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Drivers position themselves for Chase points

Martin Truex Jr., left, is in 14th place in the Chase standings while Matt Kenseth is in sixth place heading into Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Toyota Racing)

Martin Truex Jr., left, is in 14th place in the Chase standings while Matt Kenseth is in sixth place heading into Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Toyota Racing)

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Matt Kenseth says the new Goodyear tires could be a determining factor in Sunday’s race. (Toyota Racing)

HAMPTON — It’s called the toughest 500 miles of racing, and Atlanta Motor Speedway will most definitely continue that repetition this weekend.

At least that’s the mindset of the drivers scheduled to race this weekend at the AdvoCare 500, which takes place Sunday night.

With only this race and the one in Richmond left to qualify for the Chase, drivers are speculating that Sunday’s nationally televised race will be a treat for fans.

And so are local race officials.

“Atlanta always seems to play a role in the Chase,” AMS President and General Manager Ed Clark said. “I think this year will be no different.”

This weekend is make or break for some drivers.

“Some driver’s season will be determined this weekend,” Clark said.

There will be nine former AdvoCare 500 winners in Sunday’s field, including defending champion Denny Hamlin. Jimmie Johnson is currently leading the Chase points standings. Drivers Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are on the fringe with Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman still in the hunt.

“It’s not the situation you want to be in obviously,” Truex said. “I quit looking at the points two months ago and I told myself that all we can do is what we’re going to do. There’s no sense in worrying about it. There’s no sense in losing sleep. It’s hard not to think about it sometimes for sure, but again I think if we think about it too much and worry about it too much that we will beat ourselves and we don’t need to do that.

“We’re a good enough race team, had a good enough season that we shouldn’t be in this position, but we are and so we have to step up and make it happen when the pressure’s on, and the way to do that in my eyes is to not look at it and not worry about the points and not stress yourself out and not say it’s the end of the world if we don’t make it and just go out and do the job.”

And AMS seems the perfect place for the next to last race to get into the Chase standing. Jimmie Johnson is solid in his Chase as he heads to AMS in first place, but he knows it will be some hard driving this weekend.

“It is a busy lap and a busy 500 miles there,” Johnson said. “You leave there spent, physically and emotionally, but it’s awesome. The track has so much character to it. You can drive anywhere on the racetrack. That is what we like as drivers — to have options — and there are plenty of options there.”

To add to the excitement, Goodyear has rolled out some new tires for the 500-mile race. A couple weeks ago, 13 drivers tested the tires on the track.

Clark said that is the most drivers he can remember coming to the track for testing.

Some drivers think the tires will play a role in Sunday’s outcome.

“Goodyear has the most control over that — Atlanta’s surface is really, really worn out,” Matt Kenseth said. “The car is going to be the same and fast there just like everywhere else. I think you’ll see with new tires the real fast runs and close to qualifying speeds, but the track is so wore out that a lot of it depends on the tire and the weather conditions. I think you’ll have a lot of fall off and at the end of the run everybody will be slipping and sliding and everyone will be pretty slow, which is really good and it’s really good for racing”