NASCAR waits while storms move through Atlanta
Hampton: The remnants from Tropical Storm Lee pushed through the Atlanta area with a fury, bringing heavy rain and fierce wind.
NASCAR only hopes the miserable weather is gone by Tuesday.
The Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was postponed Sunday night when the outer bands of the storm doused the track before the drivers could even start their engines. Given the gloomy forecast, officials didn`t even bother trying to hold the race on Monday.
That turned out to be a good call. Most of Georgia was under tornado and flood watches, with thunderstorms expected through the evening.
The outlook for AdvoCare 500 was much better at 11 a.m. Tuesday, though there was still a 30 percent chance of additional showers.
The postponement was another blow to the 1.54-mile trioval south of Atlanta, which has long been plagued by poor weather and this year lost its spring event to Kentucky because of dwindling attendance.
There will likely be plenty of empty seats for the makeup race, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Labor Day holiday but now will be held after most fans have already gone back to work.
"We still think the Labor Day weekend is a great date," speedway president Ed Clark said. "But we had this tropical depression. You don`t count on something like that."
The drivers had to deal with an unexpected change in their schedule. It was just a short flight to North Carolina for those who wanted to spend the day at home, but Tony Stewart — who just can`t get enough of cars that go fast — headed north to do some racing.
He finished second in a Modifieds race at the DuQuion State Fairgrounds in Illinois, then headed to Indianapolis to watch drag racing at the U.S. Nationals.
Atlanta is the next-to-last race before the Chase for the championship begins, so it will have huge ramifications for those trying to hang on to their playoff spot and those attempting to get in.
Stewart is clinging to a 21-point lead for the 10th spot, which he must maintain unless he wins his first race of the season. The final two spots in the playoff are wild cards, going to the drivers from 11th to 20th in the standings with the most wins.
Hard-charging Brad Keselowski, who has won two of the last four races, is all but assured of getting one of the wild cards since he`s got three wins overall. But if he passes Stewart in the points these last two races, that could knock the two-time champion out of the postseason.
"We haven`t shown the strength that we typically do in the summer months," said Stewart, who won this race a year ago. "I can`t say that I`m ecstatic where we`re at."
Denny Hamlin, 13th in the points and with a win, is positioned to get the other wild card. But that could change if Clint Bowyer, who`s 12th but doesn`t have a victory, takes the checkered flag at either Atlanta or Richmond. Bowyer will start from the outside of the front row Tuesday.
Farther back, there are others who haven`t given up either. That includes pole winner Kasey Kahne, who is 16 points behind Hamlin and could sneak into the playoff with his first victory of 2011.
"We need to win if we want to make the Chase," Kahne said. "Right now we`re one of the ones on the outside looking in."
Of course, once the Chase begins, the attention will turn to five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. He`s already clinched a spot in the playoff (along with five others) and will surely be the favorite no matter where he ranks going into those last 10 races.
"Everybody has their eye on them," said teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion himself and another of those who`ve already clinched. "Even right now, while they are not the standout, they have won a race and they have run good. Not quite the dominance they have had, but I don`t think anyone in the garage is counting them out."
In fact, Johnson will probably have a bit of a mental edge because of all those championships. Gordon remembers it being that way when he was the hottest driver on the circuit.
"A lot of times we would go to the track and have the competition beat before we ever got on the racetrack," Gordon said. "You can really perform at a high level consistently, then you get the competition looking at what you are doing, and paying attention, and sometimes taking them off their game."