Atlanta: Round three preview

It's Early But Atlanta Motor Speedway Could Prove Pivotal To Title Race The Racer's Group May Be New To NASCAR But Not To Top Competition Raybestos Rookie of the Year Class Holding Its Own In 2008 Hot Racing In Hotlanta Two races into the ...

It's Early But Atlanta Motor Speedway Could Prove Pivotal To Title Race
The Racer's Group May Be New To NASCAR But Not To Top Competition
Raybestos Rookie of the Year Class Holding Its Own In 2008

Hot Racing In Hotlanta

Two races into the season, Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54 mile "intermediate" track, could be pivotal for one's championship run.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion has won at least one race on an intermediate track in six of the last eight seasons (including 2006-07).

Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) is off to a strong start after winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and a runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway.

"First place one week, second the next -- that's how you win championships," he said.

Bodine has visited Victory Lane at AMS, the same year he won the series championship in 2006.

Reigning series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 30 Camping World/VFW Chevrolet) and former series champion Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) have both snagged the checkered flag at Atlanta.

Skinner, with an average starting position of second in seven starts at Atlanta, is looking to end his current six-race winless streak and add another series title to his resume.

Three-time series champion Jack Sprague (No. 2 American Commercial Lines/RVs.com Chevrolet) is chasing his first win at AMS, one of eight tracks on the series schedule where the driver has yet to take the checkered flag.

NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Atlanta gave the team confidence going into this weekend. Sprague posted top-five speeds both days.

"I think we are going back to Atlanta even better than we tested," he said.

The driver added, "We need to begin to get the ball rolling in the right direction this season and I think this weekend is the perfect place for us to do that."

Experienced Newcomers

TRG Motorsports may be new the new kid on the NASCAR block, but experience is something the team has. Since its inception in 1993, TRG (The Racer's Group) has competed in and dominated the top level of sports car racing.

In the spring of 2007, owner and CEO Kevin Buckler made the decision to enter the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

On the decision to enter the series, Buckler said, "The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is extremely competitive. The guys are like gladiators out there."

With the rookie duo of Andy Lally (No. 7 TRG Chevrolet) and Donny Lia (No. 71 TRG Chevrolet, Buckler and crew feel they have put together two teams that will hold their own in the series.

The first three-time Grand Am Rolex Series champion, Lally is competing in his first full NASCAR season and is on a mission to win in the series.

Lia joins TRG following an impressive 2007 season in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which culminated with the series championship.

"I'm excited to be racing for TRG Motorsports. I know that we have good equipment and good people so I am confident heading into the season," he said.

Etc. & Quotable

All Eyes On Busch ... Kyle Busch will pilot the No. 51 Toyota again for Atlanta businessman Billy Ballew. Busch is the only driver expected to compete in the trucks, NASCAR Nationwide Series, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta.

Busch, winner of the 2005 and 2007 fall races at the track, looks to extend his winning streak this weekend and stay atop the drivers' point standings.

Busch looks forward to running again with the series. "It is great racing and it is fun to be able to go out there and run with these guys in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," he said.

The driver added, "Anytime I can race with Billy Ballew, it is a lot of fun. We race to try to win, of course, every time we come out so to be able to go out there and have fun and race for points and for wins, it's great. "

Competitive Track ... Atlanta Motor Speedway holds the record for the closest finish on a superspeedway. Ron Hornaday, Jr. edged Bobby Labonte back in March 2005 by .008 second to take the win.

On the flip side, Hornaday finished second to Kyle Busch last October by a margin of .971 second -- the widest margin in the track's seven series races.

The race's final lead change has taken place with 12 or fewer laps to go in all seven races held in Atlanta. There were last lap passes for the win on two occasions: Bobby Hamilton and Mike Skinner (2004) and Kyle Busch and Jack Sprague (fall 2005).

Home Again ...

Tucker, Ga., native Shane Sieg (No. 07 Chevrolet) will make his third start at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend where his best finish is 13th (2004).

The No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet team of driver Shelby Howard has a fellow Georgia native on its crew as well. Kevin Gravitte, who hails from Conyers, is the team's jackman.

Gravitte played basketball for Mount Vernon Christian School in two state championship seasons and was named team and title game's Most Valuable Player.

Championship team Kevin Harvick Inc. will have crew members making a homecoming as well. Austin Walker, the rear tire carrier and mechanic for the No. 2 ACL/RVs.com Chevrolet team, hails from Lawrenceville.

Jeffrey Roth, rear tire carrier for Hornaday's team, calls Washington, Ga., home.

Roth will be pulling double duty for the weekend performing his duties for both the truck team and the No. 33 Camping World/RoadLoans.com/Rheem Chevrolet NASCAR Nationwide Series entry driven by Kevin Harvick.

Speed On Track ... F1 driver Scott Speed is slated to race for Morgan-Dollar Motorsports at Atlanta and Martinsville speedways. Speed made his ARCA stock car debut last October with a seventh-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway.

Speed will drive the No. 46 Red Bull Chevrolet in Atlanta.

Scott is not the first Speed in NASCAR. Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Lake Speed (no relation) made his mark in the sport with 402 series starts (1980-1998) and one win at Darlington in 1988. Both are former karting champions.

Double Duty ... Bill Davis Racing drivers Skinner and Benson have stepped in to help pilot the No. 27 Toyota entry into the top 35 owners points of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Skinner ran the car last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he had a strong qualifying run, placing the car fifth.

Benson, winner of AMS' NASCAR Nationwide race in 1995, will take over this weekend.

Rookies Holding Their Own

The seven Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates are eager to take the green flag at Atlanta. And for good reason. Right out of the gate, the class is showing strength.

Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) and Phillip McGilton (No. 22 3Wide Life Toyota) held steady in the top 10 at Auto Club Speedway.

Fellow rookie classmates Justin Marks (No. 9 Crocs Toyota) and Brian Scott (No. 16 Shark Energy Drink/Albertsons Chevrolet) rounded out the top 10 the previous week in Daytona.

The 20-year-old Scott took the rookie points lead after California. But the competition is tight with only a single point separating he, Braun, Marks and McGilton.

The driver sits 13th in the series point standings and is a mere 18 points out of 10th.

This weekend will not be his first time to race at Atlanta.

He made his fourth series start last fall at the track where he finished on the lead lap in the 19th position, three spots higher than McGilton.

"It will be good to go back to a track where I have raced a truck," he said. "I know that's going to be a big advantage not to have to learn the track for a change," he added.

Marc Mitchell (No. 15 Hyprene Ergon Chevrolet) competed in an American Speedway Association race at AMS several years ago.

Up Next

Testing at Martinsville Speedway is scheduled for March 12-13, with March 14 as a rain date if necessary. The season will continue with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville March 28-29.

Mike Skinner is the defending winner of last year's Kroger 250. Skinner, who won from the pole, captured the coveted starting position, setting a track record qualifying run of 19.728 seconds, 95.985 mph. Skinner also won last October's race at the track, becoming the first driver to sweep both races in the same season.

In The Loop: Kyle Busch Leads The Pack

Kyle Busch likely won't relinquish his stranglehold on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points lead this weekend.

Not if he keeps up his startling numbers at Atlanta. Busch is 2-for-2 there, checking into Victory Lane in both 2005 and last season. And he did it in dominating fashion.

His stats are incredible. In the two wins, Busch has a Driver Rating of 141.2, an Average Running Position of 2.3, an average Green Flag Speed of 176.067 mph (which is almost a full mph faster than second-fastest Jon Wood, No. 21 The Barnhill Group Ford), and spent all but one of the 260 laps in the top 15.

Two drivers -- one a youngster and one a veteran champion -- could steal Busch's glory. Wood, 26, had a strong sixth-place run the last time he raced at Atlanta (2006). In that top-10 finish, Wood scored a Driver Rating of 107.9, an Average Running Position of 7.4, had 13 Fastest Laps Run and spent 126 of the 130 laps in the top 15.

Also watch for 2006 series champion Todd Bodine, winner of this year's opener at Daytona, to contend for the Atlanta win. Bodine won there in 2006 and has two runner-up finishes at the 1.54-mile track. In his six Atlanta appearances, Bodine has a Driver Rating of 109.5, an Average Running Position of 8.6, a series-high 80 Fastest Laps Run and 663 Laps in the Top 15 (83.9 percent).

Director's Take: Expect Competitive Racing

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director Wayne Auton is pleased. So far, so good he said. "The American Commercial Lines 200 should be another exciting race, as AMS always seems to have."

"With a test earlier this year at AMS, teams are really geared up for this event. With the new rules packages in place for 2008 and a California race under their belts, teams are working on figuring out the aero along with the horsepower these engines are producing and how it will impact the racing. I expect, and people will agree, it will be a very competitive race."

Auton also has compliments for the season's Raybestos Rookie of the Year class. "With two races under our belt, the rookie class has proven why this year may be the best rookie class in years in the NCTS."

He added, "With a small point difference separating the rookie class from top to bottom and a variety of teams all having a good start to the 2008 season, it is really anyone's guess who will be the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in 2008."

Toyota On A Roll, Chevy Tops For Atlanta

Toyota is off to a strong start in 2008. The manufacturer claimed not only the No. 1 spot at Auto Club Speedway but six of the remaining top-10 positions.

Toyota has won five consecutive races beginning with Ted Musgrave's (No. 59 Team ASE Racing Toyota) victory at Texas Motor Speedway Nov. 2, 2007 but only two of seven races at Atlanta.

Chevrolet holds the most wins by a manufacturer for Atlanta with four.

FAST FACTS

The Race: American Commercial Lines 200

The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: March 7, 2008
The Time: 9 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 200.2 miles/ 130 laps

TV: SPEED, 8:30 p.m. ET

Track Layout: 1.54-mile banked paved speedway

2007 Winner: Mike Skinner
2007 Pole: Mike Skinner

Schedule: Friday: Practice, 9-10 a.m. and 11:20 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Qualifying, 4:45 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR-TRUCK