Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: AdvoCare 500

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Track history: Fireball Roberts earned just $10,130 for winning the 1960 Dixie 300, the first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS). The purse for all the drivers totaled $39,000. Opened in July 1960, AMS was one of the best of the new superspeedways being built all over at the time. This 1.54-mile oval is the fastest track the Cup guys compete on and is the one they fear the most. Since it is not a "restrictor plate" track and speeds top 200 mph at the end of the backstretch, drivers know if they find the wall here, they will definitely remember it. The good thing about not having restrictor plates is the cars will be spread out and wrecks like the "Big One" wrecks at Daytona and Talladega aren’t usually a concern at Atlanta. Bruton Smith purchased the Speedway in 1990 and has spent over $100 million improving the facility, including the nine-story structure that houses the corporate offices of AMS as well as 46 luxury condos. Recent additions also include a road course and over 53,000 more seats giving AMS a total capacity of 124,000 seats. In 1997, at a cost of $30 million, the start/finish line was moved from the south side of the track to the north side, and the configuration of the Hampton, Ga. facility changed from a 1.522- mile oval to a 1.54-mile quad-oval similar to Charlotte and Texas Motor Speedways.

In October, 2006 AMS added the Winners Grandstand, offering fans a great view of the frontstretch and pit road. A Trackside Terrace Luxury RV Camping area replaced the aged Weaver Grandstands as well.

Sitting atop the Winners Grandstand is a public suite called Club One. Opened in 2012, it is limited to just 1,000 occupants and offers a climate controlled view of the entire track as well as a rooftop sight and sound observation deck.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Denny Hamlin 9/2/12, Jeff Gordon 9/6/11, Tony Stewart 9/5/10, Kurt Busch 3/7/10 and Kasey Kahne 9/6/09.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Rodney Combs 11/7/82, Jeff Gordon 11/15/92, Scott Wimmer 11/20/00, Martin Truex Jr. 10/31/04, Mike Garvey 3/20/05, Reed Sorenson 10/30/05 and Erik Darnell 9/6/09.
First Cup pole:
Terry Labonte 3/15/81, Robby Gordon 3/9/97 and Kevin Lepage 11/21/99.
First Cup win: Kevin Harvick 3/11/01 and Carl Edwards 3/20/05.

July 31, 1960: Fireball Roberts started on the pole for the 1960 Dixie 300 in the John Hines owned No. 22 car. Roberts led 28 laps in the 1960 Pontiac, including the last one, to win the first Cup race held at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  A 22-year old Richard Petty drove the soon-to-be famous No. 43 Petty Plymouth to a 20th place finish in that race as well.

September 6, 2011: Jeff Gordon (24 Chevrolet) won the AdvoCare 500 from fifth in the lineup. This was his third victory and 13th top-10 finish in 2011. It was his fifth win in 38 races at Atlanta.  Drivers leading at least 10 laps: 99-Carl Edwards 14 laps, finished fifth; Pole-sitter 4-Kasey Kahne 15 laps, blew the engine and was credited with 34th; 38-J.J. Yeley 15 laps, finished 25th; 28-Kyle Busch 19 laps, finished 23rd; 48-Jimmie Johnson 29 laps, finished second; 17-Matt Kenseth 64 laps, finished ninth and winner Gordon led the most laps (146 of 325).

September 2, 2012: Denny Hamlin (11 Toyota) won the AdvoCare 500, his 21st victory in 248 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. This was his fourth victory and 13th top-10 finish in 2012. It was his first victory and fifth top-10 finish in 13 races at Atlanta. Pole-sitter 14-Tony Stewart led eight laps and finished 22nd. Drivers leading at least 10 laps:  56-Martin Truex Jr. 40 laps, finished fourth; 18-Kyle Busch 66 laps, finished sixth; 29-Kevin Harvick 101 laps, finished fifth and Race-winner Hamlin led the most laps (105 of 327).

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 20 finish as track favorites Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 in Hampton, Georgia.

Mid-Pack picks
In seven Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, AJ Allmendinger carries a 14.4 average finish with a worst finish of 20th place. That's what we're looking for in this column. He has not raced at this track since he finished 10th in the 2011 AdvoCare 500. This will be his fourth start with the JTG Daugherty team where he scored the team's best finish (10th-place at Watkins Glen) of the season. The team has been impressed enough with his performance that they have offered him a full-time ride in the car next season. Find a spot on your roster for the No. 47 Totota Camry driver.

Marcos Ambrose is on a current streak of decent runs finishing 16th or better in four of the last five Sprint Cup races. In the other event, he started on the pole at The Glen but was involved in a late race wreck while running in the top 10 (credited with a 31st place). At Atlanta, he finished 17th or better in three of his last four Cup starts. Hopefully, he will carry the recent momentum into AMS this weekend. Ambrose would like to celebrate his 37th birthday (Sept. 1) in Victory Lane but we expect a top 20 or better from the No. 9 Ford driver at the Georgia track.

Don’t look for Jeff Burton near the front in the starting lineup since he qualified with a 25.3 average for his 35 Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta. What counts is where he was at the checkered flag; a respectable 16.5 average finish. Most recently, Burton improved that average to a 9.7 with finishes of fourth, 13th and 12th in the last three Cup races at the Hampton, Georgia facility. NASCAR Media data for the last 14 races shows that, of all drivers entering this weekend for the event, Burton has the seventh-most Green Flag Passes (902) with 400 coming while running in the top 15 and spent 2,763 laps running in the top 15 (10th-best). Give the No. 31 Chevrolet a thought this week.

Sunday's race will mark the 16th start at Atlanta for Brian Vickers. His average start of 16.2 is coupled with his 16.4 average finish. Due to a medical condition he missed the September 2010 Atlanta race and due to a lack of a full-time ride he missed the show for the September 2012 event. We'll just list the finishes of the last seven races he did start; 10th, ninth, 21st, fifth, seventh, seventh and 11th. Enough said! This is a good week to use the No. 55 Toyota Camry to fill a spot on your fantasy roster.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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