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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JR Hildebrand shines at Phoenix after return from injury

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JR Hildebrand had one of the best weekends of his Verizon IndyCar Series career at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. After returning from a broken hand suffered at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Californian qualified a career-best third and went on to finish third. The result is his first top five since Long Beach in 2013 and his first podium since the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Hildebrand explained in the post-race press conference that he knew Ed Carpenter Racing would be strong on short ovals, and he felt pressure to make good on their potential. “I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed. The team has a great short oval package,” he revealed. “I’m excited to get the result. The car was bitchin. I think at the end of the race, we might have had the best car on the track. It feels good to have that in it. It’s a strong result heading into May.”

And if not for traffic at the end, Hildebrand might have been able to pass Will Power for second. But, as he described, battling traffic was a main theme the entire night, especially with lapped cars battling each other for significant positions. “For me the race ended up coming down to how you managed traffic. Guys are a lap down but racing for top-10 spots. Usually when you’re lapping guys on a road course there’s no stress. Here they were racing even harder than we were. It is a difficult thing to manage. It became about picking opportunities to pass guys,” Hildebrand explained.

In regards to his hand injury, Hildebrand described it as a non-factor and does not see it being an issue going forward. “In my hand, there was no stress. (It’s) good for (Gateway International Raceway) on Tuesday and then the whole month of May.”

Hildebrand now sits 13th in the championship standings, ten back of tenth place Ed Jones.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Pagenaud breaks through for first oval win in Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Simon Pagenaud parlayed a combination of pace and longer fuel stints to win his first career Verizon IndyCar Series race on an oval, in the next logical career step for the 2016 series champion.

After starting fifth, Pagenaud advanced to the lead and led 116 of 250 laps in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in the fourth race of the 2017 season in his No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

He’s the fourth winner in as many races, has four top-five finishes to kick off the year, and has now moved into the points lead. It’s his 10th career win.

In a Chevrolet-dominated affair, Pagenaud led teammate Will Power, who finally broke his duck of five straight races outside the top 10, JR Hildebrand, who finished on the podium in his return to action, and Helio Castroneves, who again lost the win from pole position but banked his fourth top-10 straight.

Team Penske dominated, leading all 250 laps themselves – the first time a team has done so since Penske did in Detroit last year.

Scott Dixon completed the top five finishers, the top Honda.

In an attrition-filled race, only 13 of 21 starters finished, with five cars going out in a first-lap accident.

More to follow…

RESULTS

Bourdais among five cars caught up in Turn 1 pileup at Phoenix (VIDEO)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – A massive five-car pileup has dwindled the 21-car Verizon IndyCar Series field in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix down after a first turn accident.

Points leader Sebastien Bourdais, rival Mikhail Aleshin (the two have collided several times before), Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Max Chilton were all involved in the accident.

Aleshin, who started seventh in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, lost control coming through Turn 2 and collected the others. Bourdais, in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, tried to avoid to Aleshin to the outside but crashed into him. Andretti, in the No. 27 Oberto Honda for Andretti Autosport, spun behind him after contact with Bourdais. Rahal, in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, tried to split the gap but got caught up. Chilton’s No. 8 Gallagher Honda has also sustained enough damage to be sidelined.

All drivers were out of their cars after the accident, and have been checked, cleared and released from the infield medical center.

Quick quotes are below, Aleshin, Rahal and Chilton talking to NBCSN’s Robin Miller, Andretti to Marty Snider and Bourdais to Kevin Lee.

“Unfortunately when I started to turn into Turn 1, the rear went and I couldn’t do anything. With full lock, I understood that was it. Snap oversteer. Couldn’t do anything about it. It was obviously my mistake. I am sorry for the guys who hit me as well. That’s racing,” Aleshin said.

Andretti said, “I want to be able to just finish a race. Everyone was trying to miss Mikhail. It looked like he had more downforce. Ryan just missed it. I tried to spin to miss him, then my smoke is why Graham couldn’t see. He hit me. It’s not ideal seeing blue smoke with most of the field coming at you. Glad everyone is OK. It was a product of Mikhail losing it and us trying to avoid it.”

Rahal added, “I didn’t have a perspective. I don’t know what happened. The spotter yells go low, Chilton’s spinning in front of me, I tried to go above him, and his car came up the banking. Legitimately I don’t know what happened. Our luck right now. Need to go to New Orleans for a voodoo doll. Spotter yells one thing. Where else do you go? This is what happens when you qualify at the back. Our sponsors, mechanics don’t deserve this. A lot of work to be done ahead. You’ve been around this long enough – you, PT – you’re just doomed. I was wrong place, wrong time.”

Bourdais said, “You’re just along for the ride. I was too close to brake. Marco was already in there anyway. Ryan cleared it barely. Not much you can do. It was a pretty big slap. It was a shame. You have to have wiser moves on the start like that. Everyone gets caught up in the moment and we were collateral damage. Our Sonny’s BBQ car is busted on the left and right side.”

Chilton concluded, “We had a pretty decent start. I was sort of tensing because four-wide is never good on a short oval. Mikhail lost his car. You only need one car to make a mistake and it’s a disaster. I did the normal human reaction. I spun, as I came back, I got collected by Rahal. Frustrating way to end the day. But so much downforce and these races are so boring, everyone tries to overtake on Lap 1.”

A quick video of the accident via the inside of Turn 1 is below along with the main video above.

WATCH LIVE: IndyCar at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Coverage of the fourth round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, takes place today starting at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com (stream link here). The coverage comes after an encore presentation of Phoenix qualifying, which begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Rick Allen will be in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will be in pit lane.

Coverage will run from 6 to 9 p.m. PT and local time, so 9 p.m. to midnight ET.

Each of the top three drivers on the grid, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and JR Hildebrand, seek their first wins of the year. The first three race winners start fourth (Josef Newgarden), 10th (points leader Sebastien Bourdais) and 11th (James Hinchcliffe).

Track position is expected to be key for the 250-lap race, the first oval event of the season, with passing projected to be difficult – albeit not impossible.

Beyond the top three, some of the other story lines to watch include these:

  • On the inside of Row 3, is Simon Pagenaud positioned to secure his first oval victory?
  • Will any of the Hondas be able to make significant inroads on the Chevrolets?
  • Is anyone going to be able to make enough gains on pit road to move up the order?

The starting lineup is below: