In a battle that is still too close to determine a favorite and one in which the lead continues to change hands, there is also a lot of swapping of positions among the drivers near the top of the standings. Sam Hornish Jr. saw his narrow advantage over the rest of the field heading into last Friday’s Bristol race shrink further.
Austin Dillon finished third at Bristol, behind race-winner Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, to jump from fourth in the standings to second. Hornish’s lead 13-point advantage over Elliott Sadler was reduced to six over Dillon with only 10 races remaining. Sadler, who now sits 11 markers behind Hornish, fell to third.
Indicative of how close the points battle is heading into Atlanta for Friday night’s Great Clips/Grit Chips 300, seven of the drivers in the top 10 saw their positions in the standings change after Bristol. Only Hornish, Brian Scott (seventh; 60 points back) and Parker Kligerman (10th; -105) remain in the same spots.
This phenomenon of constant moving around among the top 10 is nothing new as these drivers have bounced around the top of the standings all year long. Among the top-10 drivers, Hornish has experienced the littlest movement staying safely ensconced between first and fourth place in the standings all year. On the flipside, Dillon has bounced between first and seventh for most of the year. Sadler has been as high as second, but as low as 12th, while Smith has ranged from first to 11th in the standings. Allgaier has fluctuated between second and seventh for the majority of the season.
Top-Five Drivers Hoping For Continued Success In Atlanta
With seven weekends remaining in the 21-consecutive-week stretch of NASCAR Nationwide Series races, drivers continue to jockey for position before their well-deserved two-week break. Due to their past success at Atlanta, four of the top-five drivers hope that the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 will provide them with a good opportunity to buckle down for the late-season stretch and confirm their place among the championship contenders’ conversation.
In last September’s Atlanta race, Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier all posted their best finishes at the 1.5-mile track in the series. All four of them finished with top-10 performances: Sadler (fourth), Allgaier (fifth), Dillon (sixth) and Hornish (ninth).
Hornish, who holds a six-point edge over Dillon, has only one other series start at Atlanta, which resulted in a 15th-place showing back in 2007. Dillon’s sixth-place finish last year was his only NNS start at Atlanta. In seven starts, Sadler has four top-10 finishes, but those are coupled with finishes of 30th, 37th and 42nd. Allgaier’s last two starts at Atlanta have resulted in fifth- and sixth-places finishes. Through four races, his worst showing was 17th in 2009.
Of the drivers in the top five, Regan Smith is the only driver without a top-10 finish. He only competed in two NNS events (2006, 2007) at Atlanta, coming in 21st and 23rd.
Friday night’s race should play a big role in helping provide focus to the ever-changing championship picture. After winning at Atlanta last year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went on to win his second straight series title.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Kyle Larson, who finished fifth at Bristol on Friday night, increased his lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings to 67 over Alex Bowman. … Eleven drivers will be attempting to make their NNS Atlanta debuts this Friday: Tanner Berryhill, Bowman, Chris Buescher, Ken Butler, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Jamie Dick, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Ryan Sieg.