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Atlanta recap: Busch owns Hotlanta

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Gerrit Ritt

Gerrit is a fantasy editor for>>

There were some late restarts and a halfway decent wreck or two, but it really wasn’t as entertaining as some of the other events we’ve had thus far this season. In the end, it was a wily veteran Kurt Busch who reigned supreme, picking up his first victory of the year and 21st of his 11-year career.

Top Five Drivers

1. Kurt Busch

The No. 2 car was easily the best one of the day, blowing by Paul Menard and others late in the race to win going away. Even with the two restarts, Busch never gave up his lead and took down the checkered flag. One of my favorite guys - primarily because he’s a Cubs fan, of course – Busch deserved this one, quickly climbing back to 10th in the point standings after four events.

2. Matt Kenseth

This was the time of year where Kenseth crumbled last season. He took home the first two events in 2009, then quickly fell back fast enough to keep himself from making the Chase. However, that couldn’t be less the case this time around, as the No. 17 team hasn’t run worse than eighth yet in ’10. His second-place finish here was actually his best result since 2009’s second event, held at Fontana last February. He’s driving as well as anybody right now and needs to be considered a favorite each week until he proves otherwise.

3. Juan Pablo Montoya

It’s about time Montoya put up a nice result, as he’s been struggling hard core in the season’s first three races, running 37th in the last two. However, he made a nice go of it Sunday, coming on late in the day to put up his best finish since last year’s Chase, where he had five top fours in a span of six weeks. At least we know he’s still a force to be reckoned with this year, instead of the bust he could’ve become after such a great breakout season in ’09.

4. Kasey Kahne

I think Kahne’s officially rid himself of the label, “streakiest driver in NASCAR.” It used to be where he was great for two to three weeks at a time, then terrible for the next month or more before turning it around and winning once or twice. That’s been his M.O. for years now, but not any more. His first two races aside, since he was unlucky in both of them, he’s now had a dominant care yet again, finishing in the top 10 for the second straight week. I’ve always liked this guy, and he’s gonna become an even bigger star this year, mark my words.

5. Paul Menard

Way to go, Paul! This is four weeks in a row Menard and the No. 98 team have placed in the top 20 and his second career top-five result (second at Talladega in 2008). Congratulations, my man, you earned it, that’s for sure. He actually led two laps late in the race, but gave up the lead to Kurt Busch and couldn’t get back in front, but it was an impressive day for him, nonetheless. He’s done no worse than 18th in any race this year and could become the breakout star of ’10 if he keeps it up.

Top Five Disappointments

1. Carl Edwards

A mixup with Joey Logano early in the race ruined both teams’ day, which was pretty unfortunate. The minor incident didn’t crush either car, but it was enough for each of them to have to go into the garage and have work done, which sent them back several laps. Edwards never recovered, and was ultimately red flagged for aggressive driving, finishing just half the race laps and way back in 39th.

2. Joey Logano

His car was a lot less damaged than Edwards’ and was able to drive the rest of the day. However, it wasn’t competitive at all, ending almost 20 laps behind the leaders. After running so well the first three races of the season, this was too bad. Hopefully, the 36th-place finish doesn’t ruin his run at the Chase.

3. Ryan Newman

What’s the problem here, boys?! After being a top-10 team last season, the No. 39 car’s been a disaster through four races in ’10. The late-race wreck actually benefitted his final result, which still wasn’t very sexy, as he finished a lap back in 17th.

4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The polesitter for the Atlanta race just didn’t have the car to win with this week, which was too bad. He looked to be in good shape once the race started, but he couldn’t maintain it. After starting first, he fell out of the top 20 into 15th at the end of the day.

5. Tony Stewart

The 22nd he put up at Daytona was an ominous beginning to the season, but Stewart quickly rebounded with runs of ninth and seventh the last two weeks. Well, all that work was shot to Hades this week after being one of the last drivers on the lead lap. That usually doesn’t turn into a very favorable final standing, and that was no different this time. The No. 14 team once again finished outside the top 10 in 13th.

Top Five Surprises

1. Paul Menard

He’s been getting better and better each week this season and now finally scored his first-ever top five. That’s the kind of day that can turn around a career, if handled the right way. Menard’s looked great this year, and there’s no reason why it can’t continue while racing for a team as respected as Richard Petty Motorsports.

2. AJ Allmendinger

I’ve been hyping up Allmendinger all season long, and all season long he’s been letting me down. Finishes of 32nd, 25th and 25th aren’t exactly what I expected after placing him on my own team two of those three weeks. Well, he got back into my good graces this week with the second-best finish of his career (best was a third at the 2009 Daytana 500). His sixth place this week was just what I’ve been hoping for out of him. I guess I can feel a bit more confident having him on my team again in the weeks to come.

3. Brian Vickers

He started the season with finishes of 15th and 12th, but then had a down week in Vegas, falling back to 31st. He didn’t let that bother him, though, as he rose to the occasion in Atlanta with a seventh-place effort, his best outing since back-to-back sevenths in September of last year, just before the Chase, where he unfortunately fell flat on his face. Sorry, Brian, I honestly don’t even know why I brought that up.

4. Scott Speed

Speed had just one top 10 in his 43-race career heading into Sunday’s event in Atlanta (fifth at Talladega in April of last year), but what he’s done so far this season tells me there will be plenty of them to care in short order. His second such result just dropped with his 10th-place finish this weekend, which is the icing on the cake of what’s been a terrific start to the season thus far (19th, 11th, 22nd in first three). Look out for this guy the rest of the way. He’s gonna be making more and more noise the further we go along.

5. Marcos Ambrose

He could barely finish a race early in the year, with a 41st and a 35th to start 2010. However, he’s finally doing what many of us thought he could be coming into the season, with runs of 14th and now 11th the last two weeks. He’s just starting to figure out how to compete on this level, so you have to figure he’ll be putting up more of these type results.

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