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NASCAR: Tight Race for the Chase is Just What Atlanta Needs

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2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup thumb

By: DJ DeSpain

Bruton Smith and the folks over at Atlanta Motor Speedway are surely happy coming into their offices today. With two races remaining in the Race to the Chase, only three drivers are safely locked into the Chase – Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon. That means there will be a whole lot of racing going on in the next two races to secure the other nine spots. More racing means more excitement, which will hopefully translate into more seats sold at Atlanta, and more viewers watching on TV.

This is exactly what Atlanta Motor Speedway needs right now given the trouble it has lately in filling seats. Overall, NASCAR needs the boost too. When one of the most popular drivers of the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr., says that the races are getting boring, you know there is trouble on the track for which even Robbie Gordon can’t be blamed.

Since 2004, there has been an average of 3 drivers locked into the Chase by the time the second Bristol race is in the books. In previous years, the Fontana race was the 25th race of the season, and by the time that race was over, an average of 7 drivers was locked into the Chase. This year Atlanta will be the 25th race due to the swap with Fontana to be a Chase race. After the next race in Atlanta, any driver who has 196 points over 13th place will have a lock.

But that might not be an easy lock to obtain. Right now, the point spread between 7th position and 13th is 84 points, the smallest spread since the Chase format was introduced in 2004. The following shows the average finish for the last four years at Atlanta for the drivers in positions 7 through 13:

• Ryan Newman – 21.9
• Greg Biffle – 15.8
• Juan Pablo Montoya – 24.4
• Mark Martin – 19.2
• Kasey Kahne – 21.7
• Matt Kenseth – 9.3
• Kyle Busch – 17.3

Kenseth appears to have the best chance to boost his standing over the others and distance himself away from his current 12th spot. On the other side of the coin, both Newman and Kahne really have to step it up a notch at Atlanta than tradition has shown there if they want to maintain their spots.

Meanwhile, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer, on the outside looking in at 14th and 15th, have decent average finishes at Atlanta with 16.7 and 13.7 respectively. If they can do as well in the upcoming race, they could easily tighten up the race to the Chase more, even potentially move up dramatically if the others bomb out.

By the time the tire dust settles at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the drivers might wish that the break in the schedule came after that race instead of before it.

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