After a two-day rain postponement and several rain delays on Tuesday, NASCAR officials finally got in the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon led 146 of the 325 laps, including the checkered-flag lap, to win the 85th Sprint Cup race of his illustrious career and his third of the 2011 season.
It looked like Gordon's race from the start as the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet moved up from the fifth position on the starting grid and eventually took over the lead from Kyle Busch on lap 47. Gordon led for 100 of the first 164 laps.
After two brief stops for rain, including a stoppage of nearly 30 minutes more than halfway through the race, Gordon worked his way back to the front of the 43-car field on lap 276, then had to fight off Hendricks teammate and five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps to post the historic win.
"That was fun," Gordon said. "I was slipping, he (Johnson) was slipping. He had one or two shots at me, and I thought we were done." Gordon took the checkered flag a half-second ahead of Johnson.
Tony Stewart all but assured his spot in the Chase for the Cup championship round, finishing third at Atlanta. Kurt Busch was fourth and Carl Edwards, from Columbia, Mo., finished fifth. Brad Keselowski clinched his spot in the Chase, coming in sixth. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Edwards' teammate Matt Kenseth and A.J. Allmendinger completed the top ten.
Johnson's runner-up finish gave him the outright lead in the drivers' points standings. He had been tied with Kyle Busch, who came in 23rd in Tuesday's rain-postponed AdvoCare 500. "I think everybody recognizes how strong they are," Gordon said of his teammate and the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet crew.
With his 85th career win, Gordon moved into third place in all-time Sprint Cup wins behind two of NASCAR's greatest legends, Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105).
In addition to Gordon's milestone victory in the next to last race of the regular season, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman clinched top-ten automatic qualifying positions in the 12-car Chase lineup. Nine positions are now set for the chase, with three spots still to be determined. Besides Kurt Busch and Newman, already in are Johnson, Kyle Busch, Edwards, Kenseth, Gordon, Keselowski, Harvick. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart and Denny Hamlin are in the best position to claim the final three spots with just next weekend's race at Richmond before the Chase field is set.
This was Gordon's fifth career win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which also was the venue for his first Sprint Cup race in November 1992. The win Tuesday was the tenth on the season in the Sprint Cup Series for Chevrolet, the most of any manufacturer, and Chevy's 37 victory at Atlanta.
The Tuesday race was only the second time NASCAR has conducted a sanctioned event on Tuesday since 1978 at Michigan.
Emporia, Kan., native Clint Bowyer's Chase hopes ended on lap 241 when his No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing crashed into the wall, ending his day. The DNF caused him to finish 36th and fall to 14th in the standings, 54 points behind 10th-place Stewart.