Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rating the Emory Healthcare 500: 4 Stars ****

The Sprint Cup Series dropped in to the heart of Dixieland for one of the better race weekends of the season. It’s not Darlington, but Atlanta is the next best thing. The 2010 Labor Day race gets a 4 Star Rating.

Something about Atlanta always produces great racing, and it’s a shame the series will only visit once a year from now on. After watching this race, it’s laughable to have two races at tracks such as New Hampshire or Kansas. But, it is what it is. Atlanta put on a great show to finish up its season.

At many tracks, even with the spoiler, the leader jumps out to a several-second lead and can’t be caught without the aid of a caution. Sunday night, however, drivers traded the top spot 12 times during the first 132 laps of the race.

When the track was reconfigured and repaved in 1997, the track was the fastest on the circuit and the racing was fantastic. Now, the surface has weathered a great deal and has become Darlington slick, but the racing remains terrific. Drivers were able to run both the low and high lines with equal success and stay side-by-side for several laps.

The battle between Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson with about 40 laps to go was as good as any this season, it’s just too bad the caution came out and disrupted it. Johnson gained considerable ground on Kahne each lap by running the high groove while Kahne ran the low line. Then, when Johnson got within striking distance, Kahne moved up high to take away his line. That set off a side-by-side battle that would have made for a fantastic finish, but the night wasn’t finished and Kahne ended up in the garage nose-to-nose with Ryan Newman.

After a caution, Newman got into Kahne as he fell through the field. To gain control, Kahne slammed into the side of Kurt Busch and the two were set to barrel into the Turn 3 wall. However, Busch and Kahne both did a terrific job to keep their cars straight, but their chances of victory were gone. Then, after the race, Kahne discussed things with Newman in a professional manner. No pushing, no pointing. Maybe now we know who went too far after the race at Michigan; it wasn’t Newman.

Instead, Tony Stewart took the win and picked up some bonus points to strengthen his chances for the Chase. The Race to the Chase may be the most boring ever, but the actual Chase could be quite exciting. Johnson has at least given the rest of the field hope with his run of bad luck. But, he could very well dominate at Richmond and, just like that, we will be back to that old familiar season-ending chorus of a 10-race stretch dominated by the #48.

So, after the longest break of the season, the shortest break follows with consistently one of the best races each year. There won’t be the usual points drama, but Richmond has good enough racing that it doesn’t matter. With the way the drivers took to Atlanta, there’s little reason to think there won’t be more of the same, with increased contact, at the final regular season race of the year.


  1. What do you think happened to Jamie?:(

  2. Good recap, JM.

    One thing about that number lead changes is that green flag pit stops skew the number so it is not entirely legitimate passes for the lead, on the track.

    It was an exciting race to watch. There is something about starting in daylight and racing through the night that brings out so many different scenarios for the teams.

  3. ATHENS - The same thing that has plagued that team all season. Inconsistency. 15th isn't a horrible night, but top fives are necessary to make up 100 or so points in two races. Still, he's had the best season of his career and it is something to build on.

    Gene - If Atlanta wasn't going to host the season finale, it needed a special spot on the schedule and both years the night race has been far more entertaining than the spring race.

  4. theres no need to bash new hampshire, the racing used to suck there back in the day, but its really picked up the last few years. the race there in the spring was quick, tidy, and actually produced a great finish. Also, they sold almost all the seats and until this year had a 14 race consecutive sell-out streak. Why don't you point out Pocono or Dover? They don't deserve two races.

  5. I found the race to be too long - 4 stars for the racing at the end for sure but I was antsy by that time for it just to be over with!

    Definitely enjoy the challenges racing from day to night brings - although Kurt would probably disagree with me! LOL