By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Jimmie Johnson comes into this race on a two race winning streak, and has won more times at Atlanta in the past six races there than anyone, but he is not my pick to win.
Johnson will however be strong, that is a given, but there are two drivers I really see contending for a win Sunday.
Carl Edwards, who won nine races in 2008, comes into this weekend riding a 39-race winless streak. All that can change very quickly this weekend. Edwards has three wins at this track in his career, including a sweep at the track in his rookie season.
I fully expect Carl Edwards to be strong this weekend, and the whole Roush team as a whole has gotten a lot stronger from last season. If the team doesn’t make any mistakes Carl Edwards could be taking his retro paint scheme into victory lane at Atlanta again, and personally I have him down to win. He is just too good, and this team can only go so long without a win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the other driver who I believe has a real shot at victory Sunday. Earnhardt, who starts on the pole, is still considered a long shot considering the fact that he comes into this event with a 60-race losing streak.
Atlanta however is one of Earnhardt’s best tracks in his career. His career average finish here is 11.9, which is actually second highest only to Jimmie Johnson among active drivers. Earnhardt has one career victory which came back in his six-win season in 2004. Look for Earnhardt to not relinquish the lead without a fight on Sunday, and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t find victory lane for the 19th time in his career.
Who else can we expect to contend?
All of the Richard Childress Racing cars are on fire, and I expect that trend to continue this week. All three teams missed the chase in 2009, but they sit first, second and seventh in the standings after three events. Kevin Harvick got his first career victory here back in 2001.
Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin will also be very strong, but that goes without saying as Hendrick Motorsports has had a stranglehold on the entire Series in the past few seasons. Just for those who are new, Jeff Gordon has four career victories at Atlanta to go along with 23 top-tens in his 35 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Mark Martin has also tallied two wins here and 23 more top-tens. So watch out for these two cagey veterans.
Now an intriguing dark horse pick for the weekend is Bobby Labonte. Labonte, the 2000 Sprint Cup Series Champion, leads all active drivers with six wins at Atlanta, so he obviously knows his way around the track. The no. 71 team has given Labonte some decent cars in his little time there… if they hit things just right a top-10 definitely wouldn’t be out of the question.
If you have Joey Logano on your fantasy roster, I personally would sit him this week. In his two starts at Atlanta Logano has not finished on the lead lap yet… and based off of his speeds in practice and qualifying thus far, I don’t see that changing this weekend. I know he has drove incredibly thus far in 2010, but I just don’t have too much confidence in Joey at this racetrack yet.