NASCAR: 6 Bold Predictions for the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
On Sunday night, the Sprint Cup Series holds its only event of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track known for consistently producing great racing as well as horrendous traffic conditions for the fans.
The track's bumpy surface makes for slick racing conditions, while the multiple grooves allow a driver to choose any of several different lines to run. Tire wear creates precipitous drop-offs in lap times and provides plenty of passing under green.
What should be expect from the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday night? Read on to find out.
Tony Stewart Has a Good Run and Maintains His Position in the Top 10 in Points
Atlanta is one of Tony Stewart's best tracks.
For all the talk about Stewart saying his team didn't deserve to make the Chase and would just be wasting a spot that could have gone to another driver, Stewart's performance hasn't been all bad recently. In fact, that statement came after a ninth-place run at Pocono.
Smoke is the defending race winner and has three career Atlanta victories. This is a great place for the No. 14 team to get its program back on track, and I think Stewart will come through with a top-10 finish.
For the moment, he'll be able to stay ahead of Brad Keselowski in the points, heading to Richmond with at least a 15-point cushion over Keselowski in 11th.
There Will Be Multiple Lead Changes in the Final 10 Laps, Without a G-W-C Finish
Atlanta Motor Speedway consistently produces great racing, even over long green-flag runs. The fall-off in lap times due to tire wear creates conditions for lots of passing as drivers often charge from mid-field to the front in the course of a single run.
In addition, track conditions will change dramatically throughout the race as the cars lay rubber on the track and temperatures drop with the onset of night.
I expect the final caution to come with 25-40 laps remaining, setting up a relatively long run to the finish on a single set of tires.
The eventual winner won't be the leader right after the restart and probably won't take the lead until near the end. It's possible that two drivers could be fighting for the lead while the best car on the track is behind them and tracking them down as the race nears its conclusion.
Whatever happens, I expect it to be a great finish.
Brad Keselowski Gets Another Top 5
Tony Stewart will need that good run, because Brad Keselowski will be breathing down his neck with a fifth consecutive top-5 finish.
In two previous Cup races at Atlanta Keselowski hasn't finished better than 25th. In fact, Keselowski's average finish of 30.5 is worse than his average at any other track.
But past results haven't seemed to matter during his current hot streak of four consecutive top-three finishes, including two wins. Keselowski will qualify up front and do his best to displace Tony Stewart in the tenth position in the points.
Kasey Kahne Will Win, Leapfrogging Denny Hamlin for the Second Wild Card Slot
Obviously Kasey Kahne is no longer piloting the No. 9 Budweiser machine, but with two wins and six top-fives in 14 Atlanta starts, he certainly knows his way around the joint.
In fact, over the last four Atlanta races, Kahne has the highest driver rating. He's led over 200 laps and has a win and three top-seven finishes in that time.
Kahne is my pick for the winner on Sunday night. He's been fast in his No. 4 Red Bull Camry but hasn't been able to put together an entire race. I think that will change at Atlanta with the pressure of making the Chase coming down to the wire.
Currently just 16 points behind Denny Hamlin, a win at Atlanta combined with another poor run by Hamlin could give Kahne the edge in front of the No. 11 driver for the second wild card spot.
The Racing Will Be Great, Making Fans Angry Kentucky Stole an Atlanta Race
For decades Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted two Cup dates every year.
But this season Atlanta lost one of its races to upstart Kentucky Speedway. Attendance had been an issue for Atlanta, as the track's location created logistical problems for fans trying to attend the race.
Kentucky held its first Sprint Cup event earlier this season. The event was a complete fiasco, as parking and traffic problems created a nightmare scenario for thousands of fans. Some were refused entrance to the track after finally arriving late, while the fans who made it in endured a boring race with little passing before spending several more hours trying to exit the facility.
Whatever problems Atlanta may have had, Kentucky manged to completely dwarf them, and after a great race at Atlanta on Sunday night, fans will be wishing Atlanta could get back its second race from Kentucky.
Carl Edwards Gets Back on Track with a Top 3
For Carl Edwards, Atlanta has always been feast or famine.
In 13 career starts, Cousin Carl has nine Atlanta top-sevens but also four finishes of 37th or worse. In the last seven Atlanta events, Edwards has four top-3s but also three awful finishes as the result of crashes and engine failure.
But with three wins at the track Edwards certainly knows how to get around the place, and if he can stay on the lead lap you can bet he'll be near the front.
After a few lackluster races that have dropped him out of the points lead, I think Edwards will get back on track as the Chase nears and finish in the top three on Sunday night.