Drivers outside the Chase have just two more chances to make it, and their next opportunity will come Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' best will look to conquer the fastest track on the circuit as they vie for supremacy in the Oral-B USA 500. The absence of restrictor plates at a track as big as Atlanta makes it one of the most exciting and unpredictable races on the schedule.
Many teams will have nothing to lose since they'll need to win one of the next two races in order to qualify for the Chase. That means there will be plenty of gambling and intriguing strategies throughout Sunday night's event.
Here is everything you need to know about the Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta, including a look at which drivers have the best chance of reaching Victory Lane.
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia
When: Sunday, Aug. 31, at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Steam: WatchESPN
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|Qualifying Lineup for Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta|
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||78|
|20||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88|
|26||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17|
Drivers to Watch
With two wins in the eighth spot in points, Carl Edwards is enjoying an excellent final season with Roush Fenway Racing. He will certainly be among the top contenders in the Chase, but he has a chance to put himself in an even better position if he can win one of the next two races.
Five different drivers have three victories this season to lead the Sprint Cup Series, and it would behoove the No. 99 team to join that group. With three career wins and 10 top-10 finishes in just 16 tries at Atlanta, Edwards has as good of a chance as anyone to take the checkered flag Sunday.
While Edwards qualified a somewhat disappointing 11th, that shouldn't matter much once the race begins. In fact, he has already proved that his car is extremely fast by beating out everyone else in this week's first practice at Atlanta, according to Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
All the pieces are in place for Edwards to win for a third time this season. Doing so certainly won't be easy, but he'll be determined to come out on top with an improved spot in the Chase on the line.
The 2014 season has been an up-and-down one for Jimmie Johnson, but it seems as though he is finally rounding into form. After finishing 28th or worse in three out of four races, the six-time Sprint Cup champion now has consecutive top-10 results to his credit.
Johnson is also among the best in the business at Atlanta, with three wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 22 races. As uneven as this campaign has been for JJ, a victory Sunday night would suddenly vault him to the top of the Chase standings all by himself.
It would also give him a great deal of confidence entering NASCAR's version of the playoffs, and that would be bad news for every other driver. As evidenced by this tweet courtesy of Johnson, that confidence seems to already be building:
Johnson can certainly afford to take some risks in this race since his spot near the top of the Chase is already secure. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see where he and the No. 48 team stand once the Oral-B USA 500 reaches its latter stages.
Of the drivers currently outside the top 16 in the Chase standings, it can be argued that Kasey Kahne has the best chance to triumph Sunday night. With two wins and top-10 finishes in nearly half his starts at Atlanta, Kahne feels right at home on NASCAR's fastest track.
Kahne is 13th in points, but the lack of a victory on his resume this season leaves him in a desperate situation. He knows that it isn't ideal, but he and his crew are not feeling sorry for themselves, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News.
"It's just a tough spot," Kahne said. "It's a spot that we wish we weren't in but we're in. We just have to do the best we can and get on to the Chase."
He has two more chances to make that happen, but winning at Atlanta probably represents his best chance considering how much success he has had there in the past. Kahne has raced well enough to deserve a Chase spot, but luck hasn't been on his side in terms of crossing that finish line first.
All it takes is one win to turn an entire season around, and Kahne will do everything in his power to get it.
Edwards, Johnson and Kahne should all be in the mix provided they are able to avoid crashes or mechanical problems throughout Sunday's race. With that said, they are far from the only drivers with a legitimate shot to win.
No active, full-time driver has won more at Atlanta than Jeff Gordon, who has five career victories. He also happens to be in the midst of his best season in years, so he is certainly a big-time threat.
Kyle Busch isn't in particularly good form, but he has two Atlanta wins under his belt, including last year's race. He is the type of driver who has the ability to turn things around at any time due to his free-wheeling style.
Kevin Harvick's career stats at Atlanta aren't as good as some of his counterparts, but he does have one Atlanta win, and he will be starting from the pole as well.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth both have a history of success at Atlanta, so they shouldn't be counted out either.
This promises to be one of the wildest races of the season, with so many drivers desperately trying to make the Chase, but look for Edwards to beat them all and pick up his third win this year.
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