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Atlanta Motor Speedway: A Special Place for Bill Elliott

To truly understand how special it is for Bill Elliott to drive the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as he’ll do this weekend in the Kobalt Tools 500, it helps to know about one of his first-ever trips to his home track.

The year was 1973. Elliott was just a teenager. He went to the race with some high school friends from his hometown of Dawsonville, Ga. “We drove down there in a 1973 Ford Torino,” Elliott said, adding that the sporty ride came from his father’s small Ford dealership. “We parked in the infield. It was really muddy.” The boys watched a familiar scenario play out – David Pearson won the race in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury, one of the team’s league-leading 12 Cup victories at the track and one of their 11 superspeedway wins that season. Pearson and the Woods swept Atlanta that year.

So were young Elliott and his pals backing the winner that day? “Of course,” he said. “It was David Pearson. It was a Ford, and it was the Wood Brothers.” Soon Elliott was racing himself at AMS, starting out in Fords fielded by his father, the late George Elliott, a man who not only loved Fords but absolutely hated any other brand of automobile.

To date, Elliott has five wins and five poles at his home track. Throughout his Sprint Cup career, Elliott, from the north Georgia mountains, has been a crowd favorite at AMS. Many of his fans will watch Sunday’s race from the Elliott Grandstand, which was named for the popular driver and his family. “It’s always nice to race in front of the home folks,” Elliott said. “I’m fortunate to have a pretty good following there, and it’ll be good to be among them again.”

He said he also feels fortunate to be back behind the wheel of the same car he drove last fall in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In that race, he qualified ninth; fell back, then charged through the field late in the race to claim a strong 16th-place finish. Also in his favor is the fact that the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew has spent the winter tuning the car and working on its overall downforce program, which is one of the main keys to running well on an intermediate track that makes up the bulk of the team’s limited 2010 schedule.

“It’s amazing what we accomplished last year, and I look forward to getting back to work and continuing to improve what we had,” Elliott said. Elliott also looks forward to tackling the aging, abrasive asphalt surface at AMS. “The track has a lot of character,” he said. “The asphalt’s getting some age on it, and you can run the top, or the middle or the bottom groove. “That makes for a good race for the fans, and for the teams and drivers it gives us the ability to do a lot of different stuff.”

Qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 500 is set for Friday at 6:10 p.m. The 500 will get the green flag on Sunday at 1 p.m., with live coverage on FOX.