Above, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway needing a win to stay in contention for a spot in the Sprint Cup Chase. Top, driver Joey Logano, a former champion at Thursday Thursday, is hoping for a strong finish at this weekend’s AdvoCare 500 to stay in the Sprint Cup points Chase. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)
HAMPTON — This could be a make or break weekend for several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers.
The AdvoCare 500 this weekend will play a “pivotal role” in determining who qualifies for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Several drivers are in the mix as they look for wins and points to qualify, and Atlanta Motor Speedway will be a key stop with Sunday night’s race under the lights.
“Some drivers’ season will be determined this weekend,” said Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark. “A win can provide the necessary momentum needed to propel a driver into the chase while a bad showing could have dire consequences.”
Two former AdvoCare 500 winners tuned up for the race with a duel in Bristol last week.
In what is being called the “most thrilling final 15 laps in the history” of Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth held off Kasey Kahne for his fifth Sprint Cup win of the season at the Irwin Tools Night race in Tennessee.
Kahne won the 2011 AdvoCare 500 race while Kenseth was victorious in 2002 at AMS.
The victory clinched a spot in the Chase for the championship for Kenseth, who would be the No. 1 seed at this point based on having the most wins this season.
The runner-up finish vaulted Kahne into eighth place in the Chase standings.
Joey Logano, a former champion at AMS’s Thursday Thunder, moved into 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series point standings with a fifth place finish at Bristol on Saturday night. Logano entered the race in 13th place in the point standings, 17 points out of the top 10. That came on the heels of his win at Michigan the previous week.
There are several drivers needing a win to stay within striking distance of getting into the Chase standings.
After being involved in a crash, Brad Keselowski finished 30th at Bristol and dropped three positions as he is now four points out of the Chase in 11th place. Other drivers on the outside include Kurt Busch, who fell from 8th to 12th following Bristol along with Jeff Gordon, who is currently in 13th. Busch and Gordon are both past winners in Atlanta and join Keselowski in a must-win situation to keep their Chase hopes alive.
Race fans will get the first look at the new tires that Goodyear will use during weekend in Atlanta
Goodyear announced just days after a 13-team tire test at AMS on Aug. 6, it will utilize “zone tread” technology to create a more durable tire that will also have grip for Saturday’s Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 and Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at AMS.
“Atlanta is a track with multiple grooves: You can run the high groove, the low groove or even the middle — based off your tire wear,” said Kurt Busch at the Aug. 6 testing. “The tire wear element (at Atlanta) is so different than at any other track, I’m excited to see how the tires are going to be with the race, the re-starts and the long green flag runs.”
Said Clark: “The thirteen teams testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the most we’ve had at the track in a number of years. It shows how important the AdvoCare 500 is as teams head towards the Chase.”
The left side tires scheduled to be used at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend will remain unchanged from the tire that ran the AdvoCare 500 last year. The right side tires will use the “zone tread” technology to create the tire tread. Two-thirds of the tire will be based on the previous tires used in Atlanta and will provide grip while the other third of the tire will use tread similar to that used at Michigan that is designed to counteract heat produced from the high speeds.
Reuters News Service contributed to this article.