Track profile: Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta Motor Speedway basics
Track Type: Intermediate
Distance: 1.54-mile quad-oval
Banking/Turns: 24 degrees banking | Straightaways: 5 degrees banking
Atlanta has been a 1.5-mile joyride for some of the best drivers the Cup circuit has ever seen — with Dale Earnhardt (nine), Cale Yarborough (seven) and Richard Petty (six) topping the all-time wins list at AMS.
High, wide and fast, Atlanta provides plenty of room for aggressive driving on long green-flag runs. But those same stretches can put wear and tear on both engines and tires, making pit strategy crucial at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks.
Two drivers — Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson — have combined to win six of the last 10 races run at the Hampton, Ga., track.
After back-to-back flips during his AMS sweep of 2005, Edwards was on the verge of winning last March until a blown engine sidelined him with 50 laps remaining. He won for a third time in October, leading 98 laps en route to checkers. JJ won here in October 2004 and swept in 2007.
Keep an eye on Kyle Busch, who notched the first of his eight wins on the year at AMS last March, leading 173 laps to edge out former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate (and two-time AMS winner) Tony Stewart. “Rowdy” has also won three of the last seven Truck Series races.
Jeff Gordon has four wins in Atlanta, taking the checkers in 1995, ’98, ’99 and ’03. Gordon has been close to winning a fifth, with six top-10 finishes in his last seven trips, including a runner-up to Edwards in October 2005.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been hit-or-miss since winning the March 2004 race. But with a third- and 11th-place in his first year with Hendrick, Junior could challenge in 2009.
Getting around the track
A strong engine package is a must at Atlanta, where high RPMs take their toll over the course of 500 miles. A worn track surface demands drivers take care of their tires and hit pit road anytime the opportunity presents itself. Multiple grooves in the track allow a driver and his spotter to decide where the car works best.
Classic Atlanta Moment
The 1992 Hooters 500 has been called the greatest race ever by many long-time fans and participants of the sport. Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first, this season-ending event sees six drivers enter who are still mathematically eligible for the title.
Championship contenders Davey Allison (crash) and Kyle Petty (engine) are forced out of contention, leaving Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki to settle the standings.
Kulwicki, in his under-funded, self-owned Hooter’s “Underbird,” uses crafty strategy that ensures he leads one more lap than Elliott (103 to 102). Although Elliott wins the race, Kulwicki’s 10-point bonus for leading the most laps enables him to win the championship battle by a scant 10 points over Elliott after having trailed by 278 points with six races remaining.
Who to watch for
Looking at Checkers: While conventional wisdom may say Kyle Busch, we’ll take Carl Edwards.
Pretty Solid Pick: Kyle has an excellent chance, as does Jimmie Johnson.
Good Sleeper Pick: Martin Truex Jr.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Robby Gordon.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget Mark Martin in his new Hendrick getup.