HAMPTON, Ga. – Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 continues a Labor Day tradition reaching into NASCAR’s formative years.
Great racing and legendary winners have ushered out summer and – in recent seasons – solidified the lineup for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
This weekend figures to be no different as the series heads to the penultimate race of the regular season.
Three Chase spots have been claimed leaving nine positions to be determined, either on Atlanta’s 1.54-mile asphalt or next week at Richmond Int’l Raceway. Sunday’s race may be more about who doesn’t have provisional Chase standing than those who may punch their tickets for NASCAR’s post season.
Look no further than three former series champions whose title hopes could soar or be dashed over 501 miles of high-speed competition under the lights.
Reigning champion Brad Keselowski enters the regular season’s next-to-final race ranked 11th, four points out of the top 10. Kurt Busch, the 2004 titleholder, stands 12th (-six) and four-time champion Jeff Gordon is 13th (-11).
None of the three has won in 2013. A victory certainly would push each into the top 10 – and also provide potential Chase Wild Card, available to the two highest-ranked drivers 11th through 20th in points.
Keselowski finished third in last year’s Atlanta race. He has two top-10 finishes but has led just two laps in four starts.
“I’m not going to be out of the worried zone unless I make it (the Chase) or it’s over,” Keselowski said recently. “We’ve got two races left. I think they’ll be good race tracks for us.”
Busch is responsible for making the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet a Chase contender fashioning, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes and a pole. Earlier this week he announced a switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, joining new boss Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick.
“My focus still remains on the present and trying to achieve our Chase goal in the No. 78,” said Busch, a two-time Atlanta winner whose most recent victory came in 2010.
A year ago, Gordon finished second in Atlanta and Richmond to claim a Wild Card. Gordon’s most recent of five Atlanta victories came in 2011. He has finished on the lead lap in 13 consecutive races.
“We just need to do our job and get the best results possible these next two races and see how things shake out,” Gordon said.