RACE

The Covington News - - Sports -

pi­lot The Home De­pot No. 20 en­try for Gibbs at AMS. The Home De­pot, which houses its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters 50 miles north in At­lanta, con­sid­ers the speed­way its home track.

Ste­wart, who sits eighth and is 338 points back, has won two races at the track in­clud­ing his first 500 miler in March 2002.

John­son comes into the race as a 4-1 fa­vorite while Carl Ed­wards (5-1), Busch (7-1), Bif­fle (8-1) and Ste­wart (10-1) are also guys to watch.

Each one of the afore men­tioned driv­ers, ex­cept John­son, have ex­pe­ri­enced trou­ble in the Chase so far.

Bif­fle and Ed­wards were caught up in an ac­ci­dent at Tal­ladega three weeks ago and fin­ished 24th and 29th re­spec­tively. Ste­wart, who won the Tal­ladega melee af­ter NASCAR dis­al­lowed a con­tro­ver­sial pass by Re­gan Smith at the stripe, ex­pe­ri­enced two flat tires at Martinsville last week and was rel­e­gated to a 22nd place fin­ish. Ste­wart also fin­ished 40th at Kansas af­ter he scrapped with Brian Vick­ers and his crew in the pits and on the track. Busch has had the most dis­ap­point­ing play­offs. Af­ter lead­ing the league with eight wins dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, Busch has had a dis­as­trous Chase, post­ing fin­ishes of 34th, 43rd, 28th and 29th.

John­son knows first hand how fast his luck can run out. In 2005 he trailed even­tual cham­pion Ste­wart by 52 points go­ing into Homestead. John­son crashed mid­way through that race and fell to fifth in the fi­nal stand­ing – 127 points back.

At­lanta has a rep­u­ta­tion of yield­ing good side-by-side racing and close fin­ishes. Over the past 10 years, no track has more split­sec­ond mar­gins of victory. Cars of­ten spread out only to bunch back up late in a run. Driv­ers love the track’s mul­ti­ple grooves and guys like Dale Earn­hardt Jr. of­ten time run at the very top, near the wall.

Sun­day’s win­ner will most likely be the team that keeps up with the track’s changes the best. In the spring race, driv­ers fought ill-han­dling cars all day and com­plained of ex­ces­sively hard tires from Goodyear. NASCAR has brought a dif­fer­ent tire this week so driv­ers and crews will have a new vari­able to con­tend with.

But every­one is chas­ing John­son. As good has he’s been over the past three years, it’s go­ing to take a prob­lem for Bif­fle and the rest of the group to catch him. If he col­lects a top-5 in each of the next four races and doesn’t lead a lap, Bif­fle would have to win out and max­i­mize bonus points for each race. That’s a tough task, es­pe­cially against a guy who gets bet­ter as the sea­son wanes.

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