The AdvoCare 500 represents one of the two final shots to win a race and boost bonus points in the Chase or capture the coveted final wild-card berth. Look for a Hendrick Motorsports-powered car to be in Victory Lane.
Jeff Gordon is the defending winner of this race. Gordon's 85th win was celebrated when he made history as the third place all-time winningest driver behind Richard Petty and David Pearson.
The rain-delayed 2011 edition of the AdvoCare 500 was held on Tuesday, and it came down to a wild battle between Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson for the checkered flag.
Gordon has had five wins at the Atlanta track with 15 top-fives, 24 top-10 finishes, two poles and an average finish of 12.2.
Johnson has had three wins this season and looks to be top seed for the Chase as of this time. Heading to Atlanta, he is second in points and 11 markers behind the leader.
The driver of the Lowe's No. 48 Chevrolet has had three wins, 11 top-fives, 13 top-10s and an average finish of 10.0 at this track. He has the series-best average running position of 7.7.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had just one win this season, but his consistency has kept him strong in the points. Currently he is third in the standings, 15 markers behind the leader.
Junior finished fourth in four of the last eight races. His team needs another win to secure bonus points in the Chase even though he has already clinched a spot.
At Atlanta, Earnhardt has had one win, eight top-fives, 10 top-10s, two poles and an average finish of 12.8.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Chevrolet, is currently hanging tough with the first wild-card berth by virtue of two wins and his 11th place in the point standings.
Kahne has won twice at Atlanta with six top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. His average finish is not as good as his teammates' at 18.3, but he didn't have Hendrick Motorsports equipment.
The fifth candidate to win the AdvoCare 500 with Hendrick horsepower was the owner/driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, Tony Stewart.
Stewart grabbed attention with his helmet-throwing incident at Bristol. Perhaps that was the tension reliever that he needed to rejuvenate his performance.
In the last four races, he has finished fifth, 19th, 32nd and 27th with wrecks and an engine failure dropping him to 10th in the points.
Stewart has been strong at Atlanta with three wins, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10 finishes with an average finish of 11.2. Stewart is safe in the Chase with his three wins this season, but one more wouldn't hurt.
The one spoiler to the potential HMS domination at the Atlanta race is a desperate Carl Edwards. The Roush Fenway Racing driver will do whatever it takes to win with his No. 99 Ford.
Edwards is 12th in the points, but he is winless. It is game on for this driver who knows that he may come very close to missing the Chase after he was tied with the champion in points at the end of 2011.
The RFR driver is a real threat to notch a victory at Atlanta where he has had three wins, eight top-fives, 10 top-10s and an average finish of 13.6.
There is a lot at stake for several drivers who are out to get the second wild-card slot with one win. Other drivers in the top 10 remain winless and need a trip to Victory Lane.
Competition has been ratcheted up and tempers have been flaring. When the checkered flag waves on the AdvoCare 500 chances, are pretty high that a Hendrick Motorsports-powered car will have won.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.