- Rusty Wallace, NASCAR
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The biggest story line I noticed from Monday's race was this was Dodge's first win in a long time. In fact, it was Dodge's first win since Ryan Newman won at New Hampshire in September.
It was a much-needed win because Dodge was really concerned about its cars and whether they needed some aerodynamic help from NASCAR. Kasey Kahne and the Evernham team had their act together and were dominant late in the race. Everyone is excited for Dodge to get back on track with a big win.
As for Newman, he continues to run with last year's old Dodge Intrepid nose, and it appears that was the absolute wrong decision. I expect that team to go back to the Charger nose as quickly as possible since that's what won Monday's race and his teammate Kurt Busch was so strong with the Charger nose. It should be a mad thrash at Team Penske to get the old noses removed from the No. 12 cars and the Charger noses back on. You have to commend them for trying so hard and going with the older nose section, but it was the wrong decision.
Team Penske really got going this race with Busch. He led 22 laps and looked great before a late accident took him out of contention. Also, it was really good to see Team Petty perform well, with Kyle Petty finishing eighth. It was fabulous to see that team back up and running great. It was also really exciting to see the original No. 43 -- Richard Petty's old number -- with Bobby Labonte leading 13 laps. Petty Enterprises looked great in Atlanta. Petty's team is definitely better than it has been since Richard retired. The team has better engines, better cars and good management and is starting to shape up.
Race delayed by rain
A rain delay, for some reason, tends to dampen everybody's aggressiveness. On race day, drivers are hyped up with 150,000 people in the grandstands. Your adrenaline is flowing, and you're all pumped up. Then, all of a sudden, you're sitting in the rain, you're calming down and your excitement starts to fall. Everybody in their minds on Monday is like, 'OK, let's get this thing done, get it over with and get home.' Monday races seem to go smoother and are more caution-free. I don't know why that it is, but every Monday race I was in -- and I won a lot of Monday races -- was that way.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He had an ill-handling car and was back in the pack most of the day. Then, when he got it handling better, he flew back up to the front of the pack to finish third.
Jeff Gordon: I'm seeing some consistency now with him, and he appears to be back with his fourth-place finish. I like to say he has his "mojo" back. Gordon was off for a long time, but Monday he showed he took a turn for the better and has that team back where it needs to be.
Tony Stewart: He was strong again with his second top-five finish of the season. All the controversy he and Busch had didn't seem to come to fruition.
Mark Martin: Here's this guy who took a huge retirement tour with me last year only to get talked into staying another year with Jack Roush, and he's having one of the best years of his career. He finished second Monday and was second in the trucks race Friday night. Martin continues to knock out these real strong finishes in a year he was not supposed to be around. He's running great, like a champion.
Bill Lester: He definitely was not happy with his finish (38th), although he was happy he qualified on his own and got in the race with a good speed. He was six laps off the pace, which is quite a bit, but first things first. Lester got in the race and got a lot of seat time. That's what he needed to do. Bill needed to run his first-ever 500-mile race to get the seat time to see what these cars need -- the chassis, engines, how the pit crews work together.
Next race: Bristol
As for this week in Bristol, that's a tough one. I expect to see the same old guys up front who have been strong there all the time on the short track: Kenseth, Martin, Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon and Stewart are always consistent there. I expect Kevin Harvick will run well there, as well. After that, it could be anybody's game because Bristol is a short track and there's just not a lot of guys who are good on the short track.
Another driver to watch is Denny Hamlin; he's a short-tracker at heart. He won the Mexico Busch race and the Bud Shootout in Daytona, and Monday he was up there charging for the lead only to have problems late. He's a rookie, although he doesn't look like one. If you discount his finish in Atlanta, Hamlin continues to run up front week in and week out, and he continues to surprise a lot of people.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races.