With just two races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, several NASCAR drivers are desperate for one thing—a trip to Victory Lane.
Of those competitors, one finally returning to the track is Tony Stewart after a three-race hiatus. Stewart has been cleared to return to NASCAR and will drive his No. 14 car, via Ed Hinton of ESPN.com.
Kevin Harvick, a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, spoke about Stewart's return earlier this week, per Hinton:
Once you get in the car, your mind kind of turns off and you can focus on what you're doing, and how you're making laps. And that's really all you think about.
It is therapeutic. It's relaxing, and it's what you know. It's what he knows. And to be inside that car cures a lot of problems for a short time.
While it might be therapeutic, Stewart and several others still have a shot at making the Chase. Despite missing multiple races, the driver-owner is still 26th in points and simply needs a win to clinch a spot.
Before the Sprint Cup circuit gets underway in Atlanta, here's a look at the schedule and drivers to watch.
Oral-B USA 500 Information
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga.
When: Sunday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Steam: WatchESPN
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Drivers to Watch
Collecting his sixth pole of the season, Harvick will look to clinch his third win. While several drivers are looking for just one victory to make the Chase, Harvick has hopes for being one of the top contenders heading in.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is already leaning back on his owner, Stewart, since he returned to the track. Harvick shared how he collected the pole in Atlanta with Marty Smith of ESPN:
Kevin Harvick just told me Tony Stewart was one big reason he's on the pole at Atlanta, based on feedback Stewart gave him about the car.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) August 30, 2014
Currently ranked sixth in the Chase standings, Harvick already has a guaranteed spot in NASCAR's postseason. But with four consecutive top-10 finishes before Bristol, he has a chance to contend yet again in Atlanta.
In 23 starts, Harvick has just one victory but nine top-10s. During an already impressive first season with SHR, having his owner return to the track will give him even more confidence to pull out another win.
An already impressive season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. might get even more special.
With three wins already this season, Earnhardt heads to an Atlanta track where he's won in his career. Along with the victory, Junior also has eight top-five finishes in 26 starts on the track.
Just a week after being collected in a huge crash between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, Earnhardt is looking for a strong run heading into the Chase. Though he was clearly frustrated by the way the Bristol race ended, he spoke about moving forward on Twitter:
We had a damn good car tonight. Real fast. Bristol was rough on us this year. Brand new car next week @amsupdates. We are ready.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 24, 2014
This season has clearly been a revelation for Junior. After years of coming up short on a nearly constant basis, he has three wins already and is near the top of the first-ever Chase Grid.
If he can clinch a win, he would secure the top spot in the Chase standings heading into the final race before NASCAR's postseason. In the lone race of the season at Atlanta, Junior might just collect another checkered flag for his impressive season.
Who will win in Atlanta?
When it comes to collecting wins, Kyle Busch has done it at every level in NASCAR this season. Though he has just one victory on the Sprint Cup level this year, Busch is yet again starting inside the top 10 and looking for another solid finish.
Even after those struggles recently, Busch heads to a track where he's comfortable. Busch has won two races in Atlanta and has three top-six finishes in the last four events.
Though his success this season hasn't been as obvious in the premier series, expectations should be high heading into Atlanta. With his skill on the track, look for Busch to run up near the front on Sunday.
Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, the 29-year-old has never finished worse than 25th at the track. As he looks for momentum heading into the Chase in the next few weeks, Busch will be a contender at Atlanta after a disappointing run at Bristol.
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