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.