NASCAR Fantasy: Who's Hot and Who's Not (Hot-Lanta)
This week, the Nationwide Series takes a hiatus from racing and the Cup boys head down to one of NASCAR's fastest—and in my opinion, best—tracks on the circuit.
It's a track that has seen some of the closest and best finishes among any other NASCAR-sanctioned track, and I'm hoping that Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 is no different.
With the Nationwide Series off, all we have to look at is the Cup stars.
1. Jeff Gordon: Not only does Gordon now lead the points standings, but he visits a track that he has been wildly successful at in the past. Gordon has visited Victory Lane four times at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He has 13 top-fives, 21 top-10 finishes and two poles. Gordon averages a finish of 12.7 and has an average running position of 12.7 at the track more commonly referred to as "Hot-Lanta."
Gordon's driver rating of 98.4 is seventh-best at AMS and his 98 fastest laps run is ninth-most. He is fourth-most with 2,066 laps run in the top-15 (79.3 percent) and has 247 quality passes, also fourth most.
The No. 24 DuPont Chevy team is proving they are going to be a contender this year for not only a Chase spot, but the championship. Gordon is seeking his fifth series title.
After problems took away what could have been a win at Daytona, Busch rebounded with a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, and a win at his home track of Las Vegas.
Busch has one win and two top-five finishes at AMS and averages a finish of 18.2. His average running position of 15.4 is 12th best and his driver rating of 90.2 is ninth best.
Busch has run 125 of the fastest laps at the track (seventh most) and has 458 green flag passes (ninth most). He also has run 1,506 laps in the top-15 (57.8 percent) which is 11th-most.
While the numbers are not extremely glamorous, Busch is a threat each and every weekend, and he did win the Spring race at AMS last year.
Johnson has been strong in all three races this season, but he has not finished as well as he ran. The team struggled to keep up with the tracks at ACS after leading laps early and finished ninth after looking to be headed towards a win.
AMS could be just what the team is looking for, however. Johnson has three wins, nine top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile banked oval. He averages a finish of 9.1 and has a series-best average running position of 7.2.
Johnson also boasts a series-best driver rating of 112.9 and is fourth-most with 183 fastest laps run. His average green flag speed of 174.016 mph is third fastest and he leads the way with 2,375 laps in the top-15 (91.2 percent).
Johnson is also eighth most on the list with 230 quality passes. Johnson finished second at AMS last fall.
Darkhorse, Dale Earnhardt Jr.: This was one of the toughest darkhorses to pick from. So many drivers have had solid finishes and reputations at AMS, including last fall's winner Carl Edwards (who I'm sure I'll hear about not putting him on this list), but I have a feeling Earnhardt is going to have a solid finish on Sunday.
Earnhardt hasn't had the type of season thus far he would have expected. He struggled on pit road at Daytona, and ended up with a poor showing. At ACS the next week, he had an engine go south and he fell to 35th in points.
At Las Vegas last weekend, Earnhardt and the No. 88 team captured their first top-10 of the season. AMS has been a track where Earnhardt has fared well.
At the 1.5-mile speedway, Earnhardt has one win, eight top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes. He has an average finish of 11.7 and an average running position of 10.3 (fourth best).
Earnhardt is third best among drivers with a driver rating of 103.7 and second best with 216 fastest laps run. He ranks fourth with 484 green flag passes and has a series-fastest average green flag speed of 174.094 mph.
Earnhardt's 2,013 laps in the top 15 (77.3 percent) is fifth most and his 274 quality passes is a series-best.
Earnhardt will be riding the rim at AMS this weekend, looking for his first win since Michigan last year.
Three races in, and Newman has yet to finish better than 25th. (36th at Daytona, 28th at ACS and 25th at Las Vegas).
AMS could be just what the doctor ordered to help this struggling race team, but Newman has been up and down at the 1.5-mile oval.
In 14 career starts, Newman has an average finish of 18.3, but an average starting position of fifth, including seven poles.
With only two races remaining until the 2009 owner points go into effect, Newman better "Rocket" his way up the standings and be sure he's not on the outside looking in come Martinsville.
2. Mark Martin: It hasn't been Martin's fault that he has struggled. In fact, the last two weekends, its been engine problems that kept Martin from having better finishes. (At Las Vegas, it was a transmission issue that led to the sour engine.)
In 46 starts, Martin has two wins, 13 top-fives and 22 top-10 finishes at AMS. He has an average start of 10.3 and average finish of 16.9.
Martin will run at AMS for the first time, however, in a Hendrick Chevy, which have been highly successful at the track, either way, I'd stay away from Martin on your Fantasy picks this weekend.
There's a look at which drivers you need to start and bench for the upcoming race weekend. "Hot-Lanta," here we come!
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