East bound and down, loaded it up and truckin . . . the series comes back East this week to the fastest track on the circuit . . . HOTLANTA!!! The 24 degrees of banking make Atlanta fast, and one of Rusty's favorite tracks. There are multiple grooves of racing at Atlanta and the smooth racing surface should make for some exciting racing.
The big question for this coming Sunday is whether or not the engines will hold up. There's been a slew of engine troubles already this year, and from some of the big boys like Hendrick and Toyota. Atlanta's speed and constant high RPM's are tougher on engines than a one eyed alley cat. With a shaky start for guys like Mark Martin (2 DNF's, who would have thunk it), better cross your fingers the raceway doesn't get covered over with blue smoke.
Last week, I talked about Jimmie and Mr. Ed, and this week's not going to be any different. The 48 and the 99 are two of the best teams at Atlanta. With 3 wins and an average finish of 9.1, Johnson is the best active driver at Atlanta. Edwards is not far behind though, tying Jimmie with 3 wins and posting an average finish of 11.6. Of the serious contenders, only Jeff Gordon has more wins than either of those two. Jeff has had 4 wins in his considerably longer career.
When you look outside the big names, there are a few interesting plot lines as well. Bobby Labonte is the active career wins leader at Atlanta with 6. Only catch is that he's not won a race in almost 6 years. He's coming off a great finish at Vegas 5th placing showing, and hasn't been doing too shabby this year considering he's piloting the also-ran 96 for Hall of Fame racing.
A.J. Allmendinger's another interesting name to watch. Of active driver's, A.J.'s got the 2nd best average finish in his 3 starts. Catch being he's only started 3 races there. If he can recapture whatever he had at Daytona, where he recorded a career high 3rd place finish, he just might be up near the front on Sunday.
Given that the finishes at Atlanta always come down to the wire, Rusty's not going to venture a guess as to who might make it to victory lane, but I sure as shoot am going to be on the edge of my seat come Sunday.
Last week, I said Junior needed a top 20 finish. He must have been listening cause he came home in 10th. He struggled again by speeding on pit lane and having to go 1 lap down, but this time he and the 88 team rallied for a solid finish. Atlanta's one of Junior's better tracks. He's got 1 win, 8 top 5's, and 10 top 10's with an average finish of 11.68. Not too shabby. Junior also LOVES to run that high line, and at Atlanta, that can be the fastest way around the track. I got a feeling Junior's going to be up near the front, and if he can avoid the little mistakes, he should be challenging for the win. He's moved up to 29th in the points, so he's out of the danger zone, but still needs good finishes this week and next at Bristol. Ole Rusty's pretty sure that's going to be the case.