60th Anniversary celebraton moves to Atlanta

60th Anniversary Season's Celebration Arrives At Atlanta Atlanta Motor Speedway Has Contributed Greatly To NASCAR's First 60 Years DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 3, 2008) -- NASCAR started fast at Atlanta Motor Speedway and hasn't looked...

60th Anniversary Season's Celebration Arrives At Atlanta
Atlanta Motor Speedway Has Contributed Greatly To NASCAR's First 60 Years

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 3, 2008) -- NASCAR started fast at Atlanta Motor Speedway and hasn't looked back.

The very first race in what is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was won by a driver who would become known as arguably NASCAR's first superstar -- Fireball Roberts. Thus began a storied history of races typically won by marquee drivers, a trend that has helped define Atlanta Motor Speedway as one of the most exciting race tracks in all of stock car racing.

It's a reputation built on speed. With the advent of restrictor-plate racing in 1988, the "fastest" label was gradually removed from Daytona and Talladega and applied to Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval that features 24-degree banking in the turns and Indianapolis-like flatness of five degrees in the straights.

"At Atlanta you're basically going to see fast racing, close racing, exciting racing that the drivers enjoy and so do the fans," said Ed Clark, the longtime president of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

AMS is a big-time layout that promotes big-time racing -- and victories by big-name drivers. Of the 97 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 61 have been won by drivers who were either past or future champions of the series -- a 63% clip.

That impressive total includes a run of 11 straight victories by champions -- from 1995, through the first race of the 2000 season.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Atlanta this weekend, for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500. The season's second Atlanta race will be the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Oct. 26 -- the crucial seventh event in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that will determine the series champion.

Hosting important events, though, is nothing new to AMS. From 1987-2000, the track hosted the season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That 14-year run enabled the speedway to run what many consider the most significant race in the history of the series, the 1992 finale.

"There were so many stories going into that race," recalled Clark. Indeed.

It was Richard Petty's final race in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. It was Jeff Gordon's first race in the series. And then, there was the little matter of a championship being determined.

The day started with six drivers still in the championship hunt -- Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott, Harry Gant, Kyle Petty and Mark Martin. Those six were separated by only 113 points coming in -- an incredible situation considering this was in the days before the "Chase."

At day's end, Kulwicki won the championship by merely 10 points -- a series record for the closest championship margin and one that stood until 2004, the inaugural year of the Chase.

Great stuff. But there has been more throughout Atlanta's history.

In 1989, Rusty Wallace clinched his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup title, beating Dale Earnhardt by 12 points, at the time the second-closest title championship margin in history.

In 1990, Dale Earnhardt rode a solid third-place effort to his fourth series championship.

In 1995, Jeff Gordon won his first series title by beating Earnhardt -- who by then had seven crowns -- by merely 34 points.

In 2000 and 2001, two of the 10 closest NSCS finishes since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993 took place at Atlanta -- Dale Earnhardt finished 0.010 second ahead of Bobby Labonte in the fifth-closest race on March 12, 2000; and Kevin Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by 0.006 second on March 11, 2001, in the fourth-closest finish.

But since we're talking history here, it would be a major oversight to not reference the track that prefaced AMS in the Atlanta area -- Lakewood Speedway, a 1-mile dirt track that hosted 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup events, plus two Convertible Division races, from 1951-59.

Once again, the list of race winners reads like a Hall of Fame roll: Tim Flock in 1951 ... Herb Thomas and '53 and '54 ... Buck Baker in '53 and '56 ... Lee Petty in '59.

Champions all.

Which brings us to the present in Atlanta, which really, is a back to the future situation.

The defending champion of Sunday's race is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, in fact, won both of last year's Atlanta Motor Speedway events.

And of course, Johnson is the reigning and two-time defending series champion.

At Atlanta, the making of NASCAR history is a given.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Harry Gant , Lee Petty , Alan Kulwicki