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Oral-B USA 500 Preview

 

It feels like forever since we’ve had a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on a 1.5-mile track, but the last time was only June 28 at Kentucky which was the fifth of 11 that will run on the season. 
 
Only two races remain before the 10-race Chase starts and while there are some great races going on to see who will be among the final 16 drivers making it, the only thing that matters right now is who is going to win Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.   
 
To get back into the mind frame of 1.5-mile racing, let’s check up on how the first five races on them went this season. The scoreboard so far reads: Penske Racing 3, everyone else 2. Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas and Kentucky while Joey Logano won at Texas. Jeff Gordon won at Kansas and Jimmie Johnson took the checkers at Charlotte. Of those five tracks, Atlanta resembles its sister-track Texas the most.
 
Those four drivers, each with three wins a piece on the season, have been the big dogs all year. Dale Earnhardt Jr., also with three wins, is in that category as well with three top-5 finishes on the 1.5s this season. Kevin Harvick, with two wins on the season, finished second at both Kansas and Charlotte. 
 
Last season at this time, we knew Joe Gibbs Racing drivers had the edge coming in as they had won four of the five previous 1.5-mile races prior to Atlanta. On race day, Kyle Busch continued that JGR run by winning at Atlanta. Chances are that we will see a similar scenario this week with the Penkse drivers being the two to beat  
 
Last season, Logano finished second in this race. He comes in fresh off his Saturday night win at Bristol and should be primed to get his fourth win of the season this week.
 
Gordon is a five-time winner at Atlanta, the last coming in 2011. The first Cup start of his career came in 1992 at Atlanta, which ironically was the final race of Richard Petty’s great career. It was kind of like a NASCAR royalty torch being passed on. 
 
In 2001, when Gordon only had three ATL wins, he finished 0.006 second behind rookie Kevin Harvick in the closest margin of victory in track history. That was a tumultuous time in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt had just passed away and it was Harvick’s third career Cup start and he was taking over Earnhardt’s RCR ride.
 
Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars driven by Michael Waltrip and Steve Park won the first two Cup races of the season. Harvick won the fourth race at Atlanta and mixed between the odd supernational vibe is Gordon winning at Las Vegas in the third race of the season. Later on, Dale Jr. would win at Daytona in the ultimate tribute to his father. And then a few months later, Gordon would win his fourth and final season championship. 
 
Adding to the lore of that era when Harvick began his career with such a splash is that he has not won at Atlanta since. He’s been ninth or better in six of his last seven Atlanta starts, but surprisingly no wins since 2001. Expect Harvick will be very good this week. 
 
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)   
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8/1)

  
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