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Atlanta finally goes racing




Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

Hard to believe that this Labor Day weekend the Sprint Cup Series will be making its only stop of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track, until recently, always had two races each season and for years had the honor of hosting the last race of the season.

All of that changed when the track’s owner, Speedway Motorsports, began acquiring additional racetracks and thus created a need for additional race dates that it ultimately had to take from existing races. Atlanta immediately became a candidate to give up one of its dates as selling tickets at the track, especially for its early spring date, became extremely difficult.

The racing itself had nothing to do with the difficulty the track had in selling tickets as it was one of the fastest on the entire schedule and seemed to always produce exciting finishes. The problem with Atlanta turned out to be something that regardless of how much the track promoted its spring race, the one thing they couldn’t control was the weather.

After a long winter without racing, Atlanta’s spring race was always on my racing calendar. A close group of my racing buddies would count the days until time to head south on I-75. The only problem was that the fickle early spring weather of Atlanta made it very difficult to know what to pack.

We went some years where there would be wind chill advisories in Atlanta where it was cold and other years we would come back with one of the worst sunburns that you ever saw. We also had to fight rainy weekends that are every race fan’s worst nightmare. The unpredictable weather led to the track’s struggles when it attempted to presale tickets and also put a limit on the number of race fans that would just show up and buy tickets on the day of the race.

The sagging spring ticket sales forced Speedway Motorsports to move that date to another track and leave the track with only one race that by then had been moved from the last race of the year. The moving of the last date of the year remains a mystery to many, but eventually the date ended up on Labor Day weekend.

Sprint Cup racing on Labor Day was for years the property of Darlington Raceway, but that aging track had difficulty not only selling tickets but also keeping up with the modern amenities that other tracks were offering. Atlanta eventually ended up with the date and now the track is not only benefitting from the race being on a Sunday night with most race fans having the next day off, but also by being the next to the last race before the field for the Chase is set.

Bristol provided plenty of drama and action this past Saturday, but it was obvious that those drivers in the hunt for one of the 12 Chase spots were not all that excited about mixing it up. Yes, there was hard racing but the track is still basically a one-groove racetrack that makes passing very difficult.

“Points Racing” is one of the worst phrases to be heard in the sport, but that was what we saw at Bristol. Few drivers in contention for the Chase were willing to bump in order to pass and even fewer were willing to try one of the “old school” type slide jobs.

This weekend at Atlanta, drivers on that huge bubble that surrounds the 10th spot in points and the two wild card spots can no longer try to play it safe and let another driver make the big mistake. Winning a race is still the easiest way into the Chase for many of the bubble drivers and there are only two checkered flags yet to wave.

Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman now have the two wild card spots, but Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are higher in the points and a win by one of these drivers would bump Newman out of the Chase and if any of these drivers could post two wins, they would automatically be locked in. It has become all but a game of “win and you are in” for these five drivers and the game begins under the lights this Sunday night in Atlanta.

Race Preview
Event: AdvoCare 500
Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54 mile quad oval, 24o of
banking in the turns)
Date: Sept. 1, 7:30 pm
TV: ESPN
Radio: PRN
Defending Champion: Denny
Hamlin


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