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So Who's on first...What's on second...and I Don't Know's on third? Check the Atlanta 500 scorecard | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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So Who's on first...What's on second...and I Don't Know's on third? Check the Atlanta 500 scorecard

  Erik Darnell, braced for his Sprint Cup debut (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Better check your scorecard this weekend, because Sunday night's Atlanta 500 has a number of driver swaps, and some drivers missing:
   -- First, Bobby Labonte won't be on the sidelines this weekend after all, after a call from crew chief Slugger Labbe, who will put him in his Chevrolet for Sunday night's Atlanta 500.  That will keep alive Labonte's long-running streak of NASCAR starts, stretching back to the 1993 Daytona 500, 568 races back. Only Jeff Gordon, with 569, has a longer streak going.
   Labonte earlier this week had seven Cup races cut from his planned schedule with car owners Doug Yates and Max Jones, who have struggled this season. Rookie Erik Darnell, with some sponsorship to fill the void, got the nod to replace Labonte for seven of the year's final 12 races, beginning here; the team is 30th in the standings. This will be Darnell's Cup debut.

   Bobby Labonte: getting a new ride (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Tom Garfinkel, who owns the team/sponsorship that has been in effect 'leased' to Yates and Jones, this season, says he'll be running the team on his own again next season and says he expects Labonte to be at the wheel.

   -- Labonte's new ride with Labbe and car owner Kevin Buckler will come at David Gilliland's expense. Gilliland, whose season's best was last week's 12th at Bristol, is 37th in the standings; he'll be getting three races  this fall – at Charlotte, Texas and Homestead-Miami – with Joe and J. D. Gibbs.
    This weekend here Gilliland will drive for the Woods, filling in for Bill Elliott, who has been experiencing some back problems. Eddie Wood says “Given the modified practice schedule, where the practices and qualifying are all on Saturday, we didn’t feel there was enough time to make changes to the seat if Bill wasn’t comfortable, and we needed to get another driver. We called David to see if he was available. Thankfully he was and agreed to help."


   David Gilliland, running this weekend for the Wood brothers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- And if Carl Edwards wins Sunday's race, don't expect a victory backflip: he broke his right foot Wednesday, and is on crutches.
  "I know this probably sounds ridiculous to a lot of people, and I could hardly believe it myself," Edwards says. "I was playing Frisbee with a couple of buddies (at his Missouri home), and we both went for the Frisbee at the same time. I put my foot on it…my friend dove for it…and the next thing you know we all heard a pop. 
    "I knew it was broken. We all kind of looked at each other in disbelief."
   He went straight to doctors at the University of Missouri, and Edwards insists they say he shouldn't have a problem using the
accelerator here. 

    Carl Edwards: broke his right-foot doing what? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   The Labonte changes came suddenly, and follow the Yates-Jones team's struggles to get traction this season.
   After Labonte got the word he'd been replaced, he got a quick call from Labbe: "Slugger had an idea and wondered if I would be interested.
   "I had some openings I wasn't planning on, so it just worked out."
    The Labbe-Buckler operation, new on the Cup tour this season, though Buckler is veteran road racer, has likewise struggled, making 22 of the year's 24 races but not making any great waves.
    So can Labonte help Labbe and Buckler?
   "I have run the Daytona Prototypes in the Grand-Am series a couple of times, and I have seen Kevin and his crowd of Porsches, which is really impressive," Labonte says.  "This year they moved up to the Sprint Cup series...and they have done well with the resources they have."
    And Labbe is a well-known and well respected crew chief, who once even worked for Labonte.
    Plus Labonte will be racing this weekend on one of his best tracks. His last tour win, back in 2003, came here, where he's won six times over his career.
    Buckler, calling Labonte "an icon in the sport," says Labonte's experience should help his new team.
   So Labonte will drive those seven 'missing' races this fall with Buckler: Atlanta, New Hampshire, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Gilliland will run the other five.
   Two big stories up closer to the front of the NASCAR pack: Mark Martin and Kyle Busch, who have each won four races this season, more than anyone else, but who are in danger of missing the championship playoff cut. The top-12 in the standings after next Saturday night's Richmond 400 will make the playoffs.
   Busch won at Bristol the last time out, but that broke a summer slump. What can he do here? "Win," he insists. "We weren't as good as we needed to be this spring."
   And Richmond? "We feel we can go there and run strong….though that's a place where I don't qualify well," Busch says.
   "My bigger concern is Atlanta -- just trying to get through Atlanta with a solid top-10 finish. If we can do that, I think we'll be okay."
   The man on the bubble is Matt Kenseth, who is one of only two men to make the chase all five seasons. He's 12th in the standings, just 34 points ahead of Busch and 39 points ahead of Brian Vickers, who have both been much hotter lately than Kenseth.
   "I honestly have not been that worked up about making the chase," Kenseth says. Why? "We have not performed all that well at times this season, and getting that better has to be our focus," he says.
    "We have to get more competitive on the track, and start running up front more. It's been getting better, but we still have to improve."

    After Sunday's Cup debut, will rookie Erik Darnell still be smiling? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Bobby Labonte in a Chevy and....

...he has a winning crew chief in "Slugger" Labbe. With Childress equipment, in which Gilliand at least made the show look good for TRG, (a couple of DNQs, I believe) I think Labonte chances for at least a top 15 finish from here on out are looking better since Las Vegas.

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