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After several weeks of struggles and doubts about his Stewart-Haas Racing team's performance and ability to make the Chase, Tony Stewart finally had a good day on Tuesday.
Stewart finished third at Atlanta Motor Speedway, solidifying his position in the top 10 in points on the same day his teammate Ryan Newman clinched a Chase spot.
The two-time NASCAR champion is now 23 points ahead of 11th-place Brad Keselowski.
"We definitely gained a couple on him today," Stewart said. "And it may come down to one point. So having the strong finish that we had may be the difference of making it or not making it next week."
If Stewart finishes 18th or better at Richmond, he will make the Chase no matter what Keselowski does. But on Tuesday, he was simply pleased to rebound at a track he considers one of the most enjoyable on which to race.
"I will say this: If (track president) Ed Clark decides to repave this racetrack, I'll personally shoot him myself," Stewart said. "This place is so racy, so much fun. ... You actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that's what makes it fun here, because guys overdrive run their cars, run too hard on the front and then they fall off the last half."
Stewart's team told him he gained 8.5 seconds on the race leaders over the last run. It was a performance that was as welcome as water in the desert to Stewart fans, who had seen his entire organization struggle this summer.
"It's been a tough last couple of months," Stewart said. "But I appreciate everybody in our shop, the road crews. And Ryan making the Chase, getting locked in today, and just all of our partners and sponsors."
If Denny Hamlin had his choice, he wouldn't head into Richmond with his Chase chances still in doubt.
But at least nothing disastrous happened at Atlanta and, coupled with Clint Bowyer's misfortune on Tuesday, Hamlin finds himself in solid position to grab a wild card berth after an eighth-place finish.
"You never know in this sport," he said. "You never know what can happen. We need to go out there next week and get a solid finish and try to win. We know we're in if we win."
Actually, Hamlin can lock up a Chase berth just by finishing seventh or better – as long as Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose or David Ragan don't win the race and get into the top 20 at the same time. Hamlin has an 11-point lead over AJ Allmendinger, so Hamlin has an advantage even if Allmendinger wins Richmond.
Hamlin's advantage over the rest of the potential wild card winners only grows after Allmendinger, with Menard the only other driver who has won a race and is currently in the top 20.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said his confidence after Atlanta was "better than what we were going into this week, but we still just would have liked to get a win today."
"Our car just faded there a little bit at the end and just fought track position," he said.
Still, last year's championship runner-up called it "a step in the right direction."
"We're taking baby steps at this point," he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in solid position to clinch a NASCAR Chase spot at Richmond next week, but his 19th-place result at Atlanta Motor Speedway wasn't the way he wanted to do it.
And even if he makes the Chase next week, running around 20th place won't do much for him in the championship battle, he said.
"We will just try to go in there (to Richmond) and run better and do better and I am not really worried about it," he said. "I don't have room to worry about it, as bad as we have been running. We need to get our crap together and get to running good, or it doesn't matter where we are in the Chase and doesn't matter if we are in or not."
Earnhardt Jr. said his race at Atlanta "was not a good day." He didn't have a good car, he said, and fought it all day long but was unable to do anything with it.
He lost ground in his quest to remain in the Chase, but still has a 25-point margin over 11th-place Brad Keselowski.
"It's a little bit tighter going into Richmond, but we still feel pretty good," he said. "But it doesn't matter if we can't figure out how to make the car run...it don't matter where we are."
Earnhardt Jr. said he was "not happy and not satisfied" to be running 20th. He noted that Hendrick Motorsports has two cars running well – race winner Jeff Gordon and runner-up Jimmie Johnson – and too cars struggling a bit – himself and Mark Martin.
"We have to get four cars running good," he said. "That is the job we got, so we will try. I feel confident and you don't stop trying until it's over."
The good news for Earnhardt Jr. fans, though, is a Chase berth is likely on the horizon.
"We should be able to go in there (to Richmond) and make that happen," he said.
With the Atlanta race now in the books, we now know what the NASCAR Chase scenarios are for the final race of the regular season.
Here are the basics: There are two spots in the top 10 and one spot in the wild card race that are not clinched (nine of the 12 overall playoff spots are taken).
The focus of Richmond will be primarily based on if a driver can win the race and pass Denny Hamlin for the final wild card spot. It's unlikely Brad Keselowski would make the top 10 and open a second wild card unless Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart has a problem.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and Chase outlook after Atlanta:
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will each go down as one of NASCAR's greatest champions. And on Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, both of them showed why.
Gordon and Johnson staged an epic battle for the lead over the final 10 laps as both fought loose cars, and it resulted in Gordon ultimately holding off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the 85th win of his fantastic career.
Only Richard Petty and David Pearson have more victories than Gordon, who is now third on the all-time Sprint Cup Series wins list.
"Oh my goodness," Gordon said. "That was a lot of fun racing with him. I was slipping, he was slipping. A couple moments where I really thought he got us. What an incredible win."
Said Johnson, who finished second: "What a lot of fun. To be that sideways at 180 mph, lap after lap, is a good time."
Tony Stewart finished third – a major boost for his team and its Chase chances – and the team owner called it "big."
"You never know what could happen next week," he said.
Stewart is 23 points inside the top 10 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th place on Tuesday) is clear of 11th place by 25 points.
Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and AJ Allmendinger.
Here is the top 10 in the NASCAR Atlanta race:
Jeff Gordon has positioned himself for his milestone 85th career victory, which would move him past Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison into third on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series list.
Currently, Gordon leads teammate Jimmie Johnson by 1.5 seconds with 20 laps remaining at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon has had the best car throughout the day, but has had to fend off several challengers.
If the race stays green until the end, Gordon should be able to hold off Johnson for the win.
Jeff Gordon took the lead from Jimmie Johnson shortly before the final green-flag pit stops of the day at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but a possible loose wheel threatened to ruin his day.
Fortunately for Gordon, he was able to time his green-flag stop perfectly with the rest of the field, and he retained the lead after the scoring cycled through with 40 laps to go.
Johnson came out second, followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.
There are 35 laps to go.
Clint Bowyer's NASCAR Chase hopes likely ended on Tuesday when contact with Juan Pablo Montoya put him into the wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Here's what Bowyer had to say about the incident in a televised interview with ESPN:
You can't race around the jackass. You never can. Anybody in this sport knows what you're up against when the 42 comes up. He dive-bombs the starts and bullies his way up in there, and before you know it, he's in the way and wrecking with somebody.
Unfortunately, I was victim this week. It's just a shame. We're out here racing for a spot in the Chase. He's racing for nothing, you know? I'm tired of it. Everybody in the garage area fights him. He's just an idiot.
Bowyer gave Montoya a sarcastic clap and thumbs up after the wreck. Montoya has been involved in several high-profile incidents with other drivers this season, most notably with Ryan Newman at Richmond.
Meanwhile, David Ragan's engine blew and Regan Smith was spun by Mark Martin as the laps begin to wind down at Atlanta.
Jimmie Johnson is the leader with 75 laps to go, with Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth behind.
NASCAR finally got the Atlanta Motor Speedway race restarted with 95 laps to go, as the rain cleared out for the moment.
Matt Kenseth retained the lead on the restart, and Jimmie Johnson – who was nearly lapped earlier in the race – passed Carl Edwards for second.
Just as Kenseth, Johnson and Edwards were about to have a three-way battle for the lead, Clint Bowyer was hooked into the wall by Juan Pablo Montoya with 85 laps to go.
Bowyer, who needed a good run to get into the top 10 in points for the Chase, gave Montoya a sarcastic clap and thumbs up as the No. 42 car drove by on the next lap.
That's likely the end of Bowyer's Chase chances. He could still win Richmond next week, but that might not be enough to get him a wild card berth ahead of Denny Hamlin, depending on how the points shake out after today.
Martin Truex Jr. is the leader with 78 to go after taking two tires on a pit stop during the Bowyer caution, with Edwards, Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kenseth behind him. The restart is upcoming.
The potential Cinderella story for JJ Yeley ended when NASCAR lifted a 24-minute red flag and went back to green-flag racing, but it only lasted two laps before the heavy mist/light rain returned.
As NASCAR dried the track and prepared to go back to green, Yeley and second-place Landon Cassill pitted and gave the lead back to Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
The green flag waved and Kenseth jumped out to the lead, but after a lap he and other drivers immediately began telling their teams it was raining and NASCAR needed to call a caution.
Kenseth got the caution he wanted, and the yellow flag came back out. So did the jet dryers.
Top 10 as of the latest caution for rain at lap 221 (out of 325 laps):
Could JJ Yeley have pulled off one of the all-time NASCAR upsets?
With a heavy mist falling at Atlanta Motor Speedway at lap 209, NASCAR has red-flagged the race in order to dry the track. Almost every car pitted, but Yeley and Landon Cassill stayed out, giving them the top two spots.
It wouldn't benefit them if the race went back to green, but Yeley would be one of NASCAR's all-time most unlikely winners if he was able to steal the race by staying out.
With nothing on the radar, though, that seems unlikely to happen. Not only is there plenty of daylight left, but Atlanta also has lights. The race is "official" though (having reached its halfway point), so you never know.
Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards will be the leaders if the race goes back to green and Yeley/Cassill have to pit.
Currently, drivers are out of their race cars and walking around. We'll keep you posted.
Heavy mist has brought out a caution at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second time in 25 laps.
Race leader Matt Kenseth was battling with teammate Carl Edwards just before the caution flag flew at lap 200 (125 laps to go), but Kenseth was able to hold off the No. 99 car.
Mist began to fall during the caution we mentioned in our previous update (for David Gilliland's car), and it extended that yellow flag by several laps.
The race went back to green and Kenseth took the lead, but the mist returned shortly thereafter. Jet dryers are out on the track trying to resume the action now.
After pit stops at lap 202 (the most notable development was Jeff Gordon dropping five positions during his pit stop), here's the running order with 123 laps to go:
Jeff Gordon seemed to be cruising at the halfway point of Tuesday's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the handling on his No. 24 car suddenly went away.
Gordon got loose and fell all the way back to fourth place as Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin all went past him.
Kenseth held the lead over Edwards as green-flag pit stops began around lap 170 of 325.
David Gilliland spun out at the entrance to pit road right in the middle of the pit stops, but NASCAR did not call a caution despite his car sitting on pit road an unable to restart.
When pit stops cycled through – with Carl Edwards taking the lead from Matt Kenseth – NASCAR finally called the caution for Gilliland. Gordon got back up to third during the pit stops.
Here's the top 10 as of the Gilliland caution at the completion of green-flag pit stops (lap 177 of 325):
After Andy Lally blew a tire around lap 130, NASCAR called a debris caution which shook up the running order.
Jeff Gordon dropped to fourth following the pit stops (his team put a spring rubber in during his car's service), with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch out front. But Busch seemed to jump the restart and then lagged back, and it caused a bit of commotion on the initial green-flag lap.
AJ Allmendinger got into David Ragan, who then hit Kevin Harvick. The No. 29 car went extremely sideways, but Harvick somehow saved it and kept going – as did everyone else.
Kenseth, meanwhile, pulled out to the lead while Gordon moved into second place (about a half-second behind). Gordon has the strongest car of the day, though, and was able to pass Kenseth at lap 149 to retake the lead.
A Dale Earnhardt Jr. update: The No. 88 is now back on the lead lap after getting the free pass on the Lally caution.
The top 10 as of lap 150 (of 325):
Following the caution for Bobby Labonte's second wreck, the race restarted on lap 99 with Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch running side by side.
Gordon started on the outside and was able to gain the advantage over Busch, though. Matt Kenseth settled into third and Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin.
As of lap 125 (200 laps to go), Gordon is still the class of the field. He's 1.8 seconds ahead of Kenseth (now in second) and has led the most laps today.
A follow-up on the Dale Earnhardt Jr. storyline: He's still one lap down in 28th place, but in position for the free pass on the next caution.
Tony Stewart had a bad pit stop on the previous caution, but he came on the radio to encourage his team and is currently in 14th place. Stewart had been running as high as fourth earlier in the race.
Another surprise: Jimmie Johnson is having an off day. He's 15th but was nearly lapped earlier.
As Jeff Gordon pulled away to a 2.5-second lead over Denny Hamlin, green-flag pit stops began around lap 75 and were completed by lap 80.
Gordon's lead shrunk by a full second after the pit stops (to 1.5 seconds), but the driver in the runner-up spot was different: Kyle Busch instead of Hamlin.
Hamlin had to reverse and back out of his stall to avoid the car in front of him following his pit stop, and it dropped him to fifth after the running order cycled back through.
Busch came out of the pit stops second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Hamlin.
The bad news continued for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, though: Junior was lapped on lap 91, which certainly doesn't help the No. 88's Chase chances. With the way Earnhardt Jr. is running, he'll have to wait until Richmond to find out his Chase fate.
The caution flag waved on lap 94, though, when Bobby Labonte spun for the second time. Labonte impacted the inside wall fairly significantly, and his day appeared to be over.
Earnhardt Jr. did not get the free pass – Regan Smith had just been lapped by race leader Gordon – so he remains one lap down.
Here's how they came off pit road following the caution (lap 95 of 325):
We told you in the previous update that Jeff Gordon took the lead from Kyle Busch at lap 46 (of 325), and Gordon continued to pull away after lap 50.
Busch was still second and Kevin Harvick third, but Tony Stewart drove his way into the top five past Clint Bowyer – much-needed performance for the No. 14 team after his Chase hopes have been in doubt.
Bowyer, who needs a solid run to try and make the Chase via the top 10 in points, continued his fall through the field and was passed by Hamlin.
One update some fans won't like: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not having a good day. He's 28th and complaining of an ill-handling car ("The car drives crooked," he recently radioed to his team).
Green-flag pit stops are expected shortly.
The current top 10 as of lap 70:
After the restart from the competition caution, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin started side-by-side for the lead, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
Hamlin spun the tires on the restart, which allowed Busch and Gordon to immediately pull away, with Bowyer and Brad Keselowski close behind.
Busch led the first dozen laps after the green flag got going again, but Gordon eventually caught him and made the pass at lap 46.
As of lap 50, Gordon leads Busch by less than a second, with Bowyer, Keselowski and Harvick rounding out the top five but each more than 3.5 seconds behind.
After the caution for Bobby Labonte's spin, the top 18 cars stayed out and it made for a frantic restart.
Several drivers jumped four-wide on the first green-flag lap, and Clint Bowyer emerged with the lead, followed by Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin. Former leader Kasey Kahne, who had stayed out, fell back to fourth place.
Vickers briefly challenged Bowyer for the lead, but it was Hamlin who eventually caught the Richard Childress Racing driver and passed for the top spot at lap 25.
But Kyle Busch, who was the first car with four tires and had restarted 17th, zoomed up through the field like it was a Nationwide race and caught the leaders.
Busch caught his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate rather quickly and took the lead away. The competition caution flag is now out (lap 30), and everyone will pit for fuel.
As a reminder: If Busch wins, Sprint coughs up $3 million – one million each to Busch, his charity and a seriously lucky fan.
After a clean start, pole-sitter Kasey Kahne took an early lead over Clint Bowyer (who led the first lap), and drivers seemed to be managing their equipment until the scheduled competition caution at lap 30.
But on lap 11, Bobby Labonte lost control of his car in Turn 4 while running 22nd and spun into the frontstretch grass. He had little damage, but it caused the first caution of the day and offered the opportunity for some cars to come down pit road.
Leader Kahne was one of 18 cars to stay on the track, but others like second-place Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon came onto pit road and took four tires.
Kurt Busch was the first of the cars off pit road, followed by Ryan Newman. Each of those cars took two tires apiece.
When the race goes green, there should be about 15 laps until the competition caution and the next pit stop.
The AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway got started as scheduled – or rescheduled – this morning as the track was dried in time for an 11:10 a.m. local start.
Clint Bowyer led the first lap over pole-sitter Kasey Kahne, followed by Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers. A competition caution is scheduled for lap 30.
Only a few thousand fans appeared to be in the stands at the start of the race, which was originally scheduled to run on Sunday night. After rain ruined those plans, NASCAR moved the race to Tuesday morning due to Tropical Storm Lee sweeping through on Monday night.
One interesting note: Dave Blaney developed kidney stones on Monday and swapped seats with Mike Skinner. Why? Because Skinner was planning to start-and-park and Blaney's Tommy Baldwin Racing team is planning to run the whole race.
Drivers noted a high level of grip at the start of the race, since all the rubber had been washed off by the storm.
WE WILL HAVE A FULL NASCAR RACE TODAY! The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and all that moisture associated with it continues to push north into the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys, as very dry and cooler air begins to move in behind the departing system.
From what I am see, I feel very confident that NASCAR has a very good shot of getting the AdvoCare 500 started and completed on time. If someone asked me, "What are the odds we get this race started at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning?" I would tell them I think there is a better than 75 percent chance of getting the race started.
This is not good news for all those fans who were praying for some morning rain so they could watch the race later in the afternoon or possibly in the evening. Even Denny Hamlin (@DennyHamlin on Twitter) voiced his opinion about having a later start time for today's race, "Anyone else wish @NASCAR would schedule the race for tues night?"
For those holding out hope for a morning rain delay and a later race start, there could be a few scattered to isolated showers around during the morning. Like we saw Sunday night it only takes one single shower to undo hours of drying.
The trouble with predicting scattered to isolated showers is you never know when or where they will form. Overall, I think the dry air wins out and we get this race started on time and finished.
WHAT IF THERE IS A DELAY?
In the small likelihood that we see a delay Tuesday morning, the forecast for the afternoon and evening looks mostly dry. There could be a pop-up shower or storm during the afternoon but the risk is very small. The other good news for track drying is that winds will be gusty and breezy out of the southwest. Sustained winds look to be between 10 and 20 mph with gust to near 25 mph.
I am very certain the AdvoCare 500 gets in today, and I am becoming a believer that this race starts on time. If you are like many fans heading back to work or school, make sure you have your DVR's set for ESPN this morning.
8 a.m EDT
Few scattered to isolated showers or storms, windy with gusts of 25 mph, mostly cloudy & cool: 68
11 a.m EDT
Start of Sprint Cup Race – Mostly cloudy, poss. shower or storm, looks mainly dry, windy & cool. Southwest wind 10-20 mph gust of 25 – temp: 70
1 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Clouds, some sunshine few lingering scattered showers – temp: 73
As expected, the race has been rescheduled. NASCAR gave its all to get Atlanta Motor Speedway dry Sunday night, but Mother Nature had other plans – courtesy of Tropical Storm Lee, which is now a tropical depression.
After one hour, 45 minutes of jet driers and service vehicles working hard to dry the track, it took just one small shower to erase all the work that had been done and NASCAR decided at about 9:45 to call the race and rescheduled the race for 11 a.m. EDT on Tuesday – NOT MONDAY.
SO WHY TUESDAY AND NOT MONDAY?
Simply put, the weather and the safety of the fans. Tropical depression Lee will work through Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, ending up joining a stalled cold front to the north on Tuesday evening in Tennessee. Lots of tropical moisture will surge north through Alabama and Georgia creating numerous showers and scattered thunderstorms.
Flash flood watches continue for northern Georgia including Atlanta Motor Speedway back into Alabama and Mississippi from now until Tuesday midday. Rain amounts by Tuesday midday could range from 3 to 5 inches for areas in the watch with some spots seeing 7 inches locally across northern Georgia. The other threat on Monday is some storms producing isolated tornadoes.
The Storm Prediction Center out of Norman Oklahoma has most of Georgia and Alabama under a slight risk of severe storms. The main threat being gusty winds and isolated tornadoes. Here is what the local National Weather Service office has to say about the tornado threat across central Georgia.
THE TORNADO THREAT ACROSS THE CWA REMAINS VERY REAL. ISOLD TORNADOESALREADY NOTED ACROSS AL EARLIER THIS EVENING WITH VERY WEAK...SEEMINGLY BENIGN APPEARING SHOWERS WITH NO LIGHTNING... ...THE TORNADO THREAT WILL INCREASE ACROSS THE FFC CWA AND WILL NEED TO BE WATCHED VERY CAREFULLY. TROPICAL TORNADOES SPIN UP VERY QUICKLY AND THE PARENT CELLS OFTEN EXHIBIT LITTLE OR NO LIGHTNING.
NASCAR made the right decision and I applaud them for scheduling the race for Tuesday when the weather looks better.
SO HOW DOES THE WEATHER LOOK TUESDAY MORNING?
The images below are the model print out for Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. EDT (This was the closest information to 2 p.m. EDT and also the driest)
This is a much better picture than I have been showing over the past few days. Yes there are areas of green across north central Georgia but the rain is on the way out and I think we WILL get the race in on Tuesday. Maybe not at 11 a.m. (not feeling confident about the morning start) but once we get past midday and head into the afternoon and evening the threat of rain decreases and I feel good about seeing a Tuesday race.
DETAILED RACE FORECAST:
Numerous rain showers with isolated thunderstorms. Some storms could produce isolated tornadoes. Slight risk for severe weather across central and northern Georgia. .
Numerous showers and isolated storms during the morning, windy and cooler. Shower threat becomes less as moisture exits afternoon and evening. Winds could gust 20-30 mph and highs in the mid to upper 70s.
11 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and isolated storms possible through the morning, windy – temp: 74
2 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Clouds, some sunshine few lingering scattered showers – temp: 78
Despite a valiant effort on the behalf of NASCAR and track officials, Sunday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway has been postponed until Tuesday morning at 11 p.m. ET, which will be shown live on ESPN.
NASCAR had told teams to push the cars to the grid by 9:45 p.m., but as the track was being dried, another cell of rain dampened their efforts. With the forecast looking bad for Monday as well, NASCAR opted to schedule the race for Tuesday morning.
"Hopefully everything goes good Tuesday," NASCAR president Mike Helton said on ESPN. "We'll just be a few days behind and get back on schedule."
Helton said John Darby and Robin Pemberton will determine whether teams will be allowed to work on the cars before Tuesday morning's race.
If things work out on Tuesday morning, the rest of the week would go according to schedule, with no announced alterations to NASCAR's plans to visit President Obama at the White House or next weekend's final regular-season race at Richmond International Raceway.
Once the race starts, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer will lead the field to the green flag.
Jet dryers are on the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but our own NASCAR meteorologist Brian Neudorff says there's little hope for racing tonight.
Though it's not currently raining at the track, more moisture associated with Tropical Storm Lee is on the way.
If NASCAR can't get the race in tonight, Neudorff says the weather for Monday almost certainly would not allow for racing. A Tuesday race – perhaps in the late afternoon or evening – would be the next possibility.
We'll try to keep you posted with any new information on the start time of the race here.
Honestly I hope I am wrong and that the skies clear, the rain ends and for all the fans who budget and save to come to a race have the opportunity to see some racing. NASCAR is trying to do everything it can to get this race started. Reports on Twitter have NASCAR moving up the green flag 20 minutes to 7:30 p.m. EDT.
I don’t think 20 mins will make that much of a difference. Rain has been off and on through the day and there is more rain moving in from the south and southwest. There may be a few windows of no rain or just drizzle but I am not confident that they will get the track dry and ready to start this race tonight.
Above images print out the rain scenario for 8 p.m. EDT. More rain is likely behind this system and once we start getting the rain it's expected to keep raining through Monday into Tuesday morning thanks to Tropical Storm Lee.
Rain will be heavy at times from overnight Sunday into Monday. There are flash flood watches for northern Georgia including Atlanta Motor Speedway from midnight tonight until Tuesday morning. Rain amounts by Tuesday morning could range 3 to 5 inches for the area and locally some spots seeing 7 inches across northern Georgia. Another concern Monday is a risk for storms producing isolated tornadoes across central and northern Georgia, you can read more from the National Weather Service Hazardous Weather Outlook for the area. The next realistic opportunity to race would be Tuesday afternoon or Tuesday evening.
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and storms continuing off and on and increasing through the evening and overnight – temp: 76
Cloudy with rain and isolated thunderstorms, rain will be at heavy a times. Rain amounts could be 1 to 2 inches. Turning windy towards the afternoon and evening.
Areas of showers and isolated storms, mainly Tuesday morning. Windy and we could see some clearing and drying late in the day and evening. Highs 75 to near 80.
Little to no change in my thinking on the forecast for tonight. Many of my Twitter followers ask, "What's the likelihood we get the NASCAR race in Sunday night?" Optimistically, I think we have a 20-30 percent chance of getting this race started and to halfway, based on some of the data I am seeing.
As of midday, rain was falling at Atlanta Motor Speedway and more rain was moving in from the southwest and also forming out around the track.
Rain is expected to increase as the afternoon wears on and as we head into the evening. Here are the latest model images for 8 p.m. EDT. Click on image to enlarge.
I cannot speak for NASCAR and I don't know how they will handle Sunday night's race if it gets rained out.
More than likely they would do what they have in the past and reschedule it for sometime Monday. Unfortunately, the forecast for Monday is not much better with more rain likely.
Rain will be heavy at times from overnight Sunday into Monday. There are flash flood watches for northern Georgia including Atlanta Motor Speedway from midnight tonight until Tuesday morning. Rain amounts by Tuesday morning could range 3 to 5 inches for the area and locally some spots seeing 7 inches.
Another concern for Monday is a risk for storms producing isolated tornadoes across central and northern Georgia; you can read more from the National Weather Service Hazardous Weather Outlook for the area.
Another concern is how will Atlanta Motor Speedway handle so much rain over the next 24 to 36 hours. Rain will continue into Tuesday morning before drying out as Lee moves off to the north and northeast. It may be possible to get a race in on Tuesday afternoon and evening looking at the current forecast.
Cloudy with off and on light rain showers, temperatures 75 to 80.
SUNDAY RACE FORECAST:
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and storms likely continuing and increasing through the evening and overnight – temp: 76
Cloudy with rain and isolated thunderstorms, rain will be at heavy a times. Rain amounts could be 1 to 2 inches.
Areas of showers and isolated storms, mainly Tuesday morning, could see some clearing and drying late in the day and into Tuesday evening. Highs 75 to near 80.
It's NASCAR race night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the AdvoCare 500 for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty at 7:39 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, honorary starter Richard Wright – the CEO of race sponsor AdvoCare will wave the green flag at 7:48 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, flip on your TV set at 7:48. *****UPDATE: Due to impending rain, the start time has been moved up to 7:30 p.m. EDT*****
Race name/distance: The AdvoCare 500 is sponsored by a company new to NASCAR. AdvoCare is a health and wellness company that makes an energy drink called "Spark." The race distance is 325 laps around the 1.5-mile track for a total distance of 500 miles.
TV and radio: ESPN resumes its coverage of the Sprint Cup schedule's latter half after the race was on ABC last week. If you aren't near a TV or can't watch, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Performance Racing Network (PRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of PRN stations where you can listen.
National anthem: Ernie Haase and the Signature Sound will once again perform the anthem. The gospel quartet has performed many anthems at sporting events before, including at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Tickets: There are plenty of tickets still available for Sunday's race.
Weather: NOT GOOD! According to the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, rain is expected to arrive around the start of the race. That's not good, because he expects it to last through Monday once it arrives.
Last time: Tony Stewart, who hadn't won all season, beat Carl Edwards on the final restart of the night to win last September's Atlanta race.
Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
There has been little change in the overall forecast for Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The two players that will impact the weather are Tropical Storm Lee (at least the moisture associated with it) and an approaching cold front arriving from the north.
A band of rain will break off off Lee during the day Sunday and bring steady rain into Alabama and Georgia in the afternoon and evening as Lee slowly works inland into Louisiana. We could even see some rain Sunday morning. The images below are model printouts for 8 p.m. EDT Sunday night.
I tweeted Saturday night that optimistically I think we have a 25% chance of getting this race in Sunday night. It isn't out of the question that there could be breaks in the rain and possible windows. We really won't know the exact scenario until there is actual rain on the radar moving towards north central Georgia on Sunday morning and afternoon.
I also want fans to know that the rain we are expecting Sunday is only a piece of Tropical Storm Lee. Tropical Storm Lee (or what is left of it) is not expected to affect north and central Georgia until Monday and Tuesday as it slowly moves through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee over the next three days.
If we don't get an official race in on Sunday there is a real good possibility, based on the current weather forecast, we could have a Wednesday race. A Wednesday race is really the worst-case scenario and I hope we can get it in before that. If there is a Wednesday race then last year's Chase contenders will not be able to make it to the White House.
Mostly cloudy with scattered showers and isolated storms into the afternoon. Not as hot as highs are near 80. Showers become more likely into the evening and after 8pm
SUNDAY RACE FORECAST:
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and storms becoming likely through the evening – temp: 83
Kasey Kahne won the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, picking up his second No. 1 starting spot of the season.
Kahne turned a lap of 186.196 mph to earn his first pole since Darlington and the 22nd of his career.
Chase bubble driver Clint Bowyer (185.922) will start second, followed by Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon.
Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
"Obviously, it was an important qualifying run," Bowyer said. "These next two weeks are important for us, and we're not out of it yet."
Here's the NASCAR starting lineup for Atlanta:
Denny Hamlin says it's easier for a driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race now than it was in the past.
"It's easier for the driver to win because it's really about the crew chief these days and the strategy they play," he said Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "In my opinion, it's not as driver-important today as it used to be. There's so many more factors...which makes it interesting at times. But you just don't see, in my eyes, the top three drivers in Cup winning as often as what you would think. Ultimately, it's out of their hands most weeks."
Hamlin said the Goodyear tires used in the Cup Series have made a significant impact on the racing. Whereas drivers used to be upset at Goodyear's tires for not being up to par, they're now too good in some ways, Hamlin said.
"Honestly, the tires are better," he said. "I know that's what Goodyear wants and what NASCAR wants and what the drivers want as far as safety is concerned. But nowadays, drivers don't pay any price for overdriving a race car."
Watching tapes of old races, Hamlin said he noticed how the cars with little downforce and soft tires were able to overtake one another more easily – which made for better racing. These days, drivers say it's extremely difficult to complete a pass (sometimes even of a lapped car).
"Drivers like Mark Martin that you've seen for years and years be so good at saving his equipment, it's not as big of an advantage anymore because the tires are so much better," Hamlin said. "I would like to see in the future tires that we run fast for a lap or two, but then drop off tremendously."
That would force teams to pit for tires and not attempt a fuel mileage gamble or other pit strategy quite as often, Hamlin said.
"(Fuel mileage) is all part of racing – I understand that," he said. "But you like to see fast cars win races."
Because the tires are so good this year and don't wear out as easily, Hamlin said he believes the rubber is a big reason there have been so many different winners.
"In the last year, guys are driving corner entry way harder than what they should be allowed to," he said. "And I think that's some of the reason you see some of the new drivers winning this year. You just don't pay a price anymore for overdriving your race car because everything is just so good now."
If you've been checking out the weather forecasts from the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, you've seen that the outlook for Sunday night's Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is not good.
Meteorologist Brian Neudorff posted two different forecast models on his blog Saturday, and both have big time rain over Atlanta around the start time of the race.
And apparently, that's just the beginning of it. The system contains moisture associated with Tropical Storm Lee, which is currently affecting New Orleans.
If part of the slow-moving Lee reaches Atlanta by Sunday night, the forecast for Monday is also a washout. Could NASCAR see a Tuesday race on the week before the Chase cutoff in Richmond?
That's a worst-case scenario no one wants to think about. But NASCAR must be already considering its options, since the forecast looks so grim.
One option NASCAR says it will not consider is moving up the start time of the race by several hours.
The primary reason, in NASCAR's view, is fans who are attending the race might not hear about the time change and therefore miss part of it – or all of it. That's a huge problem for fans traveling from long distances or who have planned their weekend around a 7:30 p.m. start time.
Another reason is the TV contract. NASCAR and ESPN agreed on a 7:30 start time, and that broadcast window is already set.
Obviously, those are valid reasons. But here's the thing: While starting the race early and perhaps racing to halfway would hurt some fans, so would running a Tuesday race that even fewer could attend in person or even watch on TV.
If we all wake up on Sunday and the forecast says Lee is all but certain to arrive later in the evening, it's going to be painful to wait around all day while cars could have raced in dry conditions and then endure a rainout.
Of course, there's also a chance forecasters could be wrong. And in that case, NASCAR would look bad by moving up the start time for no reason.
So it's not an enviable position in which officials find themselves. But there will be plenty of second-guessing if the rain comes Sunday night after a mostly dry day.
After Bristol last week, Jeff Gordon said the track's pit road timing lines were "terrible" and said it was "a joke" that drivers could take advantage of the system to such a degree.
On Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gordon reiterated his call for NASCAR to address the pit road segments.
"To me, we always look at how to keep this sport as equal as possible," he said. "They're looking at how they govern the rules and the things they do with the templates and all that, but yet they make us have huge advantages with pit stalls by not having segments (equal at some tracks)."
Here's the issue: Pit roads at places like Bristol have gaps between certain pit stalls and the timing lines. Since speeding penalties are determined by a driver's time between the two lines and NOT the actual speed, drivers can go much faster than the speed limit depending on where their stall is located.
Why? Because if they make a pit stop in between the timing lines, they won't get caught speeding in the remainder of that segment no matter how fast they go.
"From a safety standpoint, you shouldn't have guys driving 10, 20 mph over coming into their box, sliding in," Gordon said. "And I don't necessarily think it's (safe) leaving as well.
Gordon said he actually had one of the favorable pit stalls at Bristol, so it didn't cost him the victory. But it still stuck out in his mind "as something that shouldn't be happening in our sport today," he said.
"It definitely needs to be addressed," he added.
When will this issue come up again? Gordon said the timing lines will be brought up again when NASCAR travels to Martinsville in October.
"If there's a speed limit, we shouldn't be breaking it," he said. "But we do, because we know how to take advantage of it."
All day Saturday and most of the day Sunday look fair and dry with a mix of clouds and sunshine. High pressure remains in control for another day as temperatures reach the low 90s for the afternoon Saturday. Fair weather is expected for the Nationwide race on Saturday night with temperatures in the mid 80s falling into the upper 70s.
Sunday is the more complicated forecast. We have moisture associated with Tropical Storm Lee along the Gulf Coast, interacting with a slow moving cold front coming in from the north. This sets the stage very nicely for the development of showers and storms as we head into Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening.
Although my official forecast is calling for showers and storms to become more likely as the evening and night wears on Sunday, I am not even close to calling this race a washout. There are a few forecast models we use that are slow in bringing rain to Atlanta Motor Speedway. It also appears that Lee could actually slow and stall the front farther to the north, which I think could allow for more dry time Sunday night.
This is one of the more challenging forecasts I have seen all season. To put this into racing terms, I feel like the crew chief with my driver in the lead and I am trying to calculate if we have enough fuel to make it to the end or we will end up coming up one or two laps short.
The question is not whether if it will rain Sunday into Monday; it's a matter of when in my opinion. If the race would end up getting postponed and the next few days – Monday and Tuesday – don't look much better.
I will be updating as often as new data comes in today and Sunday. Keep checking back and follow me on Twitter for more updates as we go though the weekend.
8:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 72
9:45 a.m EDT
Nationwide Final Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 76
1:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 88
3:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 91
5:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 92
7:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 85
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and storms becoming likely through the evening– temp: 83
Last week, Tony Stewart officially hired Danica Patrick to run a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule next year. Now he'd like to add another driver to the Stewart-Haas Racing roster: Mark Martin.
"I would love to have him," Stewart said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "The biggest thing is us getting the financial backing to run the remainder of those races. I would love nothing more than Mark in all the races that Danica doesn't run next year. I've been a Mark Martin fan for a long time and, trust me, I would love nothing more than to have Mark in one of our cars."
Stewart said Martin would be "a leading candidate" if the team was able to get sponsorship for the remainder of the season. GoDaddy currently sponsors Martin, but apparently will not continue to do so in the future as it focuses its dollars on Patrick.
Martin is one of several drivers with uncertain plans for next season. Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and David Ragan are also looking at their options.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. signed a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports this week. But so far, he said, he'd evaluate his tenure at Hendrick as "barely a passing grade."
"I'm not content at all, and I feel like I've been given some really good opportunities there and just haven't been able to capitalize on it," he said. "... I'm nowhere near satisfied with what I've accomplished so far."
That's a major reason Earnhardt Jr. said he's happy to have signed the five-year contract extension: There's unfinished business at Hendrick.
"I feel like that motivates me to try to go in there and...accomplish what I want to accomplish with that company," he said.
Earnhardt Jr. has a decent shot at clinching a Chase berth this weekend at Atlanta, but he'll need to get his season back on track after what he described as his "typical summer slump."
"Hopefully we can rebound and it'll cycle back around at exactly the right time," he said. "... Hopefully, if we have that opportunity to be in the Chase, we just might surprise some people."
Though Earnhardt Jr. said his renewal with Hendrick was an "easy" extension, he also said it made him feel fortunate to be with such a good company.
The stress level at HMS is a bit higher than when he drove for his family's team at Dale Earnhardt Inc., however. These days, a bad race stays with him longer than the years he was surrounded by family friends.
"It was just easier to rebound," he said. "Now when I have a bad race, I take it home and it's two or three days until I get over it. I wonder whether I have the right people behind me or if I've given them a reason to doubt me. When you're racing with family, you just don't have those kind of worries."
There is no doubt Kevin Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing team have been struggling the last few weeks. With only one top-10 in the last seven races, Harvick has backslid in the points as drivers such as Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have emerged as Chase favorites.
Despite his recent struggles, Harvick does not put too much stock into momentum carrying over into the Chase.
His reasoning? The 2010 season.
Last year, Harvick led the point standings for the majority of the regular season, but lost the lead when the Chase field was reset after Richmond. With momentum on his side going into the final 10-race stretch, Harvick was unable to best eventual champion Jimmie Johnson and runner-up Denny Hamlin.
Fast-forward to this season, and Harvick remains confident in his championship hopes, saying the team just had to step back and "punt a little bit" over the past few weeks.
"The experience that I have and the mindset that I have from last year and the years before is when you flip the switch to go into the last 10 (races), it is not like the first 26," he said. "Whether you have momentum or you're just on a total downfall. That reset button switches and it is a whole different level when you get to the last 10."
The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday are great for the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series races, but Sunday night for the Sprint Cup race is becoming more in doubt.
I am not saying it will get washed out, but the threat of rain continues to increase as Tropical Depression 13 continues to develop into Tropical Storm Lee along the Louisiana coast.
To make the forecast more complicated, a cold front is arriving from the north and will interact with the moisture associated with soon-to-be Lee, creating the likelihood of showers and storms Sunday night.
My gut tells me that rain will impact Sunday night's race in some way, either shortening it, causing delays or even postponing it. To make matters worse, Labor Day Monday is even wetter than Sunday night.
A lot of fans ask me, "What's the likelihood of NASCAR moving the start of the race up to Sunday afternoon?" I honestly don't know and with the exception of moving the time up a couple of minutes, I don't recall a race being moved up by several hours.
Sunday afternoon still has a chance of showers and storms, but rain becomes more likely after 8 p.m. Sunday night.
12 p.m EDT
Truck Final Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 84
5 p.m EDT
Truck Qualifying – Mostly sunny – temp: 92
6 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 90
8 p.m EDT
Truck Race – Mostly clear – temp: 85
8:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 70
9:45 a.m EDT
Nationwide Final Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 77
1:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 87
3:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Mostly sunny – temp: 91
5:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Mostly sunny – temp: 91
7:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 85
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Showers and storms becoming likely after 8pm – temp: 83
Tony Stewart may be the defending race winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the former champion is still searching for answers as the Chase approaches.
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