Atlanta II: Round 33 preview

*Chase Race No. 7: Jimmie Johnson Still Out Front *Three-Time Champion Cale Yarborough Reflects On History *On The CAM: Kevin Harvick *In The Loop: The Best Usually In Contention At Atlanta Four To Go: Johnson Heads To Atlanta As The Chase ...

*Chase Race No. 7: Jimmie Johnson Still Out Front
*Three-Time Champion Cale Yarborough Reflects On History
*On The CAM: Kevin Harvick
*In The Loop: The Best Usually In Contention At Atlanta

Four To Go: Johnson Heads To Atlanta As The Chase Leader

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Reigning and two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) sits in a good place as the series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500.

As in, the top of the standings.

Race No. 7 in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup awaits, and Johnson will approach it as an opportunity to gain more ground. He did so last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, en route to his 13th career Chase victory and sixth overall this season.

And his view from here is pretty good -- it's 149 points to second-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 DISH TurboHD Ford), 152 points to third-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) and 198 points to fourth-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford).

As for Johnson's Atlanta statistics, he has three wins and a series-high Driver Rating of 113.4 there.

But Biffle, Burton and Edwards are equally accomplished at the 1.5-mile venue. Edwards is fourth in pre-race Driver Rating (102.8). Biffle is fifth (102.3) and Burton is eighth (92.8).

Edwards and Biffle -- Roush Fenway Racing teammates -- excel at 1.5-mile tracks, a team staple. Edwards has two Atlanta victories while Biffle finished fourth in the March event. Burton has seven top fives and 13 top 10s in 28 career starts there.

Johnson is chasing history as well as another title. Only one driver has recorded three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles -- the legendary Cale Yarborough, who did it in 1976-78. If successful, Johnson would equal Yarborough's feat on its 30th anniversary.

The Man To Catch: Three-Time NASCAR Champion Yarborough

Cale Yarborough, whose feat of three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles is being challenged by two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson, visited with media via a special teleconference this week. Excerpts follow:

Comparing his Junior Johnson-owned team to Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team: "There's no doubt about what kind of team Junior put together during those years. It was an excellent team. Of course, Rick Hendrick has put together an excellent team for Jimmie Johnson. That's what you've got to have to be able to win a championship, much less three championships in a row: an excellent race team...

His successful 1974 pairing with team owner Junior Johnson: "Bobby Allison was driving for Junior. He and Junior were going to separate, and Junior was looking for a driver, I was looking for a ride. We got together. We made a good combination. The championships that I won with Junior were his first championships and, of course, mine. We just hit it off at the right time, the right place, did the right things..."

What it takes to win consecutive titles: "It's hard to explain really. When you get on a roll like Junior and I were back in the earlier days when we won three in a row, Jimmie and his team all are on a roll now, it's just hard to break that momentum when they get going."

On The CAM: Kevin Harvick on NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) was this week's guest on the NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference, held Tuesday afternoon, from Richard Childress Racing headquarters in Welcome, N.C.

Some excerpts follow:

On returning to Atlanta, the site of his first career series win in March 2001: "It's definitely a cool place to go back to just for the fact that your first win is something that you only do one time. Obviously every time we go back there, that's what a lot of people want to talk about, and we are excited that we ran good in the first race there this year, so we are looking forward to going back this week...

His perspective of the current Chase schedule: "You know right now, I think our Chase format is really good for our sport and leads up to the 26th race and has a lot of excitement over the 13th, 14th, 12th, 11th place guys that sometimes don't get the exposure if we're not racing for a championship and we're not up in the points. I think it's created a lot of excitement in races in the past that have not had that ...

On fellow driver Kyle Busch's tough luck since beginning the Chase as its top seed: "I think obviously he's had a really good year. The way that our sport works is if you're not hot at the right time, you don't come out on top and win the championship. It's all about being consistent through the whole year, no matter whether it's the old-style points or the new-style points, with the year he had, he would not be on top. ...

On Tuesday's announcement of Shane Wilson as crew chief of RCR's fourth series team in 2009: "Obviously Shane has earned that right to get that opportunity with the 33 car and I'm excited for him as a person, and he's a good friend of mine and I think obviously with Clint's situation, I think Shane will be a good fit. It's great to see (him) get promoted within the company and get the opportunity to do that ...

On Ryan Newman driving a Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned entry in Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta: "Ryan and myself and our wives are really good friends and we are really excited to have Ryan in there. We're just excited as an organization to kind of have fun with the two trucks as we head towards the end of the year here.

"Ryan was able to drive the truck, and so it will be fun to just kind of share that experience with your friends. And he gets his first experience with a truck, and obviously taking him to Atlanta for the first time is probably the best place that we can take him with all of the success that he's been able to have with the poles, and as well as he runs there."

History-In-The-Making? Jimmie Johnson Focusing On Winning

Catching two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson -- who leads the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with four races remaining -- won't be easy for closest pursuers Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton, who swapped second and third place, respectively, based on Martinsville finishes. Nor will it be easy for fourth-place Carl Edwards.

The trio must ponder these points:

Johnson is difficult to catch in the Chase. He won his 2006 and '07 titles with impressive surges in the Chase -- the season's final 10 races, over which the top 12 drivers after race No. 26 each season are eligible to compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

He and crew chief Chad Knaus thrive on playoff pressure. Five of the six Chase events thus far have been the second this season at those tracks -- New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway and Martinsville.

Johnson averaged 126.8 points after the first '08 events at those tracks. After the second '08 events, he's averaged 167.6 points.

Meanwhile, Johnson is beginning to ponder the significance of winning his third consecutive title, which would link him with one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, Cale Yarborough -- the only driver to notch three consecutive titles.

"I think we have more variables in our sport than any other sport," said Johnson, marveling at the difficulty of Yarborough's accomplishment. You've got this vehicle with all these moving components and four tires that you're going to worry about and you change those all the time and you don't know what's going to happen.

"Thirty-six races and 43 stars on track every weekend. It's just a tough, tough sport. I think if somebody ran the numbers on odds and all that stuff, the odds to repeat are less in our sport than in any other sport out there."

Johnson, who hails Yarborough as a childhood hero, remembers his first stop at an Oklahoma outpost of a fast-food restaurant whose name emblazoned Yarborough's car at the time.

Then a dirt-bike racer, Johnson couldn't wait to "race" inside the building.

"My dad had every intent to grab a burger," he said, "(but) I thought I was going in to see Cale Yarborough. When I walked in, I didn't see a picture of him, I didn't see a sign, I didn't see a transporter, and I was wondering where his race car was.

"So I guess at that point I understood the marketing of NASCAR. But I was disappointed that I didn't see him."

In The Loop: Statistics Forecast A Battle-Of-The-Best At Atlanta

Atlanta Motor Speedway, with its high speeds and high banks, apparently lends itself to a "cream rising to the top" phenomenon.

Eight of the last nine winners are currently Chase contenders. Additionally, the entire top-10 list in pre-race Driver Rating all earned berths in the 2008 Chase.

Tops among them is points leader Jimmie Johnson, who leads the series in Driver Rating (113.4), Average Running Position (6.6) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (94%) over the last seven races at Atlanta.

Chasing Johnson in the points standings are Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards. The statistics suggest that Atlanta could play a huge role in the final championship outcome, as all three of those drivers excel at Atlanta.

Biffle has a Driver Rating of 102.3 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 9.8 (second), a series-high 211 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 83.4% (second).

Edwards has a Driver Rating of 102.8 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 11.5 (sixth), 197 Fastest Laps Run (second) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 82.4% (fourth).

Burton has a Driver Rating of 92.8 (eighth), an Average Running Position of 11.0 (fifth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80.9% (fifth).

Beyond the all-important championship battle, an interesting side story to this weekend could be the hunt for the elusive first win of 2008 for past champions Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford).

Gordon has won at least two races in each of the last 14 seasons. He has four races left to extend that incredible streak. Statistically, Atlanta should pose a solid opportunity.

Gordon has four career Atlanta victories, and has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six Atlanta races. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 96.6 (sixth), an Average Running Position of 11.9 (seventh), 84 Fastest Laps Run (ninth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76.4% (sixth).

Kenseth, who has at least one win in each of the last six seasons, has finished in the top 10 in the last four Atlanta races.

Since 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 94.1 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 14.5 (10th), 85 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 66.4% (ninth).

Georgia Natives In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Garage

A number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series participants will make their homecoming this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Georgia natives in the garage include:

Three drivers -- David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford) from Unadilla, Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Lysol Target Dodge) from Peachtree City and 1988 series champion Bill Elliott (No. 21 U.S. Air Force Ford) from Dawsonville.

And a number of team members:

Jason Jones (Rhine) -- No. 5 mechanic; Jayme Christianson (Marietta) -- No. 83 media relations; Chris Golder (Alpharetta) -- No. 88 shock specialist and Jacob Norman (Marietta) -- No. 45 front-tire changer.

Also Adam North (Sonoraville) -- No. 31 jack man; Paul Craven (Summerville) -- No. 45 jack man; Kenneth Purcell (Savannah) -- No. 48 jack man; Jason Jones (Rhine) -- No. 5 rear tire carrier and Sheila Lumpkin (Atlanta) -- No. 9 scorer.

And Mike Brown (Statham) -- No. 22 spotter and chief financial officer of Bill Davis Racing; Chip Wile (Atlanta) -- sponsor services and truck series PR; Shane Bourgeois (Peachtree City) -- No. 41 pit support and Byron Goggin (Tifton) -- No. 20 pit support

Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing Excel At Atlanta

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway next March, it will be to mark a major milestone -- the track's 100th series event.

Two teams, however, have done a good job figuring out the last 10-plus seasons at Atlanta.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have won the most races there since the 1.5-mile venue was reconfigured after the spring event of 1997.

That's a total of 15 wins in 22 races.

JGR own eight of those wins -- five by Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge), the 2000 series champion, a pair by two-time series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and one by Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota) this March.

Hendrick has seven of those wins -- three by four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), one by Jerry Nadeau and three by reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Others with Atlanta wins during that 22-race period are Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards, who swept both 2005 events, plus Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) -- all with single victories.

On The Bubble: Robby Gordon's No. 7 Is 35th With Four To Go

For those teams battling to remain in the top 35 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' owner standings, the season's final four events are every bit as crucial as those teams involved in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Each week, the top 35 in the owner standings are guaranteed starting positions, while those outside the cutoff must qualify on speed.

Ending the season within the top 35 also is very important: The top 35 teams in the owner standings from the previous year are guaranteed starting berths through the first five races of the following season.

Heading into Atlanta's Pep Boys Auto 500 -- the 32nd of 36 series events -- the No. 7 Jim Beam Dodge owned and driven by Robby Gordon occupies the 35th spot.

He's only 15 points behind 34th, and the No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota owned by Dietrich Mateschitz and driven by Scott Speed.

Speed's team trails 33rd  --  and the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill
Davis and driven by Dave Blaney  --  by 106 points.

Behind Gordon, the No. 47 Little Debbie's Toyota owned by Rob Kauffman and driven by sits in 36th.

Note: Effective this week, the No. 47 replaces the No. 00 as that team's number for Michael Waltrip Racing. All owner points accumulated under the No. 00 also transfer to the No. 47.

The No. 47 team trails Gordon and that important 35th spot by 75 points.

Behind the No. 47, in 37th place, is the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge owned by Roger Penske and driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Sam Hornish Jr.

The No. 77 trails 36th place by 65 points, and 35th by 140 points.

Note No. 2: Hornish also is in the thick of another battle. He and Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s Regan Smith (No. 01 DEI/The Principal Group Chevrolet) are tied for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings lead with 192 points each heading to Atlanta.

NSCS Etc.

Shane Wilson Named No. 33 Crew Chief ... Richard Childress Racing announced Tuesday that veteran crew chief Shane Wilson will oversee the organization's fourth team next season.

Wilson will serve as crew chief for driver Clint Bowyer and the new No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet.

In August, team owner Richard Childress announced the formation of a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team for 2009 and the addition of Casey Mears (No. 5 Kelloggs/CARQUEST Chevrolet), who's completing his second and final season with Hendrick Motorsports.

Mears will succeed Bowyer in the No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet.

A Royalton, Vt., native, Wilson has been with RCR since 2006. He's guided drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Scott Wimmer to a total of 17 NASCAR Nationwide Series wins in 2006 and 2007.

"Teaming up with Clint is a great situation because he has won Cup races and has made the Chase these past two seasons," Wilson said. "He and I have worked some in the Nationwide Series and we've tested together so there is already a comfort level that has been established. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to the chance to prove myself."

NASCAR Foundation Track Walk ... Drivers Travis Kvapil (No. 28 Yates Racing Ford), David Gilliland (No. 38 Yates Racing Ford), David Ragan, Aric Almirola and Joe Nemechek (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet) will participate with fans in the final 2008 NASCAR Foundation Track Walk, presented by Aflac, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The event begins at 8:30 a.m., and benefits The NASCAR Foundation and Speedway Children's Charities' Atlanta Chapter.

Up Next: Race 8 In The Chase: Texas Motor Speedway

Race 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be the Dickies 500, Sunday, Nov. 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Two-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, also the current standings leader, is the defending race champion. He and another series champion, Matt Kenseth, dueled side-by-side to a thrilling finish last fall.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) was last year's pole sitter.

Jeff Burton, currently third in the standings, is the only multiple-race winner at Texas. He won the initial event in 1997 and again last spring.

Race 6 in the Chase: Pep Boys Auto 500
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, October 26
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 325 laps/500.5 miles

TV: ABC, 1 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN (Local Affiliate: WYAY-FM 9106.7), SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Greg Biffle

Pre-Race Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, 3-4:30 p.m. Qualifying, 6:45 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 10:30-11:15 a.m. and noon-12:50 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Jerry Nadeau , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Mike Brown , Scott Speed , Scott Wimmer , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Junior Johnson , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , David Gilliland , David Ragan , Chad Knaus , Dave Blaney , Cale Yarborough , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch , Travis Kvapil
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Michael Waltrip Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , Bill Davis Racing , Yates Racing