The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Atlanta Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday September 2, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Atlanta Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday September 2, 2013


Key Moment – The lead lap cars came to pit road with 35 laps to go and the No. 18 pit crew ripped off a stop better than the two cars who entered the pits in front of them, coming out with the lead. Once Busch had the lead that late in the race he just had to have two good restarts and held on to score the win.

In a Nutshell – Atlanta is an old, worn out race track that puts on the best races of any Intermediate track on the circuit, period. 28 lead changes among 13 drivers with nearly half of them coming on the race track. Juan Pablo Montoya looked strong early, then Carl Edwards was the dominant car. Clint Bowyer chased him down and appeared to be the car to beat before he blowed up. Brad Keselowski then stepped to the fore before his engine soured. Joey Logano led the most times for the most laps but Busch took advantage of the great pit stop to grab the lead late and capitalized to take home the win and secure a Chase berth.

Dramatic Moment – On a restart on lap 31, Kasey Kahne missed a shift which resulted in Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton receiving damage from running into the back of various cars during the scramble. As a result, for the third week in a row, Johnson came home with a disappointing finish, this week 28th.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

The combination compound tire was a rousing success at Atlanta. During the Nationwide race there was only one major problem and it appeared as though that was a car setup issue rather than the tire. In the Cup race there were no issues at all and the tires did give up adhesion rather quickly, providing an advantage to those who had fresher tires. Hopefully the official tire manufacturer of NASCAR will manage to incorporate this technology at more tracks so that we can get away from the dreaded track position advantage.

Atlanta is a tremendous racing venue that is easy to get to, has great site lines and always puts on a whale of a show. How the stands, on a holiday weekend, are only half full for the race that is consistently one of the absolute best every season is mind boggling. Rain is always a concern, pish-posh, rain is a concern anywhere they race in the summer. Tickets are too pricey, wrong. Tickets range from $35-$135 with specials that can get kids in for under $20 and also packages that get a ticket, hot dog and soft drink for $40. Racing with the new car isn’t any good. It always is at Atlanta. It has been the one track, no matter what the style of car, that consistently provides outstanding finishes year-in and year-out. While it would be great to see this race on Mother’s Day Weekend and the Southern 500 back to a day race at Darlington on Labor Day weekend, there is no reason for fans not to come out in droves for the one race that takes place at Atlanta each year.

Jimmie Johnson is done for in the title chase for 2013. There’s no doubt that Johnson has hit a patch of back luck over the last three races. Some of it may have been self induced through some experimentation, but some of it has just been bad luck. Johnson ran into another competitor early in the race Sunday and crushed the front of his car. The team killed themselves making untold numbers of pit stops to salvage a 28th place finish by the end of the night. While momentum isn’t on their side, don’t forget that Johnson STILL leads the points after all of this misfortune. The odds are that this is a bump in the road and the No. 48 team will right the ship just in time to make a serious run at the 2013 title.

Unlike Johnson, Brad Keselowski is all but done in the race to make the Chase for the 2013 Cup. Keselowski will have to win Richmond and finish five spots ahead of Ryan Newman and 10 spots ahead of Martin Truex Jr. to steal the second Wild Card position. Keselowski is 28 points behind Kurt Busch who sits in 10th. He would not only have to finish 28 slots ahead of Busch to get back to the top 10, but he’d also have to leapfrog Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman. That is a humongous hill to climb, so he’d best win the race and hope that Truex and Newman finish far enough behind him.

The Chase is all but decided with one race yet to go. The top six drivers are locked into the Chase along with Kasey Kahne, who has two wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 37 points ahead of Jeff Gordon. Provided he finishes 33rd or better, he will be locked into the Chase. If Joey Logano finishes 12th or better, he’ll be locked into the Chase. Greg Biffle is looking at a 10th place finish to ensure himself a spot in the Chase. Kurt Busch has to finish second and lead at least a lap to lock himself in. Everything else is in a state of flux and will probably change 100 times between the drop of the green and the checkered flag at Richmond.

Jeff Gordon finds himself on the outside looking in heading into Richmond for the second year in a row. Last year he was able to race his way into the Chase. This year he’ll have to do the same thing. Fortunately for Gordon, there are two drivers in front of him who do not have wins. Kurt Busch is immediately ahead and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 37 points ahead. If Gordon can have a strong night and either of those drivers have a DNF, the door will swing wide open for him again. It will be interesting to see how it place out at Richmond.

Speaking of Gordon, he and Carl Edwards had two different discussions after the evening at Atlanta. Gordon put a slide job on Edwards early in the race that Edwards felt was unnecessary. He responded by running Gordon exceptionally hard the rest of the night. The two drivers made contact on the back straight at one point after the initial slide job but neither of them took the blame or credit for that rub. Gordon walked away from the first discussion with Edwards saying “I tried to have a regular conversation with him and that didn’t seem possible.” The two spoke again later and it appears as thought neither of them intend to let the ill feelings linger, but we all know that drivers don’t forget.

Edwards and Gordon weren’t the only drivers to leave Atlanta with some bristled emotions. Paul Menard felt like Denny Hamlin pushed him up into the wall, essentially ending his evening. As a result, when Menard found himself under Hamlin in turn four later in the race, he managed to get the back of Hamlin’s car loose enough that he spun out and eventually packed it in for the evening. This is at least the second time this year that Menard has stood up when he felt he was wronged, having turned Jeff Gordon around at Loudon earlier this season.

AJ Allmendinger has been announced as the full-time driver for the No. 47 next season. While JTG isn’t a top flight team and is probably not going to attract a multi-time champion, it would seem logical to have a driver who is a proven winner at the Cup level or a champion in another series fill the seat. Instead they’re choosing a driver who was unable to ever win in equipment that was good enough to win a title in the Cup series last season. Sure this is America where everyone gets a second chance but it is also the land of opportunity and there are plenty of young drivers out there, with a lot of talent, that could do just as well in that seat without the proven track record of not succeeding that Allmendinger brings to the table. For some reason Cup owners continue to go down this road rather than providing chances for up and coming drivers. Maybe that will change some day soon.

Word around the garage in Atlanta is that, after the Truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Sunday, Max Papis left the grounds with a dislocated jaw. Papis and Mike Skeen were battling for second place when they made contact in the final turn and both trucks wrecked. On the cool down lap the two exchanged hand gestures. When Papis stopped on pit lane after the race he was pulled from his truck by a member of Skeen’s crew. He suggested they meet in the hauler to discuss the situation. Then a woman, whom Papis identified as Skeen’s girlfriend, approached him screaming at him and ultimately slapped him in the face. He claims the slap was so hard it dislocated his jaw and left him with ringing in his ear.

Speaking of Trucks, Chase Elliott forcibly moved Ty Dillon from the lead of the race on the final lap to score his first win in the Camping World Truck Series. Elliott is a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports and has scored wins this season in ARCA and the Camping World Trucks. Since he is only 17 years old, he is not allowed to compete on ovals that are more than 1.1 mile in length but he is allowed to compete on road courses. Between the Dillon brothers, Kyle Larson and Elliott, the racing world is going to have some exciting talent to watch for years to come.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Brad Keselowski is the defending Sprint Cup Champion. He’s had some very strong runs this year but has somehow managed to avoid having a confetti shower on his car all season long. Thanks to his motor going sour while he was leading the race, he is now in 15th place in the points and in need of some serious help to even have an opportunity to defend his title. Some times it is better to be lucky than good. Right now, Keselowski just needs a little bit of good luck to make things turn for the better and save his chance to defend his title.

Jimmie Johnson takes home another foul fortune award this week thanks to his day being basically ruined before it ever really began when he rear ended a competitor on the first restart of the race and crushed the nose of his car. The remainder of the race was spent trying to right that wrong, which included a spin that brought out another caution. In the end, Johnson finished the race in 28th position, four laps down to the leaders.

Clint Bowyer was running along, minding his own business, with a 10 second lead, when his engine gave up the ghost. Bowyer has clinched a spot in the chase thanks to consistent runs all season, but he really didn’t need to have a momentum killer like this two weeks before the run for the title begins. He’s already shaken off the runner-up jinx this season. Maybe this bump in the road will be enough to get him heading in the right direction as the green flag waves on the Chase in two weeks.

Kasey Kahne is locked into the Chase by virtue of his two wins, which was the only redeeming grace for his Sunday night at Atlanta. Kahne ran into the back of Jeff Gordon on the first restart of the race and punctured his radiator. As a result he ended up spending an hour and 10 minutes in the pits for the night and finished the race 33 laps down to the leaders.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kurt Busch started the race in 32nd position and quickly moved up the standings to the high teens. By lap 120 he was in the top 10. Busch was sitting in 10th place on the lap 292 restart when the outside line failed to go. He made some aggressive moves and, by the time Brian Vickers spun off of turn four at the end of the lap, he was in second position. The subsequent restart cost him a couple of spots but he still managed to come home with a fourth place finish, gaining him two spots in the standings and putting him inside the Chase cut-off with one race to go.

Brian Vickers was at the tail end of the lead lap when he spun off of turn four during the first lap after the penultimate restart of the race. As a result he came down pit lane and put on new tires while the rest of the lead lap cars stayed out. As a result, Vickers made the final restart in 14th and overtook four cars to score a 10th place finish.

David Gilliland was not the benefactor of some huge stroke of good luck. He simply ran a very clean, smart race which turned into a 17th place finish for the Front Row Motorsports driver. He was in 12th place before the final restart and lost a few spots over the last 21 laps but it was still his best finish of the season on a non-restrictor plate track.

Worth Noting

Kyle Busch’s win in the Advocare 500 was his 28th victory in his Sprint Cup career. Busch has made 318 starts.

This is Busch’s fourth victory of 2013 and his 11th top 5 of 2013.

Busch has competed in 16 Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and this is his second victory and fifth top 10 finish.

Joey Logano’s runner-up finish was his second top 2 finish of 2013. This was Logano’s first ever top 5 or top 10 at Atlanta. In fact, this was his first finish better than 18th at AMS in the Cup series.

Martin Truex Jr’s third place finish was his fifth top 3 of the season.

Truex’s third is his second career top 5 at Atlanta in 15 starts. Interestingly, those two top 5s have been in his last two starts at the track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the highest finishing rookie again this week, taking home the Rookie of the Race award.

28 lead changes is the most on a non-plate track all season.

The Top 10 finishers by manufacturer –

Toyota – 3
Ford – 1
Chevrolet – 6

During the post-race press conference last night, J.D. Gibbs let the assembled masses know that his dad, three-time Super Bowl championship coach Joe Gibbs, coaches his son’s Pop Warner football team. He also shared that last year, four time Super Bowl coach Dan Reeves also coached the same team. It has to be intimidating to walk out for the coin toss and shake hands with Dan Reeves and Joe Gibbs for your Pop Warner coaching debut.

What’s the Points

Jimmie Johnson, despite his three successive bad weeks at the track, is still the point leader. Thanks to Clint Bowyer’s misfortune, Johnson leaves Atlanta 28 points ahead of Bowyer with one race to go until the Chase. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards are tied with 795 points, 42 behind Johnson. Kyle Busch is 52 points behind Johnson but is 73 points ahead of Jeff Gordon in 11th which puts Busch in the Chase.

Matt Kenseth is the last driver who is locked into the Chase by virtue of his 55 point bulge over Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored another top 10 finish Sunday, which puts him 37 points ahead of Gordon heading into a track where he’s been historically strong. Joey Logano’s runner-up finish vaulted him up two positions to eighth in the points, 16 ahead of Gordon with a win to fall back on should he have a bad night at Richmond. Greg Biffle is on the bubble of the Chase and needs to have a strong run at Richmond to solidify his Chase position. With only a 14 point gap to 11th, he has little room for error in the final race of the regular season. Kurt Busch rounds out the top 10 in points thanks to his strong Atlanta finish. With the 2004 champ on the verge of giving Furniture Row their first Chase birth, it could be quite the swan song for him in the Richard Childress family as he rides off to Stewart Haas Racing.

Because of his misfortune at Atlanta, Kasey Kahne is outside of the top 10 in points. Fortunately for him he has two wins on his resume from 2013 so he’s locked into the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. is five points ahead of Ryan Newman for the second Wild Card spot. With both of them holding one win for the year, it will very possibly be a race between the two for who can finish better at Richmond to make the Chase.

Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and six is the finest of brews and a instant classic.)

The old racing surface at Atlanta consistently offers up the best Intermediate racing on the schedule. Even though the fans do not seem to show up when the series rolls into town, the drivers love it. The new compound tires that Goodyear brought to the track worked swimmingly and the race offered up the most lead changes of any non-plate race of the year. Not only were there that many lead changes, but roughly half of them were on track. Thanks to the great racing, multiple racing grooves and some ruffled feathers at the end of the night, we’ll give the Advocare 500 five well crafted porters with extra high alcohol content. Had Logano been able to catch Busch at the end and raced side-by-side to the line, it would have achieved six beer status.

What’s Next

One race left in the regular season. Get ready to be inundated by the myriad of possibilities heading into Richmond that will allow any number of drivers to make the Chase and potentially win the championship. In the end, there will probably be one position that changes between now and when the checkered flag flies in Richmond. Whatever the case may be, it should make for some compelling racing that will be worth tuning in or making the trip to see in person. If you can’t be in the stands, the race will be televised on ABC Saturday night, starting at 7:30. The race can also be heard on MRN radio.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Mike Neff and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

JD in NC
09/02/2013 03:46 PM

It made me laugh last night when I heard J.D. Gibbs mention his dad coaching in Pop Warner football. Last week I was at the Bristol race and heard Coach Joe Gibbs speak to the crowd at the FedEx tent. He told a great story about coaching Pop Warner this year. Here is the paraphrased (from memory) story Coach Gibbs told:

“We’ve got this big kid on our team that I’m thinking, he’s going to our best player, he’s going to be great. So during the first game, after a couple of plays this kid comes out of the game and goes to talk to my son J.D., who is really the coach, I’m just the assistant (big laughs from the crowd). Anyway, I’m thinking he must have broke a chin strap or something. He goes back in for a few plays and then comes back out. I catch him before he gets to J.D. and say what’s wrong. He looks up at me and says, coach them boys are hittin me where I ain’t got any pads. I look at him and say, you see that bench over there, you can go sit on that bench for the rest of the game or else you can go back out there and hit them where they don’t have any pads!”

Funny true story, and a great guy. Just thought ya’ll might like to hear that.

09/02/2013 05:50 PM

Dramatic Moment Correction – It was Jeff Gordon, not Kasey Kahne that missed a shift. Kahne was the innocent bystander that got taken out by 4-time’s failure to launch.

09/02/2013 05:56 PM

Hindenburg Award Correction – Kahne ran into the back of Jimmie Johnson, not Jeff Gordon. If I remember correctly, Earnhardt ran into Gordon, Johnson ran into Earnhardt and Kahne ran into Johnson and I think Burton ran into Kahne.

09/02/2013 09:27 PM

moparjeff – wrong. Gordon spun the tires on the restart and since Kenseth decided to give him a “push” at the same time, that caused the field to have accordion and then the cars further back, including Kahne all ran into one another.

Also, Mike Neff, the correct word is “sight” lines, not site, when you are talking about a view.

IMO, Chase could have used better judgement/tactics than driving into the back of Dillon at the end of the race. Even though he’s only 17 and an HMS developmental driver, so far I can’t say that I’m going to like him enough to cheer for him. I preferred Landon Cassil for personality, who has apparently been dumped by HMS for whatever reason.

When Gordon retires, I’m probably going to be watching the Dillon boys at RCR, rather than any of the current or upcoming HMS drivers. They may put Chase into the 24 at some point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him.

Overall I thought it was a good race. There was actually passing – for the lead, too, which was really great. I’ve been to Atlanta and I agree that it is a fun place to watch a race. Unfortunately, it also requires me to get on a plane, rent a car and spend $ on a hotel so it’s simply not in the cards every year.

Still hoping that Gordon can pull off a miracle (they needed one last yr and have to do it again) and get in the chase. If he’s not in, I’m done with NASCAR for the year. I simply don’t care about the chase if my fav isn’t involved. NASCAR can put that in their pipe and smoke it.

another Andy D
09/02/2013 09:29 PM

The 78 cost the 22 the race by impeding it’s exit from the pit box. It was never mentioned that the driver of the 78 used to drive which car?
The truck race had some crazy stuff happen at the end. I hope that ‘lady’ gets her credentials revoked for life.
Ty Dillon snuck in a ‘pass in the grass’ comment into his post race interview. Loved that.

Granite Fan
09/02/2013 10:25 PM

AJ has had equipment that could win championships? When? Cant recall when the 84, 12 or 22 or 43 last won a championship, or seriously contended. Yes, the 2 won, but thats another team and you can see that even with a better driver the 22 still has an inferior pit crew, and the crew chief made some questionable calls that luckily worked out. And Logano didnt win in the 22 car in the first half of the season either. Roger Penske thinks hes good enough and I’ll take his word over a bloggers any day.

09/03/2013 12:56 AM

I have to second what was said about Allmendinger with the person above me.

He’s won in everything he’s ever sat in except Cup.

In the 43 he should have had several wins. Bad luck intervened more than anything. Like when he had a 9 second lead at Dover with a car noone could touch and blew a tire under green and lost 2 laps.

Kurt Busch wrecking him at the Glen when Kurt was a lap down and AJ was leading.

Continual Pit Crew blunders to the point where Greg Erwin fired the entire lot of them mid race.

he did nearly make the chase in the 43….look how awful they are now with Almirola.

More bad luck in the 22.

ECU failure at Vegas while in the top 5.

Engine failure while leading Kentucky.

Suspension failure while leading Bristol.

Hub failure at Charlotte.

Todd Gordon failure several other races…particularly Sonoma.

09/03/2013 08:41 AM

Well done Mike, I hate I missed the truck race though!

Carl D.
09/03/2013 08:48 AM

Mike, you’re dead wrong about Allmendinger. JTG-D is damned lucky to have signed a driver as talented as A.J. Allmendinger. In a top ride I think he’d ultimately be a championship contender. He won’t win in the #47, though. It’s junk.

09/03/2013 08:54 AM

i just worry about allmendinger falling off the sobriety train getting back into the weekly racing deal, especially as long part of season wears on and if performance isn’t there, frustration will set in.

09/03/2013 09:54 AM

Sorry Janice, there is nothing to indicate AJ had any issues with sobriety. The known facts are he tested positive for taking Adderall once. (A drug to treat ADD). Did he make a mistake? Yes. I would hardly call it a major substance abuse problem. He was going through a bad divorce at the time too. AJ is a winner and personable driver. It’s a shame Penske didn’t have the money to put him in a full time Indy ride. He should have won the Indy 500, he was the fastest car that day.

09/03/2013 10:24 AM

Mike, you talk about how awesome the racing is at Atlanta and then you spend half the article not talking about the race.

I apologize if I don’t share the same feeling as you do about Atlanta. Every mile and a half cookie cutter is a parade for most of the race. I can see it with my own eyes. Ticket prices and great sightlines don’t change that.

09/03/2013 12:27 PM

Gina V24 – Nothing against Gordon – my beef is with Neff’s dramatic moment description of an event that never took place. I said Gordon missed a shift because that is what Neff reported. Guess that detail was wrong too.

09/03/2013 01:21 PM

Gordon doesn’t deserve to be IN the chase!

09/03/2013 08:33 PM

Hendrick should get Brian to find Johnson’s horse shoe and put it back where it will do the most good. Why can’t this stuff happen during the stupid chase?


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