Denny Hamlin made it two in a row and a series best four wins on the season when he out raced Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag at the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday night.
The margin of victory was less than four-tenths of a second, but that was all ancient history once Hamlin got to Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“The pit crew won me the race,” an elated Hamlin said. “Last week (at Bristol) was a big one – no doubt about it – but I’ve been really good here the last few years and not won. This one, I wanted real bad.”
The AdvoCare 500 came down to a two-lap sprint after a wreck brought out the caution flag in the race’s final laps. Try as he might, Gordon couldn’t pass Hamlin as the two raced for the finish line. Brad Keselowski finished third in the race. The 41-year-old Gordon joked, after the race, that age could be affecting his judgement on the track.
“I should have just run into the back of him (going into Turn 3) and moved him up the race track,” Gordon noted. “He (Hamlin) made a mistake off of 2 (after the final restart), and I got a run on him, and I made a bad decision.”
A win could have increased his chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card with a win in the AdvoCare 500. As it stands, he is still on the outside looking in.
“This Chase is too important to be in it for me not to make a move like that,” Gordon recalled the final dash for the finish line. “I wouldn’t have wanted to wreck him, but I would have liked to have that one over again. We’d be sitting in Victory Lane right now, counting another win.”
Jeff Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Gordon sticks the nose of car No. 24 under the rear bumper of Denny Hamlin’s car (No. 11) during the final stages of the AdvoCare 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, on Sept. 2, 2012.
Greg Biffle leads the Sprint Cup standings, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumps into second place and is only eight points behind the leader. Matt Kenseth is now third in the standings, 21 points in back of Biffle.
Hamlin, Keselowski, Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. brought the number of drivers who have secured their place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to 10, leaving only two spots to be decided with one race remaining in the regular Sprint-Cup season. They join Biffle, Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who had already clinched their place in the Chase. The top 10 drivers in the point standings after next weekend’s race along with the two others with the most wins over the course of the 26-race season will vie for NASCAR’s top-level championship in a 10-race battle that will conclude on Nov. 18 in Homestead, Florida.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 is next on the Sprint Cup schedule as NASCAR drivers head for Richmond, Virginia, and a night race on Saturday, Sept. 8. That race closes out the regular portion of the season. The Chase for the Sprint Cup starts on Sept. 16 in Chicago.