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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2009 Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta Edition

Each week, Frontstretch hosts a live blog during the Sprint Cup race. It’s a great way for readers to interact alongside their favorite Frontstretch writers with videos, live commentary and live polls. Each of this week’s “Five Points” were polls taken during the Atlanta live blog.

ONE: Will Danica Patrick win a race in ARCA, Nationwide or Trucks next season?
Fan Vote – YES: 25%; NO: 75%

Perhaps I’m in the minority on this, but equipment is extremely important in this sport – especially in the lower ranks – and pieces from possibly the Stewart-Haas, Kevin Harvick Inc. or JR Motorsports stables astronomically improves Patrick’s chances of finding victory lane in a stock car in 2010. You see it all the time in ARCA – teams with support from Cup organizations tend to routinely run in the top 10, if not the top five. She may not be the most talented IndyCar driver out there – she is the most marketable, however – and it may take years upon years to transition to the heavier stock cars, but it’s for the sport’s best interest that she garners a win sooner rather than later, and I’m sure whoever she runs for will give every opportunity to make that happen.

TWO: Which driver on the outside of the bubble will make his way in?
Fan Vote – Kyle Busch: 33%; Brian Vickers: 56%; Neither: 0% ; Both: 11%

I’ve stated for months that I didn’t think Kyle Busch could possibly miss the Chase. After a 13th-place run Sunday and now 37 points out of 12th with one race left, I’ll admit it may be tough, but I still think when all is said and done, he’ll be among the top 12 at New Hampshire. The No. 18 is always strong at Richmond and if they need a win to get in, they could very well achieve just that. He’s going to need somebody to fall out to make that happen – unless Matt Kenseth simply has a mediocre run – but given that it’s a short-track race, anything can happen. I’m not saying it’s a lock by any means and I’ll admit the No. 18 team hasn’t looked like the dominant team of old, but can you picture a Chase without Busch in it?

THREE: Which driver on the inside of the Chase bubble will fall out?
Fan Vote – Kenseth: 25%; Greg Biffle: 25%; Mark Martin: 0%; Ryan Newman: 25%; NONE: 25%

This was a late poll so I wasn’t able to get 100% accurate results, but the results I do have show two things: a) everybody thinks Martin will make the Chase – myself included – and b) nobody has a clue who will fall out (if anybody). Given the fact that Kenseth is 48 points behind 11th place I’m going to say he’s the one who falls out. In my “Notes to Ponder” below, I say the No. 17 had a championship effort Sunday to ensure they were inside the bubble going into the regular season finale, but even a simple top-15 finish – he started 35th and finished 13th in the first Richmond race this year – won’t get the job done if Busch – who won that same race – comes out and leads the most laps. Expect one heck of a race Saturday night!!!

FOUR: If you were a car owner, would you give David Gilliland a full-time ride?
Fan Vote – YES: 71%; NO: 29%

Gilliland has become every team’s fill-in driver. He was in the No. 21 Wood Brothers machine this weekend after Bill Elliott injured his ribs, he’ll replace Robby Gordon next weekend, and is said to be in a fourth Gibbs car in a couple of Chase races. But if you were a car owner would you give him a full-time ride? Surprisingly 71% of our viewers said yes, despite him never averaging better than a 25th-place finish in any season in his 3.5 years on the Cup circuit. Personally, I’d rather take a guy like Regan Smith, but if Gilliland can complete 94% of his laps like he did last season, I certainly wouldn’t complain. He may ultimately become a victim of the financial crunch in the sport next season.

FIVE: What grade do you give Sunday night’s race?
Fan Vote – A: 25%; B: 75%; C-F: 0%

The great thing about racing at Atlanta? It’s one of the few races where long green-flag runs still produce good racing. Watching drivers take multiple lines and slide around on old tires was certainly exciting, and in my eyes made it an above average race. Given the number of exciting finishes the track has seen over the years, the only thing that kept the race from an “A” was a last-lap pass or photo finish. Still, a solid B to B+.

Five Notes to Ponder

  • Slippin’ and slidin’: The way the cars were sliding around Sunday night was a prelude to what we’ll see in this week’s “Prelude to the Dream.”.
  • Speaking of the “Prelude to the Dream,” it’s annually in my list of top-10 best races of the year.
  • Great runs: David Stremme (14th), Paul Menard (15th), Robby Gordon (16th), Bobby Labonte (18th) and Gilliland (19th) didn’t necessarily have finishes that represented surprisingly strong runs.
  • A championship-esque run: When Kenseth pancaked the wall early in the race it appeared the No. 17 team would fall out of the Chase, but like any championship team does, the crew repaired the car and Kenseth wheeled it to a solid 12th-place finish.
  • Two different weekends: Could the weeks of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards been any different? Harvick suddenly reemerged on the NASCAR map with a win in Saturday’s Nationwide race and a second-place run Sunday; while Edwards broke his foot earlier in the week, lost points to Kyle Busch Saturday, and had engine problems Sunday.
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