RCR in the ATL ... In 116 starts at AMS, RCR has earned four poles and nine wins, including Kevin Harvick's emotional victory in the Cracker Barrel 500 on March 11, 2001. Prior to that, Dale Earnhardt won eight times at the Hampton, Ga.-based track under the RCR banner. Additionally, RCR boasts 27 top-five and 49 top-10 finishes at AMS and RCR-prepared Chevrolets have led 2,826 laps at the ultra-fast 1.54-mile quad oval. Richard Childress, a former driver on NASCAR's senior circuit, recorded his best finish at Atlanta, ninth, in the Atlanta Journal 500 on Nov. 2, 1980.
Get to the Points ... Following the Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol, Harvick sits fifth in the standings, 48 points outside of the top spot, and has clinched a spot in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Bowyer slid to the 12th spot and is 22 points in arrears to the top-10 cutoff with two races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup commences. Menard is now listed 20th in the standings, while Burton remained in 24th, sitting 59 markers in arrears to the top 20.
This week's Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet under the lights of Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 364 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala was a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and was last seen in competition on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where Menard, after staring 15th, drove it to Victory Lane to claim his first career NSCS win.
Menard will battle for $3 million payout in the Sprint Summer Showdown finale ... With his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Menard was crowned the first qualifier for the Sprint Summer Showdown presented by HTC EVO 3D. The Summer Showdown puts $3 million on the line for drivers, their charities and one lucky fan in a six-race competition. The winning drivers between Indianapolis and Bristol became finalists for the Labor Day weekend race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. If one of the eligible drivers wins the Atlanta race, then the driver, the driver's charity and one lucky race fan each collect $1 million. For more information, please visit www.sprint.com/speed. The drivers qualified for the Summer Showdown are Menard, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch and their NSCS entries at AMS will have special "Sprint yellow" roof numbers and spoilers.
PAUL MENARD QUOTES:
You've had several good runs at Atlanta Motor Speedway. When you first showed up there, was it a track that you just naturally took too? "Yeah, my first Cup start on an oval (track) was at Atlanta (Motor Speedway), and I think we finished seventh. It's an easy track to overdrive. The tires fall off a lot, and the pace slows down, so you have to manage your equipment. That just works for me, I guess."
How does the qualifying speed compare to the speed during the race? "There is a big difference between the qualifying and race speeds. The attitude of the car changes a lot with the load on the springs. Lap times can be a couple seconds slower during the race, so you have to plan accordingly."
Does it feel weird that we don't have two races there this year? "Yeah, I think we should go there twice. It's a fun, fast track that generates some exciting racing for the fans."
Being Labor Day weekend, do you sense more excitement there? "I think a night race in general brings a lot of excitement, especially at a high speed place like Atlanta. I definitely think it's going to be really exciting."
Does Atlanta Motor Speedway compare to any other tracks that we go to? "I think Charlotte (Motor Speedway) and Texas (Motor Speedway) are the most similar. The grip level and texture of the race track is a lot different than other tracks."
This Week's Rheem Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 353 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. The No. 29 team utilized this car to earn Harvick's third win of the season in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
Harvick at Atlanta ... In 20 starts at AMS, Harvick has accumulated one win, four top-five and six top-10 finishes. His average starting position at the track is 18.4 and his average finishing position is 20.5. Harvick has also led a total of 136 laps at AMS and completed 97.3 percent (6,275 of 6,448) of the laps run at the track since 2001.
Last Time Around ... Last year Harvick finished ninth in the March race at AMS. He had a solid run going in the September event until the left-front tire blew out in the second half of the race, causing damage that ultimately forced the team to end the night in the garage with a 33rd-place finish.
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTES:
Looking ahead to Atlanta Motor Speedway, how important is it for you to have a good run there, because there are so many mile-and-a-half tracks in the Chase? "You always want to run good, and any momentum is good momentum as long as it is headed in the right direction. Atlanta (Motor Speedway) in itself doesn't do anything for us performance wise just because it is so slick and so worn out. It is kind of its own beast. Running good anywhere is a good thing, especially as we get closer to the Chase. I feel good about the things that we have got going on leading into Chicago. I do not know exactly how much of that will bleed over into the next few weeks, but I feel confident. It is definitely not going to be from a lack of effort from all the guys internally and the things that we have going on right now."
What kind of track is Atlanta? "Atlanta is fast, very fast. You can race all over the race track, from the white line to the wall, and still be competitive. You have to have the complete package to contend for the win there and horsepower is always important. We had a strong run at Atlanta last fall so we really look forward to going back this year in the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet."
What do you like about racing at Atlanta? "I just like the fact that the car slides around a lot and you have to move around the race track and really search for somewhere to find more grip in order to make the car drive well, and you have to still be able to make fast lap times hunting for places to find grip."
Take me through a lap around Atlanta in the Rheem Chevrolet. "It all depends on what lap you are on with the tires. The first lap is usually the perfect lap on the tires just because you have so much more grip than on the second, third, fourth and fifth laps, but Atlanta is just very fast and we seem to want to be right around the bottom. You use a lot of throttle, there's a lot of corner speed and the car has to work good over the bumps."
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 367 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Caterpillar Chevrolet is a recent addition to the fleet and ran for the first time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where Burton started 13th and finished 35th after facing electrical issues in the closing laps.
JEFF BURTON QUOTES:
The last time you raced at Atlanta, you finished fourth. That had to be a satisfying day. "Atlanta (Motor Speedway) is the type of place that I describe as multi-personalities. It has a completely different personality in qualifying trim, it's so fast, you're in the gas, and you're making speed; but in race trim, it slows down. It's like you're racing at Rockingham (Speedway). It's just so different. It's a fun race track. It's a challenging race track. I've never won there, and it's a place that I really want to win at because it's been such a big challenge. When I was running for Jack (Roush), we were second in points and missed the race. It was a long time ago, but ever since then, I've wanted to win there really bad. My rookie year there in a Cup car, I was leading and led a lot of the race. There was a late-race caution, and we had a bad pit stop and finished fourth. That one still stings because it was my fifth race, and we could have won it. There are a couple things about Atlanta that stick out, and I want to redeem myself."
Does it feel weird that we're only going there one time this year? "It is weird, but I think it's good. I know that there are a few people that live around the race track that won't accept that comment, but it's a track that puts on good races, it's a track that always has something going on, and maybe that's been taken for granted a little bit. Sometimes, I think you don't realize what you have until it's gone. I think only having one race there will rejuvenate and reenergize and remind people how special it is to have a Cup race there. Hopefully it can earn its way back into having two races there."
Do you think moving the date was a win-win for everyone? "I think moving the date was definitely a win-win for everyone. I think the early date really hurt Atlanta with the weather and all. I think this date is a really nice date. It's a holiday weekend. There are a lot of things about this date that make sense."
It has a nice carnival atmosphere because it is a holiday weekend. "I think that people are a little more relaxed. If it's a Sunday race, and you have to be home and at work on Monday that's a different environment than if you can take your time getting home after the Sunday race. I think this creates a little more of a relaxed atmosphere. People feel like they're really on vacation, and I think that makes a difference."
This Week's Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 368 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala, built new for 2011, has seen action twice this season. The first time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Bowyer brought home a 13th-place finish after starting 26th and most recently at Michigan International Speedway when Bowyer came through the field to finish eighth after qualifying 35th.
Points Racing ... Bowyer, still deep in the hunt for a spot in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, is currently 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings. He now sits just 22 markers out of 10th with two races remaining until the cutoff for the Chase.
CLINT BOWYER QUOTES:
This is the first year that we have run only one race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Does it feel a little strange? "It does. It's a fun race track. I think it's an important race track for us. I can't wait to get there and race. It's very competitive and I always race well there. It puts on a good show for the fans and that's item number one right now."
Compared to other mile-and-a-half tracks, does Atlanta Motor Speedway compare to anything else we've raced on? "No, it's fast and very slick. It's multi-lined. Most of the tracks that are that fast, are one-lined race tracks. Atlanta (Motor Speedway) is an exception to that rule. You can race up high, down low, in the middle and all over the place."
Moving the date to Labor Day weekend seems to generate more excitement. Can you tell the difference? "I think this will be a big show for them. Sometimes pulling back a date isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you have to make it one big show instead of two mediocre shows. I think it's more important to have something go off as a huge success than it is to try to thin it out. I think the excitement level will be at a premium and things will get back to what we're accustomed to seeing there."
Speeds are fast during qualifying, how much do they slow down during the race? "They slow down a bunch. Even from the first laps on the track, the grip level isn't there that you would feel at other race tracks, but somehow the speed is. It kind of plays tricks on your mind because it feels like you're sliding and you're a little out of control, but halfway through the lap the car is accepting the speed and you hammer down. The first couple laps on the track, you have to adjust yourself. "