- Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 September 2012 15:09
- Published on Wednesday, 05 September 2012 15:09
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Denny Hamlin did himself a favor, and one for Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in the process. Outrunning Jeff Gordon on a two-lap dash to the finish in Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hamlin scored his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his fourth win of the season, and the 21st of his career.
Hamlin also preserved Busch’s status as the second provisional wild card in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by keeping Gordon out of Victory Lane. Hamlin beat Gordon to the finish line by .378 seconds after a caution spoiled a probable victory for Martin Truex Jr., who was leading by two seconds when Jamie McMurray wrecked on the frontstretch on Lap 320 of 327. Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Truex and Kevin Harvick.
Matt Kenseth (ninth Sunday), Truex, Keselowski, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer (27th) and Harvick all clinched top-10 spots in the Chase, joining series leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. Defending Cup champion and pole-sitter Tony Stewart fought an ill-handling car all night and finished 22nd but clinched at least a wild-card spot.
“This is one I wanted real bad,” Hamlin said. “Last week was a big one (at Bristol) -- no doubt about it -- but I’ve been really good here the last few years and not won.” Hamlin’s crew got him off pit road in the lead when all the contending cars stopped under the final caution, which extended the race two laps past its scheduled lap count of 325. “The pit crew won me the race,” Hamlin said. “That’s what a championship team is all about, to have all the pieces of the puzzle put together, and this year I think we have it all.”
Gordon, who celebrated his 41st birthday last month, allowed that he must be getting soft in his old age. “He (Hamlin) made a mistake off of (Turn) 2 (after the final restart), and I got a run on him, and I made a bad decision,” Gordon said. “All night I was able to get to guys’ quarter panels and get to the outside and stay there. I should have just run into the back of him going into (Turn) 3 and moved him up the race track.
“We’d be sitting in Victory Lane right now counting another win. This Chase is too important to be in it for me not to make a move like that. I wouldn’t have wanted to wreck him, but I would have liked to have that one over again.”
Heading into the Federated Auto Parts 400 Saturday night at Richmond, Kasey Kahne has a wild card spot locked up with two wins on the season to date. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon sit 12th and 13th with one win each. Kyle Busch leads Gordon by 20 points. Gordon must win Saturday night to knock Busch from the final wild card slot.
It’s a real long shot but, Marcus Ambrose, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman each have one win. A win Saturday night by any of them would vault them into the final wild card slot. Realistically, the question is can Jeff Gordon win the Federated Auto Parts 400 and knock Kyle Busch out of the Chase?
Speaking of Joey Logano, by the time you read this Joe Gibbs Racing should have made the official announcement that Matt Kenseth will drive the No. 20 Home Depot car in 2013. The Gibbs organization has not indicated any plans for Logano beyond a ride in the Nationwide Series. The hot rumor has Logano moving to Penske Racing to drive the No. 22 car.
Big picture-wise, I think Penske Racing comes out ahead in this deal. At age 40, Kenseth is in the later stage of his career a front runner. At age 22 Joey Logano is one of the bright lights of the future. I guess this is all about the here and now for Home Depot. Sponsors money rules.
Speaking of sponsors, Office Depot, announced this past week that they will not be back as a primary sponsor for Tony Stewart next season. Stewart Haas Racing also has lost the U. S. Army as the primary sponsor for Ryan Newman’s car next season.
You may contact Pete Barber ata talkinracing@journalpress.