HAMPTON, GA - When the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series arrives at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, October 28 for the Pep Boys Auto 500, it will mark the seventh event in the 10-race Chase for the Championship that will culminate in Florida in just four...
HAMPTON, GA - When the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series arrives at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, October 28 for the Pep Boys Auto 500, it will mark the seventh event in the 10-race Chase for the Championship that will culminate in Florida in just four more weeks.
As the series winds down, the action revs up for Team Chevy Chase racers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Clint Bowyer, who are battling for points in the final season-ending races.
With seven wins, 17 top fives, 20 top 10's, and three poles this year so far, Johnson is definitely on his game. He scored his 30th NASCAR Cup career victory last week at Martinsville and gained 15 points on series leader Gordon, who is 53 points out in front.
Johnson, who won the Atlanta race in April, has swept both Martinsville races and both Richmond races this year. On Sunday, he will seek to sweep both Atlanta races. "You try to be in the top five after the last pit stop," said Johnson, who will pilot the same Monte Carlo SS this weekend that he took to victory lane at California and Las Vegas this year. "That's a goal I typically have. It would be great if you're leading and defending. But if you run in the top five, there is enough that goes on in the last pit stop that you can pick up some spots."
Gordon, the current standings leader, leads all Chase participants with four wins at Atlanta. He also has one pole, 12 top fives and 18 top 10s there. With six wins, 20 top fives, 26 top 10's, and seven poles to his credit, it is a banner season.
"Atlanta is one of my very favorite tracks," said Gordon. "All we can do is go and approach it the same way that we always, what we've been doing all year long. I look back at our last Atlanta race and some of the mistakes that we made but we had an awesome race car. I love Atlanta. I'm looking forward to going there. I think that all we can do is just approach it the way we know how to best and try not to make mistakes and see what happens. I mean I'm not thinking about what's happened to other guys in the Chase.
"I'm just thinking about what we have and how we can do it a little bit better than we did the last time and try to fix some of the problems that we had last time there and stay on the lead lap and hopefully be in contention for a win."
Bowyer, a first-time Chase participant, ranks third in the standings, 115 points behind Gordon and 62 points behind Johnson. He needs to pick up some 30 points a race on Gordon and Johnson in order to have a shot at the title in Homestead.
Does he feel like the odd man out? "In my mind and our race team's mind we're definitely not the odd man out," said Bowyer. We're close enough we can win this thing. It's so, so strange how you're mindset can change from one race - bottom line New Hampshire. Starting the Chase we didn't know what to expect. I didn't know where to set my goals. I wanted to be hopefully finishing in the top five. I thought that would be good for us. If we could finish in the top five this year, our second year out in the Chase, that'd be a successful year. We'd won a race. We sat on two poles.
"I'd be content with that year but that first win changes everything. You go from maybe a 10th place so you can go to the banquet and we've won two poles so hey, we're in contention for a championship and we're going to be greedy and go after it."
Note: Fifteen years ago, at the fall race at AMS on Nov. 15, 1992, then 21-year-old rookie driver Jeff Gordon took the green flag for his first start in a NEXTEL Cup Series event. In celebration of that event, Gordon will serve as the Grand Marshal this Sunday, giving the command for the drivers to start their engines.
"It's an honor to give the command prior to the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- the track where my NASCAR Cup Series career began 15 years ago," said Gordon. "For the first time, the entire crowd may actually cheer for something I did."
-credit: gm racing