39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 26 points out of the top 10. Stands second in the race for the two wild card spots in the Chase with one win.
ATLANTA RECORD: Six top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman knows he needs to have a "real good weekend" at Atlanta to stay in the thick of the hunt for the final two spots in the Chase for the Championship. "Things are really tight," adds Newman. "From seventh or eighth on back to where I'm at, every point is so important. We need to run up front and stay out of trouble."
LOOKING BACK: Newman finished 21st at Bristol after being involved in a multi-car accident with 53 laps to go. "I think it was Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin who made contact and that triggered a big mess," said Newman. "Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was damaged pretty significantly. It was a handful to drive those last 50 laps. The guys did a great job on pit road, getting it fixed enough so we could finish the race. Every single point is so important."
ETC.: Newman is one of the leading candidates for the ride being vacated by Juan Pablo Montoya. But he also knows that Kyle Larson, the young phenom on the Nationwide Series, is under contract to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and may be in line to drive the 42 car in 2014 and beyond. "Right now, I don't know what is in store for me," said Newman. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing said it plans to announce the new driver for the 42 car on Friday afternoon.
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 38 points out of the top 10.
ATLANTA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "This will be a critical weekend for our team if we are to maintain a chance to stay in contention for the Chase. We have had pretty good cars on all the 1.5-mile tracks this year, so hopefully we can continue that trend in Atlanta. We need to have a really good weekend."
LOOKING BACK: With about 100 laps to go, McMurray told his crew that smoke was filling the cockpit and the car had become extremely loose. This forced an unscheduled pit stop where the crew determined that a tire issue was causing the problem. McMurray returned to the track two laps down as he ended the day in 19th place. "It was a disappointing turn of events for our McDonald's team tonight," said McMurray. "We had a good car early in the race and we were making good adjustments to make our way to the front. Apparently we had a tire issue and that put us a couple of laps down. Just a tough way to end our night."
ETC.: McMurray stands second in the percentage of laps completed in 2013. He has finished 98.95 percent of the laps run this season. "That shows what good cars we have put on the track this year and how good our team has performed on those days when things didn't go right," said McMurray.
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 47 points out of the top 10.
ATLANTA RECORD: Finished eighth last year for his second top-eight finish in the last four races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard calls Atlanta "one of my favorite tracks. I've had some good races there in the past and we've got some momentum heading into this weekend after our sixth-place finish at Bristol. Atlanta's a track that races really well and it's a lot of fun, especially with it now being a night race."
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished sixth for his third straight top-10 finish at Bristol. "It's great to bring home another top-10 finish this weekend," said a beaming Menard. "Bristol has been good to me over the past couple of years, and I love this short-track racing. We had a great Schrock/Menards car and it was awesome to be able to lead some laps tonight. We got shuffled back in the field taking fuel, but we were able to make some ground up with pit strategy at the end."
ETC.: Menard knows his only chance of making the Chase is by winning either Atlanta or Richmond or both. And for that reason, he says "If we need to do some gambling, we'll do it. We've run well the last two weeks with finishes of fourth and sixth so we feel good about the direction we're heading. We've got to just step it up a little (to get to victory lane)."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 69 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
ATLANTA RECORD: Best finish in two starts is 21st.