Storyboard: Atlanta

The drama of the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points system is quickly coming to a point, and this week’s race at Atlanta will only add to the scramble.
Five of the twelve spots have been locked up for the Chase for the Sprint Cup already with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Kevin Harvick have all punched their tickets to the big dance. Harvick has locked in at least a Wild Card spot but will likely seal a top-10 spot this weekend, activating his three bonus points per win during the final ten races of 2011.
Three other spots in the Chase are likely to be punched this weekend at Atlanta with Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Kurt Busch with their Chase hopes resting in their own hands – finish strong, make it in – wreck on lap 2, gut it out until Richmond.
The fight for the two Wild Card spots continues this weekend as well. Brad Keselowski has all but punched his ticket to the party this fall with his three wins, but would like to enter the Chase with nine bonus points as a result of those wins. As it stands right now, Tony Stewart holds a slim, 21-point lead over Keselowski for the tenth spot in points, the final position where bonus points carry into the chase.
“Not so fast young buck” says Stewart heading into this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The two-time Sprint Cup Series Champion has three wins at AMS, his last coming in this race just one year ago. Stewart would like nothing more then to end up in Victory Lane this Sunday and to snatch up three of the remaining six bonus points for the start of the Chase.
Also on the line this weekend; a cool $3 Million dollars. The 2011 Sprint Summer Showdown enters its finale this weekend with four drivers eligible to win the $3 Million bonus this weekend. Paul Menard; winner at The Brickyard, Brad Keselowski; winner at Pocono and Bristol, Marcos Ambrose; winner at Watkins Glen, and Kyle Busch; winner at Michigan is the foursome that is eligible for the Showdown’s bonus.
My predictions for the weekend: Kyle Busch becomes $1 Million richer, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch punch their tickets to the big dance, Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart sweat out their Chase hopes for another week, and Brad Keselowski’s ankle becomes less swollen.
Fans, pay attention this weekend as to who works their way towards the front on Sunday Night, as this race will preview what will happen in the Chase this fall. Half of the tracks in the Chase have similarities to AMS, and Sunday Night’s race will give us a sample as to what’s to come in two weeks.
It’s now or never for a few drivers this weekend, so watch for some gutsy moves, conservative strategies, and a $3 Million dollar bonus to be awarded Sunday Night.