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NASCAR under the lights creates excitement

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

Whenever NASCAR pays a visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway for its twice-a-year stop, there's plenty of things going on even before the green flag drops for the main event,Sunday's race.

Here's a look at just some of things that took place in Hampton on race weekend:

Think pink for Marcy: Atlanta Motor Speedway Marketing and Promotions Director Marcy Scott wasn't at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, but many in the media center wore pink in honor of their friend, who is battling breast cancer.

"I have some more energy today, and I'm watching the race with a friend from high school," Scott said. "But I miss everybody."

Despite not being at the track, she kept tabs on her staff by communicating with them through her Blackberry.

Gateway to AMS announced: Henry County has found a unique way to welcome vistors to the area.

On Sunday during a press conference inside the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center, Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, announced a new intiative that will welcome race fans to Henry County.

Construction on the "Gateway to Atlanta Motor Speedway" is expected to begin next year and feature a Victory Lane replica, which can be viewed from Interestate 75 at exit 218, known as Bruton Smith Parkway.

"Henry County is the gateway to Atlanta Motor Speedway, and we are proud of that fact," Mathis said.

After construction on the project is complete, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Car will also welcome visitors to Henry County at the exit.

"We are proud we're in Henry County, and we are proud of the support we receive from them," said Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark.

Playing with pain: Carl Edwards wasn't about to let a little thing like a broken right foot get him down. Edwards hurt his foot playing frisbe this week, but still started Sunday night's race in the seventh row, next to Georgia native and former Thursday Thunder veteran Reed Sorenson. It wasn't a foot injury which caused problems for Edwards, but a broken radiator. Edwards went to the garage to repair the damage, and returned to the track several laps down.

Holiday tradition: Race fans can already make their plans to be back at Atlanta Motor Speedway next year, the Sunday before Labor Day, to again watch the Pep Boys 500 under the lights.

The 2010 NASCAR schedule has already been released and local race fans can watch spring racing March 5-7 and the fall race Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-5 at AMS.

Celebrity watch: Actor Tom Cruise, who played a NASCAR driver in the movie "Days of Thunder", was spotted at the track cheering for team owner Rick Hendrick's drivers, including Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Cruise and Hendrick have been friends since Cruise filmed the racing movie in 1990.

Harvick wins Nationwide event at AMS on Saturday: Three major racing stars of NASCAR figured big in Saturday's Degree V12 300 Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway as Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag.

Kyle Busch was second and Dale Earnhardt Jr was third.

Saturday's victory finally gave Harvick, the veteran driver of both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup circuit, something to celebrate at AMS.

Until taking Saturday's checkered flag, Harvick had placed second in three-straight races at AMS, including both Sprint Cup and Nationwide events.

"We left here with our tail tucked between our legs every time we've been here the last two years," Harvick said. "We don't like to lose. It motivates us."

Atlanta Motor Speedway by the numbers: The Pep Boys 500 race began with 14 Chevrolets, 13 Toyotas, eight Dodges and eight Fords in the field for Sunday night's race.

Labonte keeps streak going: It would be hard to blame former NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte from feeling like he was on a roller coaster ride at Six Flags instead of racing this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. For a time this weeek, it appeared Labonte's streak of 568 Sprint Cup starts was going to end after the Hall of Fame/Yates team announced he was being replaced by up-and-coming driver Erik Darnell.

As it turned out, Labonte was in the field for Pep Boys 500 night race after all, qualifing 25th in the No. 71 Tax/Slayer.com Chevrolet.

Labonte was just glad to be back in Atlanta where he has won six times.

"I'm really excited. I am just glad to be here at the race track with Kevin Bucker (TRG motorsports) and his team. They called me last Tuesday morning. I knew last Tuesday morning my situation was going to change," he said.

Diamond Rio entertains AMS crowd: Before Pep Boys 500 pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr led 42 others cars down the front stretch to start the first-ever Sprint Cup Night Race under the lights at Atlanta Motor Speeway, fans were treated to a concert by country music group Diamond Rio.

Diamond Rio has won several awards since forming in 1984, including the Academy of Country Music Association's vocal group of the year in 1991 and 92. In 1992, 94 and 97, they also receiverd the CMA's Vocal Group of the Year. They have been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards during their career.