Nascar at Atlanta: All Other Things Aside, One Thing Is Certain… Atlanta IS Fast

Rusty NormanThe track at Atlanta is old and abrasive. It hasn’t been repaved since it was reconfigured back in the 90’s and it is still fast, slippery and offers three wide racing from the bottom to the top. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits on the pole of the Kobalt Tools 500 after clicking off the fastest qualifying lap at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Not only was his lap the fastest for the day in Sprint Cup, but, it was the fastest qualifying speed recorded for the COT since it was introduced.

Dale Jr wasn’t alone in being fast for the Hendrick camp as Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon joined him in the top five and once again, Jimmie Johnson qualified a little further back in the pack at the 16th position although not many expect that to hold him back at the end of the day on Sunday. Even during the practice sessions, the Hendrick teams looked strong and their cars were plenty fast.

Juan Montoya and Kyle Bush also deserve honorable mention for their qualifying times as JPM qualified third and Kyle second.

The practice times during the three practices suggested to this fan that many were trying to find out what worked best for the long runs. All of the main teams had someone running fast lap times at one time or another, especially the Hendrick teams.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is one, if not the, fastest track on the Nascar circuit and would prove to be a great race on Sunday afternoon. The speeds are going to be fast, especially on new tires and those time are going to drop off drastically from the first lap to the last lap they run on a set of tires. That’s what makes Atlanta so interesting to me. We will see cars running in grooves from the bottom to the top and we will definitely see the drivers moving around trying to find the places to stay consistently fast throughout a run.

I hate to say it, but this weekend could be the weekend when the Hendrick Teams really show their muscle. It seems to this fan, all of the Chevy teams look to have plenty of horsepower, especially on the Hendrick and Childers side of things. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Dale Jr break out of his extended slump and pull off a victory at AMS this weekend. Of course, I can say the same thing about a couple of the Roush Teams and quite possibly the Gibbs Toyotas, too. It is a tough race to pick the winner.

Now that I’ve said all of that, I’m not so sure Dale Jr has been able to get beyond all of his misfortunes, but if he has, this race could be the start of his turnaround. This is a 500 mile race and anything can happen, but the #88 Hendrick Chevy is going to have to keep up with the track so the driver can keep his confidence up all day. Otherwise, his frustration often proves to be a detriment to finishing well. He is going to be hard pressed by all of his teammates and anyone of them could snatch the victory from him. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, in particular, look very strong and either one of them could take home the trophy. I expect all four of the Hendrick teams to run strong all day, (and yes, that also means Jimmie Johnson could win his third in a row.)

Kevin Harvick may have won the Truck race, but He struggled all during the Cup practices and qualifying. His teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton showed some strength in their RCR Chevy’s and could make it interesting, especially near the end of the race.

I’m really thinking it is going to be a race heavy with Chevys in the top spots. There are the beginnings of rumblings that the Chevy’s have a horsepower advantage over the rest of the makes and it remains to be seen if something comes up about that in the next few weeks, (especially if they continue to dominate.)

Oh well, it does sound as if the manufacturer wars may be heating up a bit, but it is not my opinion it is all about horsepower. The Hendrick and Childers teams seem to have hit on a few things in the handling department that appears to give them an advantage over the others at the moment, but then, having that Hendrick and Childers horsepower under the hood isn’t hurting them either…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© March 6, 2010 – all rights reserved

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