36. Damn, and I was so looking forward to saying nothing but positive things this season. 36. That is the number of entries slated to run at Atlanta on Sunday. 36. The last time we had that small a field, it was 1996 in Martinsville. Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon were the race winners at that venue. 36. The last time we had that many run in Atlanta was in 1976, 42 years ago. David Pearson and Dave Marcis were the eventual victors. That year, 20 of the 30 races had fields of 36 and less.
More than 40 years later, and maybe things have not changed that much after all. I guess NASCAR knew what they were doing when they handed out just 36 charters. That is all we got in Atlanta. I think we can safely say that, at most, only 36 entries matter. Truth be told, that number might be closer to 25, but did I not say I was trying to be positive this season?
The Hot 20 heading to Atlanta...
1. AUSTIN DILLON – 1 WIN – 47 Points
After 20 years, the No. 3 returns to Daytona’s Victory Circle…and life is as it should be.
2. RYAN BLANEY – 58 POINTS
Led for most of last Sunday and while he missed the win, he sure cashed in on bonus points.
3. JOEY LOGANO – 50 POINTS
Boasts having the car number first made famous by Fireball Roberts. Talk about good lineage.
4. DARRELL WALLACE JR. – 47 POINTS
Runner-up at the Daytona 500, driving for Richard Petty. How sweet is that!
5. PAUL MENARD – 46 POINTS
Atlanta has a slick, sliding worn out racing surface and, as Menard would put it, it is fun.
6. MICHAEL MCDOWELL – 39 POINTS
First race for his new team a success, but how long will the good times roll?
7. DENNY HAMLIN – 37 POINTS
It is okay to take personal jabs at your fellow drivers…just as long as it isn’t Denny, it seems.
8. RYAN NEWMAN – 34 POINTS
Dillon got his win. Now, it is Newman’s turn to bring home the bacon for Childress.
9. CHRIS BUESCHER – 33 POINTS
Is JTG Daugherty the next team to move from also-ran to someone to watch?
10. ARIC ALMIROLA – 33 POINTS
When you try to block a freight train on the final lap of the Daytona 500, you get freight trained.
11. TREVOR BAYNE – 31 POINTS
Daytona is one thing, but Atlanta is where you truly discover what you have.
12. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 30 POINTS
11 bonus points help pad an 18th place result.
13. CLINT BOWYER – 29 POINTS
I could talk about Clint or the fried chicken breast served on a potato roll and topped with bacon.
14. ALEX BOWMAN – 29 POINTS
It appears Bowman the Showman wants a new name. Bowman the Slowman would sure suck.
15. A.J. ALLMENDINGER – 28 POINTS
He probably thinks JTG Daugherty has already arrived.
16. KURT BUSCH – 27 POINTS
Most folks use a mirror to see behind them. Kurt turned his whole car, but it was not his idea.
17. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 23 POINTS
Hoping his 25th Atlanta start finds him finally able to shake the suds at the end.
18. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 22 POINTS
He fumed, he steamed, he got wrecked. That is some kind of hat trick.
19. KEVIN HARVICK – 19 POINTS
Harvick’s advice to Hamlin: “Sometimes you’ve got to keep your mouth shut.’’
20. KYLE LARSON – 18 POINTS
Somebody has to make room for Elliott, Byron, Jones, Keselowski,…
21. KYLE BUSCH – 18 POINTS
…Suarez and Johnson, but it won’t be either of these two.