“Anyone but Johnson,” has been the theme on many racing related web sites this week after Johnson once again drove his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to victory lane. Johnson outran teammate and boss Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag in Las Vegas last weekend and is now the odds-on favorite for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta.
Entering Atlanta, Johnson will be trying to win three races in a row.
Atlanta marks race No. 4 of the 2010 Sprint Cup Series season and already there have many comers and goers in the points. Kevin Harvick is still atop the standings after a disastrous 2009 and heads to the track that in 2001 he captured his first career win at.
On that day Harvick beat Jeff Gordon, who will be carrying National Guard colors this Sunday as he looks to put another dominating performance on the field but not have it slip away at the end. Last year Gordon was a strong contender for the Atlanta win but it was Kurt Busch, who looks to leave a terrible Las Vegas race behind, that took home the big trophy.
Busch wants another one, which will go a long way in helping climb rebound in the standings.
As the final race before NASCAR takes their first off week of the season, Atlanta comes at a welcome time. The first three races of the season all had some glitches that some say took away from the racing and with Johnson winning two of the three races, the red hot track in Georgia could provide for some much needed action packed and exciting racing.
If history repeats itself it’s likely that Atlanta will also provide one of the best finishes NASCAR fans will see this year. Known for many last lap and photo finishes, Atlanta is a fan and driver favorite on the circuit and has shown time and time again that it’s not over until it’s over.
Our Creature competition if far from over but many competitors have already made strong cases for being the one to beat this year. Each of the three races this season have seen not only winners on the track but winners in our competition as a Creature correctly picked Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson to be the first winners of the season.
Now it’s time to do it for a fourth straight race.
Here’s whom our Creatures believe will be the one in victory lane after 500 miles around the high banked, fast paced Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Misan Akuya: Mark Martin
Mark Martin's season has been one word: Solid. A 12th place finish with an ill handling car at Daytona, and then back to back fourth place finishes at California and Las Vegas. Martin and the No. 5 team are showing thus far that they are still as strong as they were in 2009.
Martin has two wins at Atlanta with 14 top fives, 23 top 10s, 929 laps led, an average 16.94 which makes Atlanta his third best track statically in the series (yes he is just that good).
Expect Martin to start near the front or even on the pole, expect him to lead early and often on his way to his first victory of the 2010 season.
Ben Bomberger: Kevin Harvick
It's Hotlanta weekend No. 1 and the hottest driver on the NASCAR circuit is RCR driver Kevin Harvick. After winning the Budweiser shootout and contending for wins in the first three races (including back-to-back runner-up finishes to Jimmie Johnson) Harvick sits atop the standings.
Harvick won his first trip ever to Atlanta, and has been impressive at the track in the last few years. In this race last year, Harvick finished fourth and improved in the fall race with a runner-up finish.
Heading into this weekend, Happy has four top-fives, five top-10s and an average finish of 20.4, but I expect that average to be even better after the No. 29 Chevy visits Victory Lane on Sunday.
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
Maybe I've run out of originality and have decided, sheep-like, to follow the herd. Maybe I expect Johnson to put his dominance of NASCAR beyond all doubt by taking a third straight checkered flag this weekend at Atlanta.
Maybe I've just seen Johnson's total domination of the stats at Atlanta.
Kelly Crandall: Kevin Harvick
Even though I picked him last weekend, I have to stick with Kevin Harvick. Almost like people say “Stick with the Biff,” well I’m “Hanging with Harv” because I still believe that he is the hottest driver on the circuit who hasn’t won’t a race.
Back to back runner-up finishes, and especially to Jimmie Johnson, has Harvick hungrier than ever. After winning his first Cup race here in an emotional 2001 race, Harvick has since then always been near the front when the checkered flag flew. Even in the Atlanta races last year.
Hopefully sticking with Happy Harvick will pay dividends this weekend after I nearly lost my lunch when he wrecked right off the truck in practice at Las Vegas. I don’t expect him to that this weekend as he’ll most likely be setting the track afire in his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet.
Billy Fellin: Jeff Gordon
I'm not a huge Jeff Gordon fan, but if he's going to win I might as well get credit for it. I think he will be good again here as he was last week in Vegas. If it weren't for two tires, Gordon probably would win last week and not have Johnson pass him.
Adam Heasley: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Christopher Leone: Jeff Gordon
I would love to pick Johnson again this weekend, but my conscience tells me to be a little more interesting. Fair enough. How about Jeff Gordon?
Twenty-three top fives in 35 Atlanta starts, with four wins, and a dominant car last weekend in Vegas suggest that the DuPont team may be a force both this weekend and beyond.
Kara Martin: Kevin Harvick
I'm going to channel his incredible win from 2001 along with the fact that he is sitting No. 1 in the points standings and predict that Harvick will win his first race of the 2010 season in Atlanta.
With a seventh place finish in Daytona and two runner-ups in the last two races, Harvick is tired of being the bridesmaid and with that horrible analogy, he will make it to the church on time this Sunday!
Dustin Parks: Kurt Busch
There were only a few times last year where the fastest car actually won the race: Johnson did it at Phoenix and Charlotte during the Chase, but Busch did it first in Atlanta last year. He led over two-thirds of the race and was the car to beat literally once the green flag dropped.
If Busch is smart, he'll bring back the car he used last year to win that race along with the win at Texas. That car was named "Patriot" and he sure put on a great effort as long as he was in that car. It was set up absolutely perfect for Atlanta, and they didn't change much whenever they went to Texas.
I'm going with the Blue Deuce, the Miller Lite Dodge, and the Penske team.
Patti Rodisch: Jeff Gordon
Let’s be honest after last week’s dominating runs at Las Vegas too many people are second guessing the final pit stop. Not many people are talking about the dominant run and just how fast they were on Sunday. I am picking Gordon for the win on Sunday.
I think not only is this team getting tired of playing second fiddle to Jimmie Johnson they are doing something about it.
Gordon is more than ready to challenge for a championship. The aggressiveness we have seen already this season, Atlanta is the perfect place for Gordon to win his first race since Texas and send a clear message that they will be a contender in 2010.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Jimmie Johnson
Right now Johnson is hot, and with NASCAR on his side how can he lose? Seriously, it’s a fast track and team 48 is getting off to a quick start. The team brings a lot of experience at not letting tangibles such as streaks get in their way, and that's one aspect that makes them dangerous.
Rob Tiongson: Joey Logano
So he feels like this could be a long weekend and race at his sponsor's backyard track, and while I want to say he could be right, my gut feeling says to go with the hot shoe racer of this very young season.
Sure, I could go with Jimmie Johnson, but the kid who drives the "official" home improvement car of NASCAR has been impressive and he's knocking on the door for his second career Cup win.
There's a bit of Davey Allison poise with Logano, willing to be a student who excels and learns quickly with a great teacher and crew chief with Greg Zipadelli. I look for that No. 20 Toyota to hover in the top-10 all race long, and he could surprise some folks by taking it to the house...in victory lane.
David Yeazell: Jeff Gordon
Kara Martin (493 ) Kyle Busch finished 15th (1 )
Ben Bomberger (451 ) Jeff Burton finished 11th (1 )
Kelly Crandall (435 ) Kevin Harvick finished second (0 )
Christopher Leone (433 ) Jimmie Johnson won (1 )
Billy Fellin (399 ) Kevin Harvick finished second (0 )
James Broomhead (375 ) Kyle Busch finished 15th (1 )
Rob Tiongson (370 ) Jeff Burton finished 11th (0 )
Misan Akuya (360 ) Tony Stewart finished seventh (0 )
Dustin Parks (354 ) Kyle Busch finished 15th (0 )
David Yeazell (319 ) Matt Kenseth finished fifth (0 )
Adam Heasley (309 ) NO PICK SENT (0 )
Patti Rodisch (257 ) Juan Pablo Montoya finished 37th (0 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (281 ) Kyle Busch finished 15th (0 )
The winner at Atlanta this Sunday will most likely come from inside a top-10 starting position. The last 11 winners (not counting Tony Stewart’s win in 2006 where qualifying was rained out) the winner has started no worse than eighth.
Ironically, the last two winners, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, both started second in 2009 when they won.
Atlanta is also known for its repeat winners. Since 2004 the driver taking home the checkered flag after long day in Georgia has been a driver that has done so in the past at the track. Jimmie Johnson has three wins at the track since 2004, the same for Carl Edwards. Kasey Kahne has two victories at Atlanta and is the track most recent winner.
Another safe bet is that the winner will be driving a Chevrolet, just like history showed and kept with in Las Vegas. Over the last ten years, since 2000, Chevrolet has gone to victory ten times at the track, including three straight races thanks to Tony Stewart and then a sweep by Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
However, the track was swept by Dodge’s last year.
Summary of Picks
Jeff Gordon – 4
Kevin Harvick – 3
Jimmie Johnson – 2
Kurt Busch – 1
Mark Martin – 1
Joey Logano – 1