Storylines, notes and three drivers to watch for in tonight's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
How reliable are the Hendrick engines?
With seven combined wins and three drivers a virtual lock to make the Chase, there is little doubt in the garage that Hendrick Motorsports is the organization everyone else is measuring themselves against. But if there is one area of concern for Hendrick, it would have to pertain to the reliability of its engines.
That uneasiness arose two weeks ago at Michigan when the team suffered four motor failures throughout the course of the weekend - including three during the race itself.
And like Michigan, Atlanta is a high-speed oval where engines are often pushed to and frequently beyond the limits. So was Michigan simply an aberration, or a serious chink in the Hendrick armor? One way or another, 500 miles of hard racing tonight should give us a better understanding of whether this is truly the team everyone else is gunning for in the Chase.
Atlanta: A Sign of What's To Come In The Chase
There are a lot of variables that need to come together if a team is to excel during the Chase and contend for the title. Chief among those variables is the ability to perform well on the mile-and-a-half tracks which constitute half of the 10 races (Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead). If you don't have speed on the intermediate style tracks, winning a championship is nothing more than a pipedream.
This is why tonight will be a great indicator of who has what on the 1.5-mile ovals. Yes, Atlanta is different than the above five tracks, but if a team struggles this evening, it's hard to believe they will be much of a factor in the Chase. Look back to last year's race, when all five drivers who ended the season 1-5 in points finished somewhere in the top 10.
Jeff Gordon Needs A Repeat of Last Year
Atlanta Motor Speedway has produced a lot of good memories for Jeff Gordon over the years. Twenty years ago this was the site of his first career Sprint Cup Series and also a track where he has been victorious five times - including 12 months ago when he led 146 laps en route to his third win of the year.
Now, on the brink of not qualifying for the Chase, Gordon needs another dose of Atlanta magic to reinvigorate his year. And as Gordon said himself on Friday, just about any result other than a win will be seen as a disappointment. Because anything less than a victory will really put the screws to him with just one race left in the regular season.
- Tony Stewart isn't known for his qualifying prowess, but when he does start on the pole he typically performs quite well. This is noted by the fact he has 10 top 10 finishes in the 13 races he's started P1.
- Tonight, Dancia Patrick will join Shawna Robinson and Janet Guthrie as the only women to start a Cup race at Atlanta.
1. Greg Biffle
As evident by his victories this season at Texas and Michigan, it is obvious Greg Biffle isn't lacking for speed on the intermediate tracks. And with Biffle pacing the final round of practice, it is equally obvious that the No. 16 team has brought that speed to Atlanta.
2. Kyle Busch
Despite a win here in 2008, Atlanta hasn't been one of Kyle Busch's better tracks, as he has just three top 10s in 14 starts. But hungry - some would say desperate - and with a Toyota that was quick in every practice session, Busch will be up front at the end contending for his second victory of the year.
3. Brad Keselowski
An accident last week at Bristol snapped Brad Keselowski's top 10 streak at seven. No matter, as the driver of the Blue Deuce was near the top of the leaderboard in practice and should be in the hunt for his second of the season on a 1.5-mile track.