Thursday, March 4, 2010

AMS is filled with great NASCAR moments

(So, most of you probably know that I got hired to be a producer for Sprint Vision and I've spent the last month and a half living the dream. I meant to update that but never got around to it. So here's some random thoughts to chew on...)

After the madness that was Speedweeks 2010 at Daytona, followed by two weekends on the other coast, NASCAR finally returns to the southeast this weekend with the Kobalt Tools 500 for the Sprint Cup Series and the E-Z-GO 200 for the Camping World Truck Series at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

AMS is a fast 1.54 mile quad-oval that has been a fixture on the Cup Series since 1960. When I say fast I mean it too... the track record was set in 1997 by Geoffrey Bodine at over 197 mph and is the fastest single car lap on a non-restrictor plate racetrack that currently sits on the schedule. Glenn "Fireball" Roberts won the pole for the inaugural event and went on to win the race as well. The track has seen many renovations over the years from the building of new grandstands, new garages, a complete track redesign in 1997 to name a few; but it has seen its share of exciting door-to-door racing.

But I think more or less, Atlanta Motor Speedway is home to some of the greatest moments in the sport's history. I begin this walk down memory lane at the 1992 Hooters 500: the final race of the season that year. The moments that happened in that race will go down as legend... Richard Petty's final race and Jeff Gordon's first - the passing of the torch if you will. The epic points battle that came down between Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki in the closing laps that gave Kulwicki the title by just leading one more lap than Elliott did. The unfortunate turn that took away Davey Allison's shot at winning the title in a wreck on the frontstretch. Or maybe its the fact that both Kulwicki and Allison were both killed within a year of that race that made the players so much more of a part of that race. Many call the 92 fall race at AMS the greatest in the history of the sport. Hard to top that one for sure.

The fall 1996 race was also a good one. This championship run came down between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon. Early in the race, the 24 team had a problem with loose lugnuts warping the stud of a tire. Repairs cost Gordon nearly three laps but in typical "Rainbow Warrior" style, the car was able to get back onto the lead lap. However Labonte would prevail and pick up his second series championship. The race was more memorable because Bobby Labonte, Terry's younger brother, won the thing. Both took a victory lap side by side to celebrate. I wish more people would remember this race when bringing up the best AMS events over the years.

Probably my favorite was the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 and that is for one reason and one reason only: Earnhardt won it. But it was a really cool finish and he didn't even wreck anybody to do it. The 3 car was able to hold off a charging Bobby Labonte for the win by just a few inches. What a great day that was - I remember it well. The first half of the race was cut off in South Carolina due to a Clemson basketball game being on and, apparently, the game took precedence over the race. Bummer. That was the next to last win for Dale Earnhardt Sr. as he was killed 10 months later on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.

Which sets up my final AMS moment for this post.

The tragedy of the passing of Dale Earnhardt in February 2001 was one that I didn't think NASCAR would be able to get over and if it did it would be a while. Enter Kevin Harvick. In the car that Earnhardt would have driven at AMS that spring, the rookie held off Jeff Gordon in almost the exact same manner that Earnhardt held off Labonte a year earlier. I think the sport began to heal a little bit that March afternoon in 2001.

So Atlanta Motor Speedway has seen some great moments. Maybe we'll see another this weekend. Enjoy the show folks.