Hamlin repeats, edges Gordon for Atlanta victory
Denny Hamlin locked himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup field with his second straight victory on Sunday night, winning a three-lap shootout over Jeff Gordon to take the checkered flag in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Hamlin took the lead after winning the race off pit road following a late caution flag with four laps to go that set up a green-white-checkered finish and then jumped in front after Martin Truex, Jr. spun his tires on the restart. Hamlin then held on despite a furious charge by Gordon in the final turn, notching his series leading fourth win of the season.
Brad Keselowski, Truex, Jr., and Kevin Harvick finished out the top five.
Hamlin’s win was his 21st-career Sprint Cup victory and his first victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“This was one I wanted real bad - last week was a big one, no doubt about it,” said Hamlin. “I’ve been really good here at Atlanta the last year and not won. We wore our splitter out and I didn’t have anything left there at the end. Our car faded a little bit, but the pit crew won me the race. That’s what a championship team is all about is to have all those pieces of the puzzle put together and this year I think we have it all.”
With his fourth win, Hamlin is now the provisional number seed going into the Chase with the final regular season race next week at his “hometown” track at Richmond.
“I wanted to win to be the number one seed. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get as many (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in (the Chase) because it helps me - we need Kyle (Busch) in there, we need Joey (Logano) in there and if Jeff (Gordon) won that race, it was going to be all over. We had to do what we had to do.
“I look at Richmond as a race we’re going to go win. That’s my track -- it’s my best track arguably and I just think we have a lot of momentum now and for what it’s worth, I will try to take advantage of it.”
In a race with major ramifications in the point battle with one “regular season” race remaining, nine of the top 10 spots were clinched and several drivers who came into Sunday night’s race needing a good finish left disappointed and facing an even steeper uphill climb to make the Chase.
Carl Edwards - last year’s runner-up in the championship – saw his post-season hopes go up in smoke with an engine failure on lap 266, all but eliminating him from Chase contention, while Ryan Newman got caught up in a wreck with Jimmie Johnson on lap 271, putting him in a must-win situation next weekend at Richmond.
Gordon, too, was on the outside looking in. Sitting 13th in point with one win under his belt, Gordon needed a win to secure one of the two wild-card slots in the Chase field.
Gordon put himself in perfect position over the final 47 laps as he trailed Truex, Jr., who had taken the lead from Hamlin on lap 282 and was trying to stretch his fuel until the end.
Truex, Jr., solidly in the Chase field but looking for his first win since 2007, gambled on fuel and looked to be a lock to end his winless streak when Jamie McMurray cut down a right-front tire and pounded the wall in the front stretch to bring out the sixth and final caution flag of the night.
Coming to pit road in third place, Hamlin’s crew got him out just ahead of Truex, Jr., followed by Gordon, Harvick and Keselowski.
On the restart, Truex, Jr. appeared to spin the tires and fell back to fourth as Gordon and Keselowski flashed by on the low side, but Hamlin was already out to a four car-length lead.
Gordon pulled out all the stops and managed to pull even with Hamlin in the final turn, but Hamlin pulled head to win by three car-lengths.
“I’m just mad at myself right now,” Gordon said. “I guess I’m just getting soft in my old age; I’m too nice. You know, 15 years ago I would have just moved him right up the race track. I don’t know why I didn’t do that. I thought I could get to his quarter panel and slow him down and stay there. But I got there and I just carried too much speed into (turn) three and it pushed up the race track.
This Chase is too important for me to be in it and 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.”
For Truex, Jr. it was just another win that got away.
“Just spun the tires,” said Truex, Jr. “It sure would have been nice to get a win. We’ve been pretty close here lately. It just sucks when you have one locked up like that and a caution comes out. That’s the way it goes and we weren’t good enough on restarts. Just wasn’t good enough tonight. It just wasn’t meant to be again I guess.”
Along with Hamlin and Truex, Jr., Keselowski, Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and Clint Bowyer all clinched spots in the Chase. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Johnson locked themselves in last weekend at Bristol.
One more spot remains up for grabs with defending series champion Tony Stewart holding the 10th spot over Kasey Kahne. With three wins, Stewart is guaranteed at least a wild-card spot while Kahne – with two wins of his own - could claim the other. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon are also in contention for a wild-card spot and could race their way into the Chase with a victory at Richmond.
* Denotes Rookie
Feedback can be sent to email@example.com
Go to our forums to discuss this article