Commentary

Good, Bad and Ugly: Notes for each driver in the Pep Boys 500

Updated: October 24, 2008, 11:59 AM ET
By Mark Garrow | Jayski.com

Mark Garrow provides drivers' trends for Sunday's Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Atlanta, GA

* Driver needs to qualify for the race based on time.
# Driver is eligible for the champion's provisional.

• He has one previous Cup Series start here, finishing 16th.
• Allmendinger finished better than I thought he would at Martinsville (15th) given that he was with a new team and hadn't done much there before. Atlanta is a better place for him and, given how at times this year his teammates for the rest of the season -- Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler -- have had strong runs on intermediate speedways, I'm penciling in AJ for a possible top-20 again this week. His SCC price is still an attractive 14.2.

• He has no prior Cup Series starts here, but has two Nationwide starts with finishes of 28th and 11th.
• The Australian has run seven Cup races this year for the Wood Brothers and Tad Geschickter with a best finish of third at Watkins Glen. Next-best finish at Indy was 22nd. This week, he's behind the wheel of the 00 and his SCC value is bottom of the barrel 10.8 [e] so if you really want to go crazy and go for the Hail Mary [e] Then again, I must point out his average finish in those seven races to date is 30.

• Biffle has 11 starts here with six top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of 14.8. He was the pole winner for this race last year and finished fourth in the spring race. He's driving the same car he finished third with at Kansas.
• I recommended people drop Biffle last week, but I'm now for putting him back on your team as a guy who should perform really well in at least three of the last four races -- Atlanta, Texas and Homestead. And what might help is that he lost 0.1 last week in SCC and is at 22.3 for Atlanta. Biffle is second in my rankings this week.

• Blaney has made 17 Cup Series starts here during his career. Blaney has started as high as third and finished as high as eighth. He has scored two top-10s.
• Call me totally off my tree, but Blaney is worth a second thought this weekend. Lately this team has become a top-25 car pretty consistently, but I can see him popping up and finishing 17th to 20th at Atlanta, which is a horsepower track, and the Toyotas have plenty of that. Plus, this is a place Blaney really likes and I can remember him almost winning a race here for Richard Childress and finishing eighth on one occasion.

• In five Cup races at AMS, Bowyer has three sixths, all in the past three races. He has a 16.4 starting average and a 14th-place average finish. He is driving the same car he drove to a top-10 at Texas, California and here this year.
• I have Bowyer ranked 12th this week; I see him finishing as high as perhaps seventh and as low of 13th. With an SCC value of 22.1, that's too much to recommend him as a buy this week if he runs top-10. He's finished sixth the past two times at Atlanta, but in the past two 1.5-mile track races he's been 12th. I will say this, however -- Bowyer's dirt-trackin' style fits Atlanta better than Charlotte and Kansas.

• In 28 races at Atlanta, Burton owns seven top-5s and 13 top-10s. He's driving the same car he drove to a win at Charlotte two weeks ago.
• Burton is seventh in my rankings this week. He finished fourth, fifth and 10th in the past three Atlanta races, and I think he'll be inside the top 10 again. Here's the problem, though, for Burton. He's the third-most expensive driver in SCC. Do you pick him ahead of Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards? Sorry, but no. Is there any way to fit the top three on a team this late in the game? Sorry, but again the answer is no.

• Busch has 15 starts at Atlanta with four top-10s and a win with an average finish of 20.6. He finished eighth in this race last year and 11th here in the spring.
• With a pretty low SCC value of 17.7, Busch could be a very enticing pick this week. His worst finish in the past four Atlanta races is 14th. I'm not ranking him that high going in, but don't worry about that. If he qualifies top-20, then he's going to be pretty strong Sunday. If he can finish eighth like he did a year ago, that could give you some room to score big. The problem I have with Busch, though, is that there's a lot of talk he wants to leave Penske Racing, and if that is true, will his heart really be in pushing his Dodge to the front? I'm not sure.

• Busch has eight starts here with one win and an average finish of 19.9. He won the spring race here and has three Truck Series victories here, as well. He finished 20th in this race last year.
• Slowly but surely, this team is coming out of its funk, and forget about what happened at Martinsville last week. He was fourth at Charlotte and showed some of the muscle that led to eight wins so far this year. Couple that with his winning here in the spring and that's why I went way out on a limb and gave him the No. 1 ranking this week. His SCC value has also dropped to a more cap-friendly 21.9, down 0.3 after last week's disaster.

• He's planning to make his Cup debut this weekend.

• In 18 starts at Atlanta, Junior has one win, eight top-5s and 10 top-10s. He has an average finish of 11.7 and has led 632 laps here.
• Junior was third in the spring, but he didn't have the third-best car. I ranked him eighth going in, figuring he was good for a top-10, but don't know if he can be counted on for more than that. He's up 0.4 to 22.1 in SCC after last week, as well, so he's not quite as cap-friendly as he needs to be. He's in the same boat as Jeff Burton, a good, solid pick that will be outperformed by Johnson and Edwards.

Carl Edwards

• Edwards' average finish at Atlanta is 12.9. In his previous eight starts, he has accumulated two wins, four top-5s and six top-10s. He's driving the same car he drove here in the spring, when he nearly won until his engine blew with 51 laps to go.
• I ranked Edwards fourth and think he has a chance to win. Still, as the second-highest-valued driver in the SCC standings, it's going to be a tough call to take him over Johnson, even though there's going to be a good chance Edwards can outrun Jimmie. Throw out what happened at Talladega and Charlotte; in the other four Chase races, Edwards has run third three times and second. You'll get that kind of performance again this weekend.

• Elliott has 58 starts here with 19 top-10s, 13 top-5s, five wins and an average finish of 18.0. He finished 18th in this race last year and did not race here in the spring.
• With an SCC value of 13.5, Elliott might merit some consideration this weekend. You know he's going to stay out of trouble, and if he can run top-25, even with that value you can put some big dogs on top and, as Sterling Marlin used to say, "Let 'er eat."

• Gilliland has an average finish of 29.8 at Atlanta. He's driving the same car he drove to a 19th-place finish at Dover in September.
• His SCC value is down to 14.9, but it's still not low enough to look at Gilliland. His best finish in the past four races is 22nd, and his car is barely a top-25 candidate on a track this size.

• Gordon has three top-5s and a 6.0 average finish in his past six starts at Atlanta. Along with his four wins, Gordon has two poles, 13 top-5s and 20 top-10s in 32 starts here.
• With a fourth and an eighth in the past two mile-and-a-half races at Kansas and Charlotte, I can see Gordon as a top-10 car at Atlanta, but not top-5 even though he was fifth in the spring. I'm still not sure this team has found the magic to make Gordon comfortable in a COT on a track like Atlanta. Plus, I like Matt Kenseth, who is cheaper than Gordon, allowing more maneuvering.

• Gordon has 15 starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 20.5. He finished 21st here in this race last year.
• If you combine his average finish for the year (29.6) with the fact he finished 30th and 37th at Charlotte and Kansas, you then have to ask yourself, why would I even think of going there despite an SCC value of 14.0?

• Hamlin has six starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 19.3. He's driving the same car he finished ninth with at Las Vegas earlier this year.
• I ranked Hamlin 15th because he's been basically a top-15 car this year on the mile-and-a-half tracks. I also think he's too expensive at 21.2 in SCC when you can get Kenseth for 20.2.

• In 15 Cup starts here, Harvick has one win, two top-5s and three top-10s with an average finish of 23.3. He's driving the same car he raced to six top-10s and three top-5s this year.
• I think you pencil in Harvick for another top-10 this weekend, although this track hasn't been all that good to him since he won here in 2001 after just taking over for the late Dale Earnhardt. His seventh in the spring was his first top-10 in the past 12 Atlanta races. I can see the Shell Chevrolet driver finishing seventh to 10th, but taking him at 21.2 over a Kenseth at 20.2 in SCC? I won't.

• Hornish will make his second start at Atlanta. He finished 25th here earlier this season. He's driving the same car he drove in the All-Star race this year, finishing seventh.

• He might give you a top-25, which he did at Charlotte recently and did this past spring at Atlanta when he finished 25th. If you want to take a big risk you'll find his SCC 13.7 value very cap-friendly. But don't tell your friends you made this pick, they'd think you were nuts.

Jimmie Johnson

• Johnson has made 14 starts at Atlanta in his Cup career, collecting three wins, eight top-5s and nine top-10s. Johnson has collected more points at Atlanta than any other driver over the past 10 races and has won two of the past three events here. He's driving the same car he's won with from the pole three different times this year.
• He was 13th in the spring, but forget about that. Does anybody not think this team is in much better shape than it was back then? I have him ranked third, figuring he might not win but running top-5 shouldn't be a big deal. Up another 0.5 to 24.7 in SCC, can you use that money to average out a better team right now, or do you keep the saddle and ride him all the way to the finish? I say stay in the saddle because that is a bunch of points you can take to the bank every week. In the first six Chase races, his worst finish is ninth and he's averaging a fourth place finish. In the immortal words of M.C. Hammer, "You can't touch this."

Kasey Kahne

• Kahne has four top-5s and five top-10s at Atlanta. His average finish is 19th.
• Unconsciously good at Charlotte, Kahne has finished top-15 on only one other occasion this year on an intermediate speedway. That's why I rank him 20th, especially after he finished 28th here this past spring and was 21st at Kansas. Given that, his SCC value of 19.4 is too high to play with.

Matt Kenseth

• In his previous starts at AMS, Kenseth has achieved six top-5s and 10 top-10s. He has led a total of 60 laps.
• If you haven't already figured it out, I'm pretty high on Kenseth this weekend. I think he has a shot at a top-5, and he feels like a lock for a top-10. His past four finishes at Atlanta: fourth, third, fourth and eighth in the spring.

• Kvapil has an average finish of 32.2 at Atlanta.
• He was total junk in the past two mile-and-a-half races, finishing 42nd and crashing in Charlotte, and notching a 34th at Kansas. I can't figure out how he still has a SCC value of 16.1.

• In 31 starts here, Labonte has 13 top-10s, 12 top-5s, six wins and an average finish of 16.3. His most recent top-10 here was in 2003. He finished 41st in this race last year and 12th in the spring.
• He hasn't been that great on the mile-and-a-half tracks lately, but he was 12th here in the spring and has been top-16 in three of the past four races at Hotlanta. I'm ranking him 24th but can see him running better than that. The problem here is that his SCC value of 17.8 is 0.1 higher than Kurt Busch, who will probably finish better than Labonte.

• Logano has two prior Cup starts and is attempting to make his first-ever start at Atlanta.
• In the two Cup races he's run so far, the rookie finished 32nd and 39th, proving he might not be ready to be a prime-time player.

• McCumbee is attempting to make his first Cup start at Atlanta. He has one start at Charlotte, a similar track, where he finished 35th two weeks ago.

• Martin has more top-10s than anyone at this track (22) and is tied for first in top-5s (13). He has, though, only one top-10 in his past four starts and finished 22nd this past spring.
• This will be a tough guy to predict this weekend. I thought he was going to be very good at Kansas. He thought he was going to be very good. His crew chief told me that day he was going to be good, but he finished 18th. So that bothers me a bit, although he did bounce back to finish ninth at Charlotte, giving him five top-10s in his past six starts.

• In 12 Atlanta starts, McMurray's average finish is 21.2, and he has three top-10s.
• Based on what he's done lately, McMurray is a sure top-20 and possible top-15. His SCC value of 17.2 isn't bad, either, but it's the same price as Casey Mears, who's been more consistent lately.

Casey Mears

• Mears will make his 12th Cup start at Atlanta. Mears posted his best Atlanta finish (12th) in this race one year ago. In March, Mears finished 17th.
• I have been a fan of Mears lately because I think he's basically good for a top-15 just about every week and his SCC value is still a pretty low 17.2 He was 17th in the spring at Atlanta, and this team is easily running better now than it was then. He was money last week, and I believe Mears will be a good value again at Atlanta and might be a good floor on which to build your team.

• In four starts here, Menard has a top-10 and an average finish of 21.0. He finished 19th here in the spring.
• On this size of track, you can count on Menard to finish around 27th and, in my opinion, that's not good enough even with an SCC value of 15.6.

• Montoya has three starts here with a top-5 and an average finish of 18.3. He finished 16th here in the spring.
• I gave him a ranking of 25th, but could possibly see him finishing 18th to 20th. Even if his SCC value is down at 16.6, I'm not sure he'll give you enough bang for the buck.

• Nemechek has 29 starts here with seven top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of 21.0. He finished 36th in this race last year.

• Newman has seven poles, one top-5 and four top-10s in 13 starts at Atlanta. Newman scored six consecutive pole positions here from March 2003 to October 2005. He scored his seventh pole in March 2007.
• I look at him and see as a a top-15 at best. Avoid him in SCC with his cost of 18.0; his teammate Kurt Busch should run better at a slightly cheaper price.

• Ragan competed in his first Cup race at Atlanta in March 2007 and earned a 33rd-place finish. He's driving the same car he drove to an 18th-place finish at Dover earlier this season.

• I think Mr. Ragan has a great shot at running up near the front and finishing at least 10th on Sunday. He's averaged a little better than an eighth-place finish in his past four starts this year.

• Raines has seven starts here with an average finish of 29.4. He finished 23rd in this race last year.

• Reutimann has two Cup starts here with finishes of 40th and 20th. He did not qualify for this race last year.
• I have him ranked 22nd, but he could finish as high as a top-15 and that would be great for your SCC team because of his cap-friendly value of 16.0. Is he potential "floor" material? Yes.

• Riggs has eight starts here with one top-10 and an average finish of 23.8. He finished 29th in this race last year.
• He tested tires for Goodyear here a few weeks ago and that might prove to be very beneficial this weekend. I can't understand why he's valued as high as 14.9 in SCC, but that might still be low enough to use him. Keep a close eye on where Riggs qualifies and how he practices.

Elliott Sadler

• In 19 previous starts, Sadler has three top-10s here with an average finish of 22.5. He finished 14th here last year and 43rd in the spring race this year.
• I'm giving Sadler a little love this week ranking him 18th. Other than Charlotte, he's been running better than more storied teammate Kasey Kahne on tracks this size lately. If things go right for Elliott, I can see him finishing as high as 10th and maybe only as low as 15th.

• In 46 starts here, Schrader has eight top-10s, three top-5s, a win and an average finish of 22.6. His most recent start here was in the spring of 2007, resulting in a 37th-place finish.

• Smith has one previous Cup start here, finishing 38th this spring.
• Other than a mechanical failure at Martinsville last week, Smith has quietly built himself into a top-25 finisher every week. With a low SCC value of 13.7, if he could finish 23rd like he did at Charlotte and score 94 points and if you could pick the right four big dogs, you could score 750 points and up for the day.

• Sorenson has six starts here with three top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 20.5. He finished third in this race last year.
• Like Smith, you could put Sorenson on the team at 15.1 in SCC and still squeeze four big guns in, as well. He was 15th at Charlotte and scored 123 points. If he did that again with four other good choices, hello 800 points.

• Speed is attempting to make his first Cup start at Atlanta. He will race in both the Cup and Truck races this weekend.
• He had a rough debut at Martinsville, getting bounced around on the way to a 30th. He'll be more in his element on a bigger track, but the former Formula One driver is going to have, I predict, another rough afternoon.

• Stewart has 19 starts here with 12 top-10s, eight top-5s, two wins and an average finish of 12.0. He was the runner-up here in the spring and has earned top-5s in four of the past five races.
• He could be on my wish list this week with a ranking of fifth. I can see him potentially running top-5. A first and two second-place finishes in the past four Atlanta races means he'll score a bunch of points come Sunday.

• Truex has seven starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 27.6. He finished 31st here last year.
• He should be able to run no worse than 15th in this race and might be a dark-horse top-10. If you need an SCC driver less than 19, then Truex's value of 18.6 might be worth kicking the tires.

• In 10 starts here, Vickers has four top-10s and an average finish of 18.5. His past two finishes here are top-10s.
• On the plus side, this size track is right in the wheelhouse of Vickers and Team Red Bull. On the negative, this team got a big smack down from NASCAR after its car was found to have sheet metal that did not conform to the minimum thickness requirements. That's a way to cheat so more weight can be put lower on the car, improving handling and not abusing the tires as much. Crew chief Kevin Hamlin and car chief Craig Smokstad have been suspended indefinitely. That's going to hurt a lot.

• During his Cup career at AMS, Waltrip has earned one top-5 and eight top-10s. His average finish is 21st.
• His SCC value of 15.7 is attractive, but all the other numbers are ugly. He was 30th here in the spring, and his average finish this year is almost 28.

Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.

Mark Garrow

Fantasy Racing
Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE