Sunday, March 8, 2009

History told us that the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta would be exciting, but where were the fans?

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, before I discuss earlier today’s Kobalt Tools 500 (yes I am plugging the sponsor as a NASCAR fan, no, nobody paid me too) at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, right now, the key word here is history, so leading up to the 100th NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta, I thought that I would look back over the last 10 years, there has been several exciting Cup Series races and finishes here at Atlanta, so let’s take a look back at a few of those historical races.

When it comes to NASCAR fans talking about memorable finishes and victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway, three come to mind right from the start, ironically enough, all three would come in the spring race at Atlanta, the first one extends all the way back to March 20, 2000, the Cracker Barrel 500, a race that was dominated early and often by Mike Skinner in the #31 with Larry McReynolds on top of the pit box, Skinner would lead 191 laps and was closing in on the finish, however disaster struck the RCR driver when his engine blow with just 20 laps to go, I felt so bad for both Mike Skinner and Larry McReynolds, they really wanted this one bad.

So with his teammate Michael Skinner out of the race, Dale Earnhardt held the lead coming down to end of the race, but Bobby Labonte in the #18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac kept closing the gap fast, and on the final lap, Labonte closed in off turn 4 on the bottom within a bumper, but it wouldn’t be enough as Dale Earnhardt would win by .01 seconds at the line, the victory would be Earnhardt’s 75th career victory and Earnhardt’s 9th victory at Atlanta, the most of an driver.

One year later on March 11, 2001, only three weeks after the death of Dale Earnhardt in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 and two weeks after Kevin Harvick was named the new driver of the #29, NASCAR and the fans really needed something and they got it in a big way, in the Cracker Barrel 500, a race that would be a repeat of the previous years where Kevin Harvick would be in the lead with Jeff Gordon closing on Harvick, on the final lap, Gordon would close coming off turn 4 on the bottom line, at the line, Kevin Harvick would win his first Cup series race in his third start by .006, that would be the closest finish at that time in NASCAR history. On the cool down lap, Harvick would celebrate with a burnout on the front stretch with three fingers outside the driver’s window, what a sight to see. Both photos came from Atlanta Motor Speedway via NASCAR PR.

On March 20, 2005, another NASCAR Cup Series rookie would make history, this time around, Jimmie Johnson was leading the race, Carl Edwards had fresher tires on, sliding around just about every lap, moved to the high line and was closing on Johnson in the final laps, lap after lap, Edwards would keep closing, on the last lap, coming off turn 2, Edwards drew to the back bumper and going into turn 3, Johnson went down to the bottom line, while Edwards would take the high line, when they came off turn 4, Edwards and Johnson were side-by-side, they touched, at the line, it was Carl Edwards beating Jimmie Johnson by 2-hundredths of a second to win the Golden Corral 500.

What a weekend for Carl Edwards, Edwards not only pulled off his first NASCAR Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series victory in the Aaron's 312 the day before, but in winning his first Cup Series race, Carl Edwards joined an elite group in not only being a rookie in both the Busch Series, with running for rookie of the year and in the Cup Series where he was a rookie and winning in all three of NASCAR's major races series, In 2004, in the Trucks Series and now, in the Nationwide (Busch at the time) & Cup Series.

However on March 8th, 2009 (today), fans would get a typical Atlanta race, Kurt Busch would dominate the race early and often, leading 235 of 325 laps, (by the way, Jeff Gordon lead the second highest laps – 46), but unlike previous races, a late race caution, and having three drivers fighting for the lead, Kurt Busch passed Carl Edwards with two laps to go and held off a last lap, last corner charge by Jeff Gordon to win the Kobalt Tools 500. Kurt Busch celebrated by driving backwards all the way around the race track holding a checkered flag out the driver’s window. I have to say, Kurt Busch earned this one. This race was like running at Darlington, it chews it up, cars where very loose, on the edge of wrecking.

During the FOX telecast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said something on the radio like if one of these tires comes off, I will hit you guys with a hammer, (I don’t get the exact quote) so Jeff Hammond brought a Kobalt Tools Hammer in to the Hollywood Hotel, no Jeff, this a Kobalt Tools Hammer, my hammer! (Photo Credit: RaceDriven.com -- Brian Vermette

Was it a near or a sellout for attendance? Not even close, when did the Spring Atlanta race look like California Speedway two weeks ago by way of attendance, at least the racing was better, Smith can say what he wants about having Atlanta as the Cup Series finale, but this race was terrible when it comes to the attendance period, Atlanta most likely will loss this Cup date, wow that is disappointing.