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Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta

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Boasting a rough surface and multiple grooves, the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway puts on some of the better racing among other tracks of its kind in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

This weekend, the Cup circus visits Atlanta for another critical moment in the Race to the Chase.

Barring something cataclysmic, Matt Kenseth looks like he’s set to go into the post-season, wins or no wins.

But those final three spots on the Chase Grid – currently occupied by Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Greg Biffle – aren’t quite spoken for with two regular season races to go.

With time running short for those on the Chase bubble, Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 should have its fair share of drama. Courtesy of NASCAR’s statistics and public relations teams, here’s everything you need to know for Round 25 of the 2014 Cup championship…

ATLANTA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 STANLEY Ford)
· One top 10
· Average finish of 20.3
· Average Running Position of 20.5, 23rd-best
· Driver Rating of 68.1, 23rd-best
· 8 Fastest Laps Run, 34th-most
· 739 Green Flag Passes, 19th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.119 mph, 23rd-fastest
· 876 Laps in the Top 15 (33.4%), 22nd-most
· 208 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 21st-most

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ortho Fire Ant Killer Ford)
· Three top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.9
· Average Running Position of 13.7, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 91.3, 11th-best
· 237 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 993 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.998 mph, 13th-fastest
· 3,301 Laps in the Top 15 (67.3%), sixth-most
· 518 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 SpeedDigital.com Toyota)
· Five top 10s
· Average finish of 19.8
· Average Running Position of 15.7, 16th-best
· Driver Rating of 84.8, 15th-best
· 76 Fastest Laps Run, 15th-most
· 865 Green Flag Passes, 13th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.054 mph, 11th-fastest
· 2,444 Laps in the Top 15 (57.5%), 15th-most
· 358 Quality Passes, 17th-most

Austin Dillon (No. 3 Dow Chevrolet)
· Average finish of 19.0
· Average Running Position of 20.6, 24th-best
· Driver Rating of 67.3, 24th-best
· 1 Fastest Laps Run, 44th-most
· 86 Green Flag Passes, 45th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.903 mph, 26th-fastest
· 1 Laps in the Top 15 (.3%), 47th-most
· 1 Quality Passes, 43rd-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· Eight top fives, 14 top 10s
· Average finish of 12.7
· Average Running Position of 12.8, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 96.5, fifth-best
· 190 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 1,018 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.262 mph, sixth-fastest
· 3,415 Laps in the Top 15 (69.7%), fifth-most
· 528 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet)
· Four top 10s
· Average finish of 20.0
· Average Running Position of 19.2, 22nd-best
· Driver Rating of 73.7, 22nd-best
· Series-high 1,145 Green Flag Passes
· 1,965 Laps in the Top 15 (40.1%), 18th-most
· 407 Quality Passes, 15th-most

Paul Menard (No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 20.7
· Average Running Position of 23.3, 27th-best
· Driver Rating of 63.6, 26th-best
· 899 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· 827 Laps in the Top 15 (21.1%), 24th-most
· 208 Quality Passes, 21st-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Two top fives, seven top 10s; seven poles
· Average finish of 17.7
· Average Running Position of 18.6, 20th-best
· Driver Rating of 74.1, 21st-best
· 1,077 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· 1,742 Laps in the Top 15 (35.5%), 19th-most
· 346 Quality Passes, 19th-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.7
· Average Running Position of 11.4, third-best
· Driver Rating of 100.2, third-best
· 800 Green Flag Passes, 16th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.240 mph, seventh-fastest
· 3,231 Laps in the Top 15 (70.6%), seventh-most
· 490 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· Two top fives, four top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 20.3
· Average Running Position of 11.7, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, 10th-best
· 890 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.359 mph, fourth-fastest
· 3,517 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8%), fourth-most
· 559 Quality Passes, second-most

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Atlanta Motor Speedway Data
Season Race #: 25 of 36 (08-31-14)
Track Size: 1.54-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 24 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 24 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 5 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 2,332 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,800 feet
Race Length: 325 laps / 500.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta
Jeff Gordon………………………… 105.6
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 104.8
Tony Stewart……………………….. 100.2
Carl Edwards………………………. 100.0
Matt Kenseth………………………… 96.5
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 96.2
Kurt Busch……………………………. 94.5
Kyle Busch…………………………… 94.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 93.3
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 91.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (15 total) among active drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 189.688 mph, 29.227 secs., 08-30-13
2013 race winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 135.128 mph, (03:42:14), 08-30-13
Track qualifying record: Geoffrey Bodine, Ford, 197.478 mph, 28.074 secs., 11-15-97
Track race record: Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 159.904 mph, (03:07:48), 11-16-97

Atlanta Motor Speedway History
· Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was on July 31, 1960, won by Fireball Roberts from the pole.
· The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970.
· It was renamed Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990.
· The track layout was reversed and the track was re-configured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.

Atlanta Motor Speedway Notebook
· There have been 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960. Until 2010 there have been two races per year except 1961, which had three. This year marks the third season with only one event.
· 544 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway; 364 in more than one.
· Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Atlanta with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 40 starts, followed by Joe Nemechek with 37.
· Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Atlanta in 1960 with a speed of 133.870 mph.
· 47 drivers have Coors Light poles at Atlanta, led by Buddy Baker and Ryan Newman with seven each.
· Winning consecutive Coors Light poles has happened eight times at Atlanta, among six drivers.
· Ryan Newman holds the record for most consecutive poles at Atlanta with six; spring of 2003 through 2005.
· Youngest Atlanta pole winner: Terry Labonte (03/15/1981 – 24 years, 3 months, 27 days).
· Oldest Atlanta pole winner: Harry Gant (11/14/1993 – 53 years, 10 months, 4 days).
· 43 different NSCS drivers have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with nine wins. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with five.
· 11 drivers have posted consecutive wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Marvin Panch (1965 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), David Pearson (1973 sweep), Richard Petty (1974 fall, 1975 spring), Cale Yarborough (1980 fall, 1981 spring), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep; 1992 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (1989 fall, 1990 spring; 1995 fall, 1996 spring), Bobby Labonte (1997 fall, 1998 spring), Jeff Gordon (1998 fall, 1999 spring), Carl Edwards (2005 sweep), Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep)
· Youngest Atlanta winner: Kyle Busch (03/09/2008 – 22 years, 10 months, 7 days).
· Oldest Atlanta winner: Morgan Shepherd (03/20/1993 – 51 years, 5 months, 8 days).
· The Wood Brothers have the most wins at Atlanta in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12: Cale Yarborough (three), David Pearson (three), Marvin Panch (two), Neil Bonnett (two) A.J. Foyt (one) and Morgan Shepherd (one). Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for the second most wins at Atlanta with 11 each.
· Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Atlanta; led by Chevrolet with 37 victories; followed by Ford with 29. Toyota has three wins at Atlanta.
· 14 of the 106 (13.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kasey Kahne in 2006.
· The fifth starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Atlanta Motor Speedway; the most recent was Jeff Gordon in 2011.
· 26 of the 106 (24.5%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from the front row: 14 from the pole and 12 from second-place.
· 60 of the 106 (56.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-five starting position.
· 84 of the 106 (79.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Atlanta have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Seven of the 106 (6.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Atlanta have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Atlanta is 39th, by Bobby Labonte in the fall of 2001.
· No driver has swept the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway across all three NASCAR national series. Two drivers have won in multiple NASCAR national series in the same weekend at Atlanta: Carl Edwards (2005, NSCS/NNS); (fall 2008, NSCS/NNS) and Kyle Busch (spring 2008, NSCS/NCWTS)
· Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson lead the series in runner-up finishes at Atlanta with seven each; Jeff Gordon leads all active driverswith five.
· Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Atlanta with 26; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 16.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Atlanta with 33; Jeff Gordon leads all active driverswith 25.
· Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Atlanta with a 7.571.
· Tony Stewart leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 11.654.
· Nine of the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in his first appearance (2001). Carl Edwards won in his second appearance (2005).
· Denny Hamlin competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway 12 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Among the 10 active NSCS Atlanta winners Denny Hamlin (12) is the only driver to have made 10 or more attempts before his first win.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Atlanta without visiting Victory Lane at 37; followed by Matt Kenseth with 25.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway was the March 11, 2001 race won by Kevin Harvick over Jeff Gordon with a MOV of 0.006 second.
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): fall of 2007 (325/329); spring of 2010 (325/341) and fall of 2012 (325/327).
· Four of the 88 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 6/18/2006.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway five times; most recently the fall of 2010.
· One active driver has posted his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Terry Labonte (3/15/1981).
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Jeff Gordon (11/15/1992) and Martin Truex Jr. (10/31/2004).
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Kevin Harvick (3/11/2001) and Carl Edwards (3/20/2005).
· Cale Yarborough leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Atlanta with 3,283 laps led in 47 starts. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in laps led at Atlanta with 1,297.
· Three female drivers have competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and Danica Patrick.
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NASCAR in Georgia
· There have been 165 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among 12 different tracks in Georgia.
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· 178 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Georgia; 15 have won at least once in one of NASCAR’s national series.
· 11 of the 178 have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
· Bill Elliott (five wins) is the only Georgia native to have won at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.