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Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 key to Nextel title chase

From Staff Reports

When the stars of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series come to Atlanta Motor Speedway on October 30, 2005 for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, all will have their sights set on winning the coveted trophy. But to 10 drivers, the race is critical to their quest to win the year-end championship trophy

Following last Saturday night's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, 10 drivers were locked into the "Chase For The NEXTEL Cup." The ten drivers include four past champions: Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch; last year's "Chase" participants: Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Jeremy Mayfield; and first-timers to the "Chase": Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. AMS hosts the sixth event in the 10-race playoff format.

Since every race is crucial to the survival in the "Chase," here's a ranking of each driver's career average finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (ranked in order of 10th to first):

10th = Kurt Busch. The reigning NEXTEL Cup Series champion may have been victorious over the rest of the drivers last year, but not at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch has an average finish of 21.333 over nine races at AMS. His best finish was a win on October 27, 2002.

9th = Jeremy Mayfield. In 19 career attempts, Mayfield best finish was a second-place finish in the Golden Corral 500 in 2004. His average finish is 21.000.

8th = Matt Kenseth. The 2003 NEXTEL Cup Series champion has made 11 starts at AMS with an average finish of 19.000. Kenseth's best finishes have consisted of two fourth-place finishes, the most recent on March 9, 2003.

7th = Rusty Wallace. Wallace has made the most starts at AMS over any other "Chase" driver, with 46 starts. He's won here two times, however, the last time he visited Victory Lane at AMS was November 11, 1993. Wallace has also earned three poles with an average finish of 16.913.

6th = Mark Martin. Another veteran, Martin has made many starts at AMS, 39 to be exact. He's earned one pole, two wins, 11 top-fives and 19 top-10 finishes at AMS and through those great stats, has an average finish of 16.384. In addition, Martin has led 881 laps at AMS, more than any other "Chase" driver.

5th = Tony Stewart. Stewart is the current points leader in the "Chase," and also holds the title of 2002 champion in the Cup Series. Stewart has an average finish of 13.769 at AMS, posting one win here on March 10, 2002.

4th = Greg Biffle. In only five starts at AMS over his Cup career, Biffle has one top-five and three top-10 finishes, giving him a great average finish of 13.600.

3rd = Ryan Newman. It is safe to assume Newman loves the speed at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as in seven starts, he has won five pole positions, an 1.857 average start; the best of all the "Chase" drivers. His best finish came on March 14, 2004, where he posted a fifth-place mark. Overall, his average finish is 13.571.

2nd = Jimmie Johnson. Last year's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 winner, Johnson, will certainly be a favorite to repeat at AMS this fall. In eight starts, Johnson has one win and five top-10 finishes, garnering him an average finish of 12.000.

1st = Carl Edwards. The newest star on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit became an instant favorite of Atlanta fans earlier this year, when he scored his very first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series trophy in the Golden Corral 500, only one day after winning his first NASCAR Busch Series race, making it a weekend sweep for the young driver. While Edwards has only made two Cup starts at AMS, he's made them count. Last fall's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 was the first Cup start for Edwards at AMS and he finished third. Easy math here, a third-place finish and a win gives you a 2.000 average career finish, much higher than any other "Chase" driver.