NASCAR Sprint Cup: 8 Lessons We Learned at Atlanta

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 8 Lessons We Learned at Atlanta

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    Southern hospitality was not evident at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where some drivers were forced to drive like it was their last chance to win and perhaps it was the final blow that would keep them out of the Chase.

    The 1.5-mile track in the heart of the south is old, gritty and very fast. Drivers had to sling the cars around the turns, hoping to not cross the line where the little grip they had disappeared.

    It is old-school racing at this track compared to some of the other smooth, repaved intermediate tracks. Atlanta has character and the drivers, for the most part, have fun on this track.

    With only two races left in the preseason for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, we saw daring moves and daring calls with hard racing, and along the way we also learned some lessons.

    Let's check them out.

Four Is Good for the Winner

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    Denny Hamlin took his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota to victory at the AdvoCare 500. It was his fourth win of the season, making him top seed in the Chase as of this point with one race left in the preseason.

    Hamlin battled Jeff Gordon in the final laps. Gordon just didn't have enough to catch him, but he gave it everything he had.

    This was the second win for Hamlin in two weeks.

Wild-Card Race Will Go to Richmond

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    Kyle Busch led a considerable amount of laps with his No. 18 Doublemint Toyota and battled his teammate Denny Hamlin at the front of the pack. Busch just didn't have enough to contend at the end.

    Ryan Newman's No. 39 was involved in a crash triggered by Jimmie Johnson with some 53 laps remaining.

    Joey Logano had been sick prior to the race and was never a factor during the race with a mid-pack finish in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing machine.

    Marcos Ambrose ran the No. 9 in the top 10, but by the end of the race he was unofficially scored in 17th place.

    Jeff Gordon looked good at the start of the race, but his No. 24 faded. Constant adjustments to the car got the defending winner to second place in the AdvoCare 500.

    The fight goes on to Richmond with Kasey Kahne having what looks to be a lock on one wild-card slot because of his two wins. The other five drivers have one win each.

20th Anniversary of the Greatest Atlanta Race

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    The Hooters 500 in 1992 was a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway that had so many great storylines that there may never be a race quite like it. It was the final race of the season that year.

    Owner/driver Alan Kulwicki led the most laps and finished second to Bill Elliott. He won his one and only Cup title. Seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty ran his last race and Jeff Gordon drove his first.

    Kulwicki received NASCAR approval to change the lettering on the front of his Ford Thunderbird to "Underbird." He was always thought of as an underdog team.

    Davey Allison had a roller-coaster year with five wins and needed to finish sixth or better to win the series title at Atlanta. He was the victim of a wreck during the race.

    He suffered some bad crashes and his brother, Clifford Allison, was killed in June during practice at Michigan with a Busch series car. 

    In a tragic turn of events, Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in April of the following year, and Allison died from injuries resulting from a helicopter accident at Talladega July 13, 1993.

    Gordon drove the No. 24 car with a 20th anniversary paint scheme on his Dupont Chevrolet in the AdvoCare 500.

Tire Fall-off Was a Big Deal

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    Fresh tires usually mean lots of grip, but at Atlanta the grip slips away within a lap or two from the abrasive surface.

    The asphalt track is old and it gets slick when the rubber builds up. Drivers needed to drive the track, have great balance on their cars and find the line that the best matched the cars setup.

    The track changed and teams had to adjust the car, but tire management was a key factor. It is a driver's track and the style of driving tended to be a bit like what you might see on a dirt track at times.

AMS Is a Groovy Kind of Place

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    Part of the fun for the drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the ability to go wide with racing in the top, middle and bottom grooves.

    With good balance on the car, it will go most anywhere on the track and gain position. The track is fast, but the fact that cars move around a lot slows the average speeds somewhat.

    Some drivers are able to find a line at the bottom of the track where they almost hook the splitter at the yellow line where the track transitions and gain a bit of speed.

It Is Down to One for Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards was confident he could take his Roush Fenway Racing Subway No. 99 Ford to victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

    It was critical for him to get a win with two races left, to have a shot at the Chase via the wild card. Edwards headed to Atlanta 12th in points and winless.

    In a surprise turn of events, the No. 99 appeared to have lost an engine and was done for the night. The car was done for the night with some 60 laps to go. He had been running in the top 10.

    When the checkered flag flew for the AdvoCare 500, Edwards was scored with a 36th place finish and is 14th in the point standings.

    Richmond is a good track for Edwards, and he remains confident he can find victory there.

It Looked so Good for Martin Truex Jr.

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    It had been a great week for Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. He re-signed with MWR and NAPA for a multi-year contract.

    There were just four laps to go and Truex was in the lead when the caution flag flew. Everything changed with the green-white-checker finish, and his chance to win after 191 races faded.

    Truex was unofficially scored with a fourth place finish, he is fifth in the standings heading to Richmond and in the Chase for the first time since 2007.

Five-Time Champ Made the Wrong Move

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    Jimmie Johnson started eighth on the grid with his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, but on lap 269 he closed the door on Ryan Newman during a restart.

    Johnson's car was parked and he was scored unofficially in 34th place.

    Newman was finished for the night with his No. 39 and Sam Hornish sustained damage on his No. 22. Hornish rebounded to 11th place and Newman was scored 35th.

    The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion never really contended for the win and the surprising move that caused the wreck was uncharacteristic of the usually smooth driver. He is fourth in the standings.