COMMENTARY | With just two races left until NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, September 1 is beginning to look like a circus: drivers are juggling teams and juggling positions, and those who flew high on the trapeze in the past are looking up from the safety net, hoping for a way back to the top.
Two Chases Instead of One - The Chase everyone thinks of - the top 10 drivers and two Wild Cards - may have something different in the cards this year: points are actually split into drivers' and owners' points, and for the first time, a team that hasn't qualified a driver for the Chase might be in the running for the owner's title. The No. 14 of Stewart-Haas Racing holds the first Wild Card spot in owner's points, and with owner/driver Tony Stewart out for the season, the team will be relying on Mark Martin to get them through the next two races and into the owner's Chase. The team has already had respectable outings from Max Papis and Austin Dillon in the car, and Dillon will also be racing at Talladega in October.
Will Silly Season Impact the Chase? - Two high-profile drivers in Chase contention, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, have already announced moves for next year - both the SHR - and fans also know that current Wild Card Ryan Newman is out of a job as a result. What affect will these moves have on their current teams? Chances are, there will be no effect in the everyday working environments - these drivers and teams all want to win - but there will be a media circus surrounding these three drivers that may become distracting and annoying in the short term.
Three Former Champs Looking for a Break - In spots 11 through 13 in points sit three former Cup Series champs: Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Those standings are misleading, however: without a win, they all sit behind Tony Stewart - yes, Tony Stewart - as potential Wild Cards, meaning they're in spots four through six for possible berths. Keselowski sits just four points back of his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano, who would still be Wild Card eligible with his win at Michigan. Busch and Gordon are within striking distance, with Busch six points back and Gordon 11 points out of 10th.
More Broken Bones - While Stewart won't be back for the season after breaking his leg, Martin Truex Jr. will be driving with a fractured and sprained wrist at Atlanta and beyond. Truex Jr., another current Wild Card holder, suffered the injury in a wreck at Bristol last Saturday night, but has been cleared by NASCAR to drive with a specialized cast.
Drivers to Watch at Atlanta - Both Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon have multiple wins at Atlanta, Busch with three and Gordon with five; current points leader Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, currently third in points, also have three wins each. Newman, during his days as the "Rocket Man" at Penske Racing, won seven poles at Atlanta, including six in a row from 2003 through 2005(when the track hosted two races); his best finish at the track, however, is fifth (spring 2004).
Source: "Storylines: Atlanta and Canadian Tire," NASCAR Media, August 26, 2013
"Statistical Advance: Analyzing the AdvoCare 500," NASCAR Media, August 26, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.
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