With only two races left before the Chase, everyone needs to run well at Atlanta. But there's a $3 million dollar incentive for Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch thanks to the Sprint Summer Showdown.
If either one of these drivers takes the checkered flag, he is able to give a fan a million bucks, put a million bucks in his own pocket, and give a million to charity. It's an incredible opportunity -- one that I think Keselowski has a good chance of capitalizing on.
Most might think that Busch is the driver to watch in this competition, but Keselowski's Penske car has been really fast. He and his crew have been riding a huge wave these past four weeks and I expect that to continue at Atlanta. In fact, the Penske team has stepped up their game so much that I wouldn't be surprised to see fellow Dodge driver Kurt Busch also succeed at Atlanta.
For all these teams, NASCAR Sprint Cup competition is about trying to find maneuverability and speed. Success with this formula definitely goes in cycles.
At the beginning of the year, the Fords were taking races with a brand-new motor set that was bar none. The motor really kept good temperatures and was great to draft with. As time went on, the Chevrolets worked on some things and caught up a bit. And now, Dodge has really come around to peak at the right time. I think it's Dodge's turn, frankly. The Dodges have a ton of horsepower, good downforce on their racecars, and they are fast. Whether it's a road course, short track or superspeedway, they are getting it done.
While some might think that the four Showdown contenders will approach this race differently, I think the type of racing we're seeing this year puts everyone in the same box strategy-wise. The only way to win is to stay up front. Whether you're taking two tires or just fuel, you have to be fast on pit road. You have to qualify well, you have to have a good pit stall, and you have to either maintain or gain track position.
A guy like Ambrose, who probably isn't going to make the Chase, can throw everything at this race to try to win the bonus. Menard can race like he has nothing to lose, too.
But at this time of year, who isn't racing that way?
Former NBA and college basketball star and longtime NASCAR fan Brad Daugherty joined ESPN as a NASCAR analyst in 2007. He is a regular on the NASCAR Countdown program that precedes all NASCAR race telecasts and is also an analyst on ESPN's daily "NASCAR Now" show.