DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 22, 2003) -- Who would have thought that after all those races, all those laps and all those potential dances with bad luck, that the chase for the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series championship would still be so stunningly ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 22, 2003) -- Who would have thought that after all those races, all those laps and all those potential dances with bad luck, that the chase for the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series championship would still be so stunningly close?
It's amazing, really, that with four races to go in the season, the top-five drivers in the chase are separated by just 44 points. The next-closest first to fifth-place battle in the history of the series at this point was Tommy Ellis' 129-point cushion over fifth-place Rob Moroso in 1989. As if anybody in this year's title bout needs reminding about how quickly fortunes can turn, Moroso made up the deficit and captured the championship in the season's final race at Martinsville Speedway.
In other words, no one can rest easy until the checkered flag falls Nov. 15 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Brian Vickers (No. 5 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet) regained the top spot in the standings with a fifth-place finish Oct. 18 at Memphis Motorsports Park. Vickers picked up the bonus for leading the most laps -- twice for a total of 152 of the event's 250 laps -- and now paces former leader David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac), who finished 19th, by 23 points.
Text Box: Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertsons Ford) scored a second-place finish in the event, to move from fifth to third in the championship battle, 34 points behind Vickers. Ron Hornaday (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) is still fourth in the standings, now 40 points out of first, after finishing fourth at Memphis. Scott Riggs (No. 10 Nestle Nesquik Ford) dropped from third to fifth in the standings, 44 points behind Vickers, after finishing 12th at Memphis.
* Three drivers top $1 million mark ... Three of the top-five drivers in the standings have already earned more than $1 million in winnings this season, including David Green ($1,025,635), Jason Keller ($1,019,895) and Scott Riggs ($1,013,275). Brian Vickers ($990,400) and Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford - ($949,705)) could reach the plateau before the end of the season. In 2002, eight drivers won more than $1 million. Greg Biffle, the 2002 NASCAR Busch Series champion became the first driver in the series'history to collect more than $2 million in a single season.
* After ARCA Atlanta runs, Montgomery eyes first NBS ride at track ... Chase Montgomery (No. 27 TrimSpa Pontiac) has three ARCA starts at Atlanta, in which he's garnered a top-10 starting spot twice. Never before, however, has he tackled the ultra-fast layout in a NASCAR Busch Series machine. The Hopkins chassis No. 46 he'll drive was nicknamed "Jed" after the "Beverly Hillbillies" TV show character, by his team. It's the same car Jeff Purvis drove to victory lane in the spring of 2002 at Texas Motor Speedway. "My [ARCA] results don't really show how good we were there because we ran into some mechanical problems, but I think that experience should pay off. Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks," he said.
* Lewis returning to 'favorite' track ... Ashton Lewis (No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet) has three top-10 finishes in his last four races, with an average finish of 9.7. He'll be running a brand new chassis at Atlanta, which he tested at the track last week. "Atlanta is my favorite track on the circuit. It's a very fast track, one of the fastest we go to," he said. "But it's so smooth and has such good grip that you don't realize the speed you're carrying. It has multiple grooves, which allows for a lot of side-by-side racing. You'll see some guys going high and some guys going low, wherever their car is most comfortable. It's a fun place to drive from a driver's standpoint."
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
* Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Yellow Transportation Dodge) collected his first career NASCAR Busch Series win last year at Atlanta. He led only the final lap, after Joe Nemechek ran out of gas. ... Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Sales & Lease Chevrolet) has three top-five finishes at Atlanta, tying him with Todd Bodine, Harry Gant and Mark Martin for most at the track. Waltrip has led 206 laps at Atlanta in NASCAR Busch Series competition, second-most to Martin's 637 circuits. ... Jason Keller will make his 11th start at Atlanta, tying him with Joe Nemechek for most at the facility.
* "Atlanta Motor Speedway is a totally different track than Memphis, where we ran last weekend. It's a mile-and-a-half speedway that is very similar to Lowe's Motor Speedway. It has some similarities to Texas. In the past, I've run well there. Atlanta Motor Speedway is very, very fast. It's a bottom-groove race track to start, but then, as the race progresses, the groove gets extremely wide. There are three and four lanes of racing there. It's not so much that you can run three or four wide, but you can race at the bottom, middle and top of the race track." -- Mike Wallace (No. 4 GEICO Chevrolet).
* "You always want to be in the points lead, but being in the points lead right now really doesn't mean anything. It really doesn't. Yes, we've got a very small cushion, but the only points lead that is going to matter is the one after Miami." -- Brian Vickers.
* "You certainly can't win a championship this time of year, but you can definitely lose one." -- Jason Keller.
WHAT THEY'RE WRITING
* Last year, Greg Biffle and Jason Keller duked it out for the NASCAR Busch Series title. This season's finish is shaping up to be even wilder -- five-wide with five laps to go. -- Craig Wack, The [Memphis, Tenn.] Commercial Appeal
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Mark Martin is the only driver to win more than one NASCAR Busch Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with three wins to his credit. With two poles, only one other driver has won more than one pole there; Dick Trickle is the other. Only one Atlanta race has been won from the pole, by Jeff Gordon. It was Gordon's first NASCAR Busch Series victory.
Aaron's 312 (Race No. 31 of 34 in the NASCAR Busch Series).
Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga.
1 p.m. (ET), Saturday, Oct. 25.
1.54-mile banked paved tri-oval.
TV: TNT, 1 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN, XM Satellite.
Pre-race schedule (all times local):
Practice, 10 a.m.-noon
Qualifying, 1:40 p.m.
Final Practice, 5:30-6:30 p.m.