We're less than three weeks from the 2012 edition of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Advocare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Labor Day Weekend event caps off a weekend of racing at the speedway featuring all three of NASCAR's premier divisions in action.
All three races - including the Camping World Truck Series Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 200 and the Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 - have seen a who's who of racing stars visit victory lane since Fireball Roberts won the inaugural race at the track in 1960. In fact only three champions of what is now the Sprint Cup Series since the track opened - Joe Weatherly, Bobby Isaac, and Alan Kulwicki - never won at AMS in some capacity.
For proof of Atlanta's importance in the careers of NASCAR elite, take a look at the 15 men already inducted into the Hall of Fame in Charlotte and the five headed there in January. Only NASCAR founder Bill France, longtime NASCAR president Bill France Jr., and drivers Lee Petty, Richie Evans, Herb Thomas, and Buck Baker never won at Atlanta. Thomas's career was largely over by the time Atlanta joined the schedule, while Evans never competed at NASCAR's top level.
Contrarily, Dale Earnhardt holds the track record with nine Atlanta victories. Cale Yarborough has seven wins, Richard Petty has six, Bobby Allison has five, David Pearson has four, Darrell Waltrip has three, Rusty Wallace has two, and Ned Jarrett has one. As a car owner, Cotton Owens won the second-ever race at the track with Bobby Johns, Bud Moore won four times, and the Wood Brothers took an incredible 12 Atlanta victories. Dale Inman was Petty's crew chief for his six wins.
Junior Johnson has the unique distinction of winning both as a driver and owner at Atlanta. He took the checkered flag at the wheel of a Chevrolet owned by the legendary Ray Fox - a future Hall of Famer himself - and then won six times as owner of cars driven by Yarborough, Waltrip, and two more future Hall of Famers, Lee Roy Yarbrough and Georgia legend Bill Elliott.
Elliott claimed five Atlanta wins, including season sweeps in 1985 and 1992. Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, has five Cup wins of his own and is the defending champion of the Advocare 500 (which was his 85th-career win) and also won in the Nationwide Series in 1992. Bobby Labonte, the only driver to win a championship in both the Cup and Nationwide Series, is the active wins leader at AMS with six.
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart have each won three times at Atlanta. Mark Martin has two Cup wins and three Nationwide wins at the track. Kyle Busch has won once in Cup (in 2008, the first win for Toyota) and has four Truck wins. Kevin Harvick has a win apiece in each division at the track.
Sprint Cup champions Terry Labonte and Matt Kenseth have never won on in that series at Atlanta, but Labonte won the Nationwide race in 1996 and Kenseth has two Nationwide checkered flags from the track.
Harry Gant's mastery of the Nationwide Series included a AMS win in 1994, while Truck legend Ron Hornaday Jr. counts two trips to Atlanta's victory lane among his 51 wins in that division including last year's event.
All told, Atlanta's victory lane has played host to celebrations by stock car racing's greatest stars of the past and present. While its importance is understated alongside venues like Daytona and Darlington, AMS nonetheless remains one of the sport's most prestigious venues as it celebrates its 53rd year of competition.