By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is coming off of it’s last bye week of the year. In the off week however the NASCAR Nationwide Series kept us on the edge of our seats with a thrilling photo finish at Montreal. However this week is a totally different beast as NASCAR rolls into one of the fastest tracks on the circuit Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Emory Health Care 500.
Here are five things to keep an eye on this weekend.
1. Harvick and Gordon Have Clinched Their Spots In Chase, Who’s Next?
Nine of the ten remaining spots in the chase can be clinched this weekend, but none of the drivers in those spots are quite locked in just yet. One slip up and they could be facing elimination themselves, as Jamie McMurray among others are beginning to breathe down the necks of those currently inside the top-12.
Here are this weekends clinching scenarios (Finishing Position a driver needs without leading a lap to clinch):
Kyle Busch – 40th or better (No laps led)
Carl Edwards – 21st or better (No laps led)
Denny Hamlin – 20th or better (No laps led)
Tony Stewart – 19th or better (No laps led)
Jeff Burton – 17th or better (No laps led)
Matt Kenseth – 15th or better (No laps led)
Jimmie Johnson – 10th or better (No laps led)
Kurt Busch – 9th or better (No laps led)
Greg Biffle – 4th or better (No laps led)
Clint Bowyer is the only driver currently inside the top-12 in the standings who cannot seal his spot this week. Also don’t forget these drivers must still push for victories in these last two races before the chase, because when the chase begins the drivers will be seeded by their total of victories on the season.
2. Atlanta Is Historically A “Photo Finish” Track
In 1997 Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured to it’s current layout, and since then the track has played host to three of the closest finishes in NASCAR history.
The track has been compared to a rubber band. At points the lead stretches out, but by the end it compresses back and the race is on. Considering the Nationwide Series just had a photo finish last week in Montreal, it is conceivable that we could be treated to the same thing this weekend.
Here are three of the notable photo finishes at Atlanta:
2000 Cracker Barrel 500 – Dale Earnhardt defeated Bobby Labonte by just 0.010 of a second.
2001 Cracker Barrel 500 – Kevin Harvick edged Jeff Gordon narrowly by 0.006 of a second for his first career win.
2005 Golden Corral 500 – Carl Edwards got his first career victory by 0.028 of a second over Jimmie Johnson.
3. Can A “Fan Favorite” Driver Finally Win?
So far in 2010 five of the most popular drivers in the sport have been shut out of victory lane. This is something that has gone kind of under the radar with some of the great racing we have seen, but through 24 races Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Kasey Kahne all remain win-less.
Can that trend turn around this week?
Here is a look at each driver’s career stats at Atlanta:
Jeff Gordon – 34 Starts, 4 Wins, 14 Top5s, 23 Top10s, 12.4 Average Finish
Tony Stewart – 23 Starts, 2 Wins, 8 Top5s, 13 Top10s, 12.0 Average Finish
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 22 Starts, 1 Win, 8 Top5s, 10 Top10s, 12.0 Average Finish
Kasey Kahne – 13 Starts, 2 Wins, 6 Top5s, 8 Top10s, 16.0 Average Finish
Mark Martin – 49 Starts, 2 Wins, 14 Top5s, 23 Top10s, 17.3 Average Finish
As you can see that each of the five superstars have won at Atlanta in the past. Maybe just maybe one of them can get off the schnide this weekend.
4. Will Some Drivers Help Solidify Their Plans For 2011 With A Good Run?
Drivers such as Elliott Sadler and Scott Speed have uncertainty heading into next season. If either one of them or the whole slew of drivers looking to land a ride for next season can perform well, it will go a long way to getting them into a car full-time.
The demand for Sadler may have gone up recently as he has shown what he can do in good equipment. He has had great runs in the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series driving for Kevin Harvick.
Sadler of course announced weeks ago that he would not be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports next season. Meanwhile Scott Speed still hasn’t officially lost his ride, yet all signs point to him being the odd man out with Kasey Kahne moving to Red Bull Racing in 2011, along with the announcement that Brian Vickers will be back.
If Speed shows some speed this weekend, could he possibly take over the 19 car next year? We’ll have to wait and see.
5. Big Announcement And Giveaways From RubbingsRacing At Atlanta
This weekend RubbingsRacing.com will be teaming up with Jeff Gluck of SBNation.com to have a tweetup. This tweetup is open to any and all NASCAR fans. During this tweetup there will be a huge announcement of a new member of the RubbingsRacing.com staff that will be very recognizable among race fans. Also included will be numerous giveaways including merchandise from Amp Energy and signed souvenir packages.
The tweetup will take place Sunday at 4:00 PM ET, at Gate 15 of the race track. Make sure to plan your weekend accordingly and spread the word!
If you have any other questions concerning this tweetup contact Christopher Smith on twitter, his username is @Rubbings.