Atlanta Wrap: Hendrick teammates for the win
Jeff Gordon can no longer sit back and think top-5 and top-10 finishes will be good enough to hold off Jimmie Johnson. Both Hendrick Motorsports teammates are racing like champions, and if Gordon truly is the best, he is really going to have to prove it over the remaining three races. That's good news for his fantasy owners.
Johnson's owners knew he needed strong performances during the past two events to keep close to Gordon, making him an outstanding start in these past two races. He came through with the best possible finishes, winning at Martinsville and Atlanta, and now trails Gordon by a mere nine points. Now Gordon must come through in championship form if he truly is a champion.
A greater sense of urgency now has to propel Gordon back to victories in the next race or two. He knows it, his owners know it, and you can be sure the No. 24 car will be in dominant form at Texas next week. Gordon does not want to be remembered for "choking" when he had a respectable lead in the championship race late in the season. His recent wins at Talladega and Charlotte are part of what got him here, but now will become much less meaningful if he can't add more victories or very strong finishes, especially ahead of Johnson, in the next three events.
So Gordon's fantasy owners can expect nothing but the best from him over the next three races, and that will boost them to championships in their own leagues. In many fantasy leagues, Gordon's and Johnson's owners will fight to the finish, and whoever wins the Nextel Cup title will help his owners win fantasy championships. The only thing owners in such formats can do is stick with Gordon or Johnson and simply hope for the best results.
In salary cap-style games, it was best to have Johnson during the past two races, as it was clear the pressure was on Johnson to get closer to Gordon, but now the weight of the title drive falls back to Gordon. So he should definitely become the anchor of challenge-style rosters over the next race or two. Fitting both on your roster will prove to be extremely difficult, so now is the time to replace Johnson with Gordon on your roster in such leagues.
This is clearly a two-driver race to the finish now, and no matter who ultimately wins the Nextel Cup championship, owners of either driver have an excellent shot of winning their own league championships. It really comes down to whom you surround Gordon or Johnson with. Only one driver can win the Nextel Cup championship. It takes at least two or three good drivers to complete a championship run in most fantasy leagues, though. Don't overlook the rest of your squad or take it lightly in your other lineup spots the rest of the way.
Clint Bowyer finished sixth at Atlanta, and now is 111 points behind Gordon for the lead in the Nextel Cup standings. While it would seemingly take something of a minor miracle for Bowyer to get back in the race, or at least within striking distance of the title when the season finale rolls around, he is still trying to nail down a firm position near the top of the standings as the season winds down. Bowyer has finished 11th or better in each of the past five races. He has only one win this season, but it would not be a shock to see him earn one more victory in the next two races before the finale. Such an accomplishment would surely keep his hopes alive this late in the season.
• Reed Sorenson finished in third place. It was his third top-5 finish of the season and he is a very good last lineup spot bargain driver for the final three events as long as he steers clear of trouble.
• Michael Waltrip managed an 11th-place showing. He nearly was able to pull off his third top-10 finish of the season. Waltrip has been gaining some positive momentum and salvaging some respect toward the end of a very disappointing season. He has finished 11th, 18th and 10th in his past three races.
• An ugly late crash ruined the day for Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has not been able to finish any better than 19th in the past four races. The final win under the DEI banner now seems very far away, and Earnhardt seems like a risky start, period, as his car has seemingly betrayed him all season long.
• Dale Jarrett was surprisingly able to qualify in third place. He ultimately finished in 19th place, his best showing of the season so far. Don't expect much of a final hurrah to the season from Jarrett. He has an average finish of 32.8 this season.
• Kasey Kahne finished ninth at Atlanta. Very quietly, he is building a strong finish to the season and is a quality bargain driver for the final three races. He has finished in the top 16 in each of the past five races. He also has three of his top-eight finishes this season during that span.
• Kyle Petty finished in 13th place on Sunday. He now has two top-20 finishes in his past three races. It was Petty's best finish since he placed third in the 12th race of the season at Charlotte. Petty has an average finish of 27.6 this season, so don't expect him to keep up the positive momentum in the final three races.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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