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Hey, maybe Ford is finally back! But Sunday wasn't great for Dale Jr.

   Dale Earnhardt jr. didn't have a great Atlanta 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    Well, it wasn't a very good Sunday after all for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    But Matt Kenseth is coming up roses, with new crew chief Todd Parrott clicking. And underrated teammate Paul Menard, now schooled by ace crew chief Slugger Labbe, is looking quite impressive.
    Kurt Busch won in a Dodge, which new crew chief Steve Addington called vindication.
   And if not for all that frantic scrambling in the closing laps Chevy's Juan Pablo Montoya might well have taken the win over Busch; he was closing fast in the final moments, when a flurry of late crashes changed up everything. And then Montoya might have gotten snookered on those last restarts...
    So when the smoke cleared, while Busch was the big winner, a number of Ford drivers – Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Menard, AJ Allmendinger, even hard-luck Greg Biffle – could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
   Just what to take away from Sunday's weird Atlanta 500?
   Well, those new tires seemed to baffle and aggravate a number of teams and drivers, though Kurt Busch had no problems and said rivals should have been better prepared, given this track's abrasive asphalt and the new grippy tires. Drivers complained when the tires were too hard and had no grip...so Goodyear gave them grip and let the teams figure out how to use it. Too many, it appears, abused it.
    The Hendrick guys perhaps: After winning two straight, Jimmie Johnson was generally off the pace, playing it conservatively, and then getting caught with a rubbing fender that doomed his bid, leaving him 12th. Jeff Gordon, never really in the game, grumbled about the tires after struggling in 18th (after dominating Las Vegas only a week ago). Mark Martin even blew a tire too, winding up 33rd.
   And Earnhardt?
   He started from the pole at 192-plus, but fell back early, lost two laps with an unexplained vibration, and struggled home 15th.
  "We weren't very good," Earnhardt said.
    "We got two bad right-side tires and right-rear tires....it felt like the wheels were coming off. We pitted, and the wheel was fine, but the car was vibrating so bad I couldn't hardly see.
     "I should have not pitted, but I thought the wheel was loose, and I have had them come off here, and that isn't fun.
     "I should have just stayed out there and waited for it to come off."

    So perhaps it's little surprise that canny Kenseth was nipping at the victory in the final laps, coming up four lengths short.
     "That is the best finish we have had here, ever," Kenseth said, somewhat in amazement. "We qualified really well (14th) and it translated to the race."
   But those final miles, whew!, were rather confusing.
   Montoya was charging toward Busch and within a couple lengths of catching him, when Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski crashed on lap 324 of the scheduled 325-lapper. That set up the first overtime....after most drivers pitted for tires but not Menard or Bowyer, gambling on track position. On that restart the difference between fresh tires and worn tires was clear – and clearly dangerous...when there was another crash.
    Thus the second OT. For this one Busch had managed to get out front, so at the final green-white-checkered all he needed was a clean restart and let the men behind him flay away.
    "It was easy to spin the tires...but there were some guys up there with (only) two and you knew they were going to have a much rougher time on four (getting around them), so it was interesting," Kenseth said.
    "You watched everyone lay back behind you, and you know that it is going to be three or four-wide when you got to turn one."
    The day, and the finish, Kenseth said shows "we are headed in the right direction. I couldn't be happier with the way season has started."
    Menard was something of a surprise. Perhaps he has been way underrated during his NASCAR career and perhaps new crew chief Slugger Labbe can make things happen.
    "The car was fast, and a top-five is a great way to start the year," Menard said.
    "Slugger made a hell of a call there taking two tires at the end to get some clean track. We knew we probably weren't going to hold off guys with four tires, but it at least got us in front of the excitement.
    "We dodged a bullet there at the end, with all the action out there."
    To make the point even more clearly, Jack Roush's Kenseth-Parrott team gets honors, of course, but the three Richard Petty Motorsports guys – Menard, Kahne and Allmendinger finished top-six.



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Jr.'s day....

ALL, EVERYONE of Jr.s' teammates were having tire problems and had to pit. If he had stayed out with a vibration, & wrecked, he would be upset with himself for not coming in. DW said it sounded like the wheel hub. I remember when his tire came off in Atlanta in fall of '07, can't take that chance again. Great comeback on last 2 laps! :) From 20th to 15th, like Daytona's charge at the end, & after being 33rd and 3 laps down, and up 2 places to 13th in points! A great day!!! :) When he was 33rd and 3 laps down I was going to give my new "lucky shirt" to charity, but I will keep it." In case you hadn't noticed, none of his HMS teammates lead a lap either, not JJ, JG, Mark, or their extension team, Tony, or Ryan. How often does that happen? They all had tire problems. Someone screwed-up getting the cars set up. It happens and keeps life interesting. :)

Atlanta engine inspection!!!!!!!

Mike I heard that Nascar got engines for testing at Atlanta for some of the teams!

Was or will any of the prominent Chevy teams engines get checked?

Uh, no....wonder what that's

Uh, no....wonder what that's all about. NASCAR took Kurt Busch's winning engine back to the R&D center, Matt Kenseth's engine too, and the engines from Brian Vickers and Michael McDowell. Sorry to miss that, in all the Edwards-Keselowski hoopla....wonder why they didn't take Montoya's engine? Good point; thanks for asking..


I was about to stick a fork in Jr. till I read the comments from anonymous on Jr.'s day at Atlanta. I'm still holdin' on to my fork though. I expect nuthin' less than a top 10 finish from Jr (barring any accidents or mechanical failures) in the next 2 short track races at Bristol and M'ville. He's always been strong there.

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