The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Golden Corral 500 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 16, 2006

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Race Trax: Golden Corral 500

Amy Henderson · Thursday March 16, 2006


On Track
The Golden Corral 500 is the fourth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Nextel Cup Series will visit the 1.5-mile Atlanta motor Speedway twice in 2006; the return visit comes in October, for the seventh race in the Chase for the Championship. AMS has hosted Cup races since 1960, although it was changed to the present configuration in 1997. It is a high-banked tri-oval track with 24 degrees of banking in the corners, and five degrees on the straightaways. The field will include both 2005 polesitter Ryan Newman and defending race winner Carl Edwards.

53 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in 2005 car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series Qualifying record at AMS is 197.479 mph, set by Geoffrey Bodine in 1997.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is in its early stages heading into the Atlanta weekend. Jimmie Johnson is the current leader, but with only a slight margin over second-place Matt Kenseth. Johnson’s two wins and runner-up finish comprise the best three-race start in NASCAR history. Casey Mears dropped from second to fourth after Las Vegas, but he and Johnson are the only drivers to post top-ten finishes in every race this year. Meanwhile, Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon both had quietly strong runs at Vegas, significantly improving their place in the standings…although both have yet to crack the top ten.

What To Expect
Atlanta is the fastest track on the Nextel Cup circuit, as speeds routinely top 200 mph heading into turn one. Cars tend to spread out, so cautions for contact-related crashes are usually relatively rare. Tire problems and debris are more likely culprits, so expect a lot of green-flag laps on Sunday.

Atlanta has been host to some of the most exciting finishes NASCAR has witnessed. Recently, Dale Earnhardt edged Bobby Labonte by inches at the line in 2000, with Kevin Harvick taking Earnhardt’s former car to Victory Lane in the same fashion a month after Earnhardt’s death in 2001. Last year, Carl Edwards snookered Jimmie Johnson coming off turn four for his first ever Nextel Cup win. Let’s put it this way; don’t switch the channel or make a snack break in the last ten laps.

Who to Watch
The way his season is going, it’s hard to bet against Jimmie Johnson. Johnson took an emotional victory at AMS in 2004 after the plane crash that killed ten of his friends one week before. Johnson beat Mark Martin in that race, and Martin has always run well at this type of track, so he should be strong as well. Matt Kenseth has had bottled lightning under his hood the last two weeks, and Casey Mears is just waiting to pounce on his first win.

From the rookie class, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley have both had outstanding starts from the Gibbs camp, and should run strong at AMS. Tony Stewart has a win here as well, and is looking to improve his luck. Darkhorse Bobby Labonte has hardly ever run poorly at this track…he’s the leading AMS winner among all active drivers with six.

Did You Know:

  • That Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in AMS poles? Through 2005, Newman has 6 of them…in just eight Atlanta starts.

  • That the all-time winningest driver at AMS was Dale Earnhardt with nine trips to Victory Lane? In the spring Atlanta race, though, Cale Yarborough edges Earnhardt with six wins to Earnhardt’s five.
  • That Kyle Petty and Terry Labonte have a combined 103 starts at AMS…without a win to show for it?

You Don’t Say"¦
"I’m really looking forward to making my first NEXTEL Cup start this weekend in Atlanta. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and I’m especially thankful that my Truck Series sponsor Waste Management is coming along for the ride. Waste Management is a great company and a great sponsor and they’ve always been behind me 100 percent. I’m honored they are supporting me in my efforts at every level of racing, and I’m hopeful we can get our No. 23 car into the show and ready to go for Sunday. I’m certainly confident in our Bill Davis Racing team and my crew chief, Ricky Viers, and I know we’ll show up with a competitive car and a great group of people on the team, plus we’ll have our teammates to lean on for support if we need it. We tested in Kentucky last week in preparation for this event, and I can’t wait to get to Atlanta. Racing the trucks at this track would be something to look forward to in itself, but your first start in the Cup Series is something you dream of your whole life and obviously only happens once. The possibilities from this point forward are endless, and I can’t wait to see what happens from here.” driver Bill Lester on attempting his first Nextel Cup race

“I always look forward to getting back to the Atlanta area. Now that the schedule is so hectic, it’s about the only time I get to visit with friends and family. Also, the fan support is incredible and there is nothing better than competing in front of a hometown crowd. We’ve got a busy week down there promoting the Fujifilm car and taking part in Georgia Motorsports Day. Besides that, we’ve got a full weekend of track activity in the Cup and Busch cars.” Peach Tree City, Georgia native Reed Sorenson on racing close to home

“First of all, Atlanta is a blast to drive. I love running around at the top of Atlanta Motor Speedway. There are very few tracks that are that fun to run up there. Atlanta is one of the tracks that give you a lot of options as a driver to make your car work. Even though I don’t have the best finishes to back it up, it is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit.” driver Casey Mears on AMS

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Contact Amy Henderson

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