We’ve been on a little bit of
a roll lately, and I think that’s going to help us this weekend. The car is fast, our driver is fast and everyone on
the team has been working very hard. We’re looking forward to an exciting weekend.”
Tony Stewart: Stewart's win in the 2002 spring Atlanta race was a turning point in his Atlanta Motor Speedway career. Prior
to that win, his best finish was ninth in 2001, for what was then his only top-10 finish at Atlanta. After that win, Stewart
has finished outside the top-10 only once, making his average finish climb from 22nd to 7th. In his past 10 Atlanta races
Stewart has led 16.4% of the laps available. Team 20 will bring chassis 120 to Atlanta, which had its debut run at California
in September, finishing 9th. This car pulled into victory lane at Kansas in a race dictated by fuel mileage, where it led
the last five laps, spending much of the final lap coasting along the track's apron having just enough momentum to make it
across the finish line first. Its third career start came two weeks ago at Lowes, where it struggled in practice and qualifying,
and eventually finished 13th.
Mark Martin: Martin has tallied 21 top-10's and 13 top-fives at Atlanta, with top-five runs in the four of the last five races.
He scored his first top-10 at Atlanta in only this second start, on November 7, 1982, and has two victories to his credit,
in '91 & '94. Martin will pilot a new car this weekend, chassis RK-392, which tested at Homestead last week. Martin: "Atlanta
is a really cool race track. It’s a big, fast race track. The pavement has gotten a little older and it has finally
given up and made it a really fun place to race. From top-to-bottom, it’s one of the best places that we go to race.
It usually makes for a great show and a great race. We've been really strong there over the years and we've had some good
runs the last few times that we've went there. We've been close to a couple of wins there in the past few races and we finished
second in the spring, so hopefully we can break out of our string of bad luck and get a solid finish this weekend."
One To Watch: #43 Bobby Labonte
Labonte and the #43 team head to Atlanta with a lot of optimism. They've finished in the top-10 in four of their last five
races and finished a season best third last weekend at Martinsville. Labonte is a master of the fast Atlanta oval. He has
six wins at the track and was leading the March race before an engine failure ended his day short. Labonte has earned 13 top-10
and 12 top-five finishes at Atlanta in his career. Labonte: “We are a different team heading into this weekend than
what we were in March. But, that's a good thing. I think we have come a long way with our cars and our mile-and-a-half program.
This car is the same we raced in Charlotte (finished fifth) and we know what we have with it. The guys are doing a great job.
Atlanta is a good track for me. A win before the end of the season isn't out of the question. We have the capabilities and
are confident in our abilities. It's been exciting to be a part of this Cheerios Dodge team the past few weeks.”