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Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: AdvoCare 500
On the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, there are three 1.5 mile tracks with 24 degrees of corner banking. Texas Motor Speedway was the first stop in April and will host a second event deep in the Chase. Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted its first race in May and also gets a postseason date. Meanwhile, Atlanta Motor Speedway lost its second date starting in 2011. Success across these tracks translates pretty well and useful for comparisons.
Practice sessions: Friday, Aug. 30, at 3 p.m. EDT, 2:45 p.m. EDT; Saturday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. EDT
Drivers to keep an eye on
Last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch was able to rally from the back of the pack, where he started, to finish 11th. Qualifying has not been an issue for Busch at Atlanta, however, where he's started on the first two rows in four straight attempts. Busch led at least 19 laps in three of those events and might own three consecutive finishes of sixth or better if not for finding the wall in 2011. Rowdy dominated the Texas race earlier in the season, leading 171 of 334 laps and winning from the pole.
Kenseth has finished ninth each of the last two years at Atlanta and hasn't fallen outside the top 15 since 2005. Even though he's sixth in points he leads the series this season with five wins among just six top-fives. Kenseth is coming off a redemption victory at Bristol and is now looking for his first trip to victory lane at AMS.
A late crash last week at Bristol was the last thing Keselowski needed and sent him tumbling from eighth to 11th in points. The Blue Deuce has performed well the last two years at Atlanta, finishing sixth with an average running position of eighth in 2011 then improving to a podium finish in 2012. Keselowski had finished 12th or better in four of five starts prior to a multi-car mishap at BMS.
Last year Busch drove the No. 51 car to a 13th-place finish in Atlanta. He also won here in 2009 and 2010 as a Penske driver. He qualified the No. 78 on the outside pole earlier this season at both Texas and Charlotte and again the last two weeks. At CMS Busch would finish a season-high third, which he's matched in two of the last four races.
The only driver to manage a top-five finish in each of the last two Atlanta races is Gordon. He won the fall race in 2011 with 146 laps led and a career-best average running position of fourth. Last year he paced only half a dozen circuits but spent all but one lap running in the top 15 en route to a runner-up performance. This could be the worst season Gordon has experienced in quite some time, but he can't be counted out at AMS.
After years of underperforming at Atlanta, Truex finally broke through with a fourth-place finish last year. From the fall of 2006 through 2011, despite an average running position of 15th or better in all 10 starts, he managed only a pair of top-10 finishes. Truex is coming off a broken wrist, suffered in a crash at Bristol that cost him a possible top-10, although he won't miss any time.
If Montoya is still in NASCAR next year it won't be with EGR. However, JPM has overcome the rumors and recent bad news to finish 11th or better in four of the last five races with a pair of top-fives. Montoya was once a stout performer at Atlanta, finishing third in both the fall of 2009 and March 2010 races before adding another top-10 later that season. We are talking deep sleeper here, but if Montoya practices and qualifies well, don't be surprised to see him running near the front on race day.
Vickers has not competed at Atlanta since qualifying fourth and placing 11th back in 2011. In eight starts while driving for the defunct Red Bull Racing team he recorded five top-10s and finished outside the top 15 only twice. Vickers, coming off a fourth-place result last week at Bristol, ran the No. 11 car at Texas earlier in the season and finished eighth.
Temper your expectations
Last year's seventh-place finish was Earnhardt's first top-10 at Atlanta with Hendrick since finishing third back in March of 2008, his fourth start with the franchise. The most recent result came with a less than ideal average running position of 17th, although Earnhardt had to rally from a starting position of 35th. In fact, Earnhardt has struggled to run in the top 15 the last four trips to AMS.
Hamlin won this race a year ago after leading 105 laps. He's now led more than 20 laps in four of the last five Atlanta events, posting three top-10 finishes. The issue is the ongoing nightmarish season that extended last week at Bristol despite his qualifying on the pole. Hamlin might be the current champ at Atlanta and he has performed well there on several occasions, but he appears unlikely to put up much of a defense.
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