Dustin Off the Next Race: Pep Boys Auto 500 In Atlanta

Dustin ParksAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2009

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 08:  Kurt Busch driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 8, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It is going to be a different type of racing when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series gets back on the track this weekend. Last Saturday, the stars of the series were in close quarters at the Bristol Motor Speedway, beating and banging on one another.

This Sunday, the drivers get to let it all hang out as they return to the fastest track on the circuit, the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

High-speeds, fast action, multiple grooves and great finishes make this a popular stop for everyone. Expect the race to be even more exciting as Atlanta will light up the night sky. For the first time, the race will be run under the lights in prime time.

This has always been one of my favorite stops since the track was reconfigured back in 1997. With the fast action, every driver has a way to find his perfect groove, and that makes for great side-by-side racing.

Let's first look at the favorites heading into Sunday's race.

Right away, you have to look at the winner in the spring, Kurt Busch. He completely dominated that race, leading over half the laps and passing Jeff Gordon late to secure the victory.

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I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to bring the same car to the race, but he will for sure be the first car to watch for.

One other guy that could make a move toward the front will be Carl Edwards. He got his first win at this track in 2005, and the 1.5-mile tri-oval tracks have favored him. The No. 99 team has not gotten to victory lane this year, and they are hungry.

Don't slouch on the Hendrick boys, either. This is the perfect track to see all that Hendrick horsepower come into play. Every Hendrick driver has won in Atlanta, but some have more to gain than others.

Both Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have clinched a spot in the 2009 Chase, but Mark Martin is in danger of falling out of the top 12.

However, Martin really enjoys this track, and coming off such a stellar performance in Bristol, he's got all the confidence.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is definitely one to keep an eye on. He and his team have made progress the last two weeks, with finishes of third and ninth. He is running more consistent, and is gaining more confidence in Lance McGrew.

Earnhardt Jr. has not won in Atlanta since 2004, and has not seen victory lane since Michigan of last year. If he can continue to make gains, and the crew can keep him confident, maybe "Junior Nation" will have something to cheer about Sunday night.

This race in my eyes is more important than Richmond. If some of the teams start looking ahead to next week, their performance could suffer Sunday.

We will all find out when the green flag falls at 7 p.m. for the Pep Boys Auto 500.

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