Labonte, Newman lead Dodge charge at Atlanta

The Race: Pep Boys Auto 500
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Oct. 26
The Track: 1.54-mile oval
The Distance: 325 laps/500.5 miles
TV: ABC, 1 p.m. (ET)
Green Flag: 2:25 p.m. (ET)

The Dodge Boys head to Atlanta Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at the notoriously fast 1.54-mile track. The event is the 33rd of 36 points events on the NSCS regular season schedule. Eight Dodge Chargers are guaranteed spots in the field of 43 with the remaining three needing to qualify on speed Friday afternoon.

Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger) heads the list of active drivers with six Atlanta victories. He is tied with Richard Petty for third on the all-time Atlanta win list and won the 2001 fall race from the 39th starting position, the deepest in the field a race winner has started. Currently 20th in NSCS driver points, the Texas native knows his way around AMS.

“Atlanta is a favorite of the drivers because it gives you a bunch of lines to try to find out where your car works the best,” Labonte said. “With this new car, we’ve seen guys run the very top, the bottom or the middle, even more than we did the last couple of years with the old car. Atlanta gives you the ability to do that. We’ve had all year to work on getting the car to turn and that has improved as well. That’s not been as big of an issue over the last several events on the intermediate tracks. The fans will be in for a great race this weekend.”

Penske Racing’s Ryan Newman (No. 12 Kodak Dodge Charger) looks to enter the record books this weekend. Newman is tied for first with Buddy Baker for the most poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway with seven each. Newman claimed the pole (six) for both races three consecutive years (2003-2005). Newman credits Baker for teaching him how to get around AMS, as well as many other tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, when he first joined Penske Racing in 2000.

“I would like to think that when we go to Atlanta, I’m going to have a shot at the pole,” Newman said. “It has been a track where I really like to qualify and where I qualify well. Everyone always asks me about what it would mean to break Buddy Baker’s pole record at the track, since we are tied with seven each. It would be bittersweet because it’s Buddy’s record, but it would also be an honor for me.
Buddy has really helped me throughout my racing career. He has been a good friend to me and my family and a mentor.”

Other Notes:

  • Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger) will make his 10th career start at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kahne scored a win at Atlanta during the spring race in 2006 after starting from the pole.
  • Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Ronald McDonald House Charities Dodge Charger) will feature a Ronald McDonald House Charities paint scheme this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway in support of World Children’s Day at McDonald’s. It’s the company’s largest annual fundraiser for children.
  • Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger) looks to improve on his 25th-place finish at last spring’s event at AMS. Hornish Jr. is currently tied with Regan Smith in the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings with 192 points each. Hornish received Rookie of the Race honors this past weekend for his performance at Martinsville Speedway.
  • A.J. Allmendinger (No. 10 Sears Auto Center/Valvoline Dodge Charger) will make his second-consecutive start for Gillett Evernham Motorsports at AMS. Allmendinger’s 15th-place finish last weekend at Martinsville was his second best of the year, pushing it 60 points closer to the top 35 in owner points.