Denny Hamlin wins Atlanta Sprint Cup 500, One last race until the Chase cutoff

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 2, 2012 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

After last weekend's victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, I proclaimed Denny Hamlin the best short track driver currently competing in the circuit. With a victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and his sights set on his first Sprint Cup Series championship, Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb might be the best driver crew chief combination currently in NASCAR.

Hamlin and company did everything right on Sunday, leading the most laps (105), navigating through traffic, and beating out the competition off of pit road, setting up the dramatic last lap duel with Jeff Gordon that ended with Hamlin's fourth win of the season - 21st of his career.

Gordon was the big loser on Sunday. He had the opportunity to boot Hamlin out of the way going into turn three of the final lap but chose the outside lane instead. Gordon admitted that his younger self would have made contact with Hamlin, sending him up the banking, and taking the win.

It would have been a huge victory for Gordon, who still remains 12 points (with one win) behind Kyle Busch, the latter whom still holds the second wild card spot. Instead, Gordon will either have to win, or beat Busch by 12 positions at Richmond, something Gordon has done only once in 15 tries - 2007. Sunday's results created an uphill battle for Gordon and safe distance for Busch.

Adding to the comfort zone for the No. 18 Toyota team, Busch won the Sprint Cup Series' last stop at the famous half-mile in April.

But Richmond is still a short track and anything could happen, something Busch told us immediately following Sunday's race. Seven drivers currently outside of the top-10 still remain mathematically eligible, including Paul Menard, Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne. The latter currently holds the first wild card spot, with two wins, but has yet to clinch.

Edwards and Newman did considerable damage to their championship hopes suffering a blown engine and a crash with Jimmie Johnson respectively. They'll enter Richmond likely needing wins to snag the final wild card spot.

The following drivers clinched spots in the Chase top 10 after Atlanta: Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson already clinched top-10 positions last week.

Tony Stewart could still fall out of the top-10 handing his bonus points over to someone else. His three wins are still enough to lock him into the playoffs regardless of what happens.

My thoughts on the length of the race, Kevin Harvick, and the complete race results can be found after the jump.

Sunday's race was 500 miles long and lasted three hours, 32 minutes, and 45 seconds. There's really no need for that kind of racing anymore. Originally, the 500-mile race was a standard for endurance and durability. The truth is that 500-miles just isn't that daunting anymore. The drivers are some of the most physically fit athletes in all of mainstream sports and the engines have been tested and designed to withstand thousands of miles.

The end result on Sunday was a near-four hours snooze fest with very little cautions until the end that had an exciting finish that still couldn't make up for the preceding two hours. Imagine if this race had followed Pocono's lead and cut Sunday's race to 400 miles. It might have been a race of the year candidate.

The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races tend to be some of the most exciting of the weekend since the shorter distances simulate a heightened sense of urgency. There's no free time to spend just riding out the laps and thus there's more passing and often more contact. Sprints just breed better racing and the 500-mile-plus races need to be phased out beyond Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.

Maximize the value of your races and fans will be satisfied with the product.

Kevin Harvick dominates two races but fails to win each of them

For the second night in a row, Kevin Harvick appeared to have the dominant car, leading 101 laps before falling off the leaders' pace in the closing laps. He restarted fourth on the final restart and fell to fifth in the closing laps. It was too little too late for a driver that could really use the bonus points entering the Chase for the Championship.

Harvick will return to Richmond for the site of his last victory, last fall's regular season finale, armed with the same crew chief and same fire that propelled him to a strong 2012.

Audiovisual

Final Laps: Hamlin wins it on pitroad (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Press Pass: Jeff Gordon (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Race Results

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Number 25
Unofficial Race Results for the 53Rd Annual Advocare 500 - Sunday, September 2, 2012
Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, GA - 1.54 Mile Paved
Total Race Length - 327 Laps - 503.58 Miles - Purse: $6,189,911
Fin Str Car Driver Team Laps Pts Bns Driver Rating Winnings Status Tms Laps
1 7 11 Denny Hamlin Sport Clips Toyota 327 48 5 141.0 $355,716 Running 7 105
2 5 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chevrolet 327 43 1 113.7 $245,976 Running 1 6
3 21 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 327 41 106.6 $197,435 Running
4 28 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Shocks Toyota 327 41 1 113.3 $173,354 Running 1 40
5 24 29 Kevin Harvick Rheem Chevrolet 327 40 1 123.8 $172,101 Running 4 101
6 3 18 Kyle Busch Wrigley / Doublemint Toyota 327 39 1 120.7 $162,398 Running 3 66
7 35 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet 327 37 80.2 $127,490 Running
8 18 27 Paul Menard Quaker State / Menards Chevrolet 327 36 87.5 $120,390 Running
9 4 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Eco Boost Ford 327 35 98.5 $153,801 Running
10 6 55 Mark Martin Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota 327 34 93.8 $107,790 Running
11 15 22 Sam Hornish Jr.(i) Shell Pennzoil Dodge 327 0 95.6 $145,730 Running
12 26 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet 327 32 79.7 $142,255 Running
13 16 51 Kurt Busch Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet 327 31 75.3 $129,638 Running
14 27 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row / Farm American Chevrolet 327 30 74.6 $126,638 Running
15 2 16 Greg Biffle 3M / Manheim Auctions Ford 327 30 1 88.5 $112,205 Running 1 1
16 32 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Good Sam / Camping World Ford 327 0 62.6 $100,305 Running
17 10 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford 327 27 83.6 $127,488 Running
18 9 20 Joey Logano The Home Depot Toyota 327 26 79.0 $106,680 Running
19 25 47 Bobby Labonte Kingsford Toyota 327 25 64.4 $120,013 Running
20 40 83 Landon Cassill Burger King Toyota 326 24 54.5 $124,475 Running
21 33 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet 326 23 62.6 $126,146 Running
22 1 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot / Mobil 1 Chevrolet 326 23 1 72.9 $156,380 Running 1 8
23 11 5 Kasey Kahne Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet 325 21 61.2 $102,555 Running
24 20 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet 325 20 61.5 $124,763 Running
25 22 36 Dave Blaney Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 324 19 54.4 $93,180 Running
26 41 93 Travis Kvapil Dr Pepper / Burger King Toyota 324 18 44.5 $111,888 Running
27 30 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota 324 17 79.2 $118,844 Running
28 14 34 David Ragan Glory Foods Ford 323 16 43.0 $99,777 Running
29 23 10 Danica Patrick(i) GoDaddy.com Chevrolet 321 0 43.6 $87,555 Running
30 42 32 TJ Bell(i) Greensmoke Ford 319 0 36.2 $97,180 Running
31 29 38 David Gilliland House - Autry Ford 298 13 44.3 $87,255 Running
32 13 43 Aric Almirola AdvoCare Ford 297 12 56.5 $124,291 Running
33 19 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford 291 11 48.6 $86,905 Engine
34 8 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet 269 10 93.7 $133,966 Accident
35 17 39 Ryan Newman ARMY Medicine Chevrolet 268 9 69.0 $131,013 Accident
36 12 99 Carl Edwards Subway Ford 264 8 73.3 $132,946 Engine
37 36 95 Scott Speed Jordan Truck Sales Ford 196 7 39.3 $86,280 Suspension
38 34 49 Jason Leffler(i) Robinson-Blakeney Racing Toyota 77 0 34.9 $86,157 Vibration
39 31 30 David Stremme Inception Motorsports Toyota 54 5 32.5 $82,700 Suspension
40 39 23 Scott Riggs North Texas Pipe Chevrolet 43 4 31.1 $82,550 Vibration
41 43 37 JJ Yeley MaxQworkforce.com Chevrolet 32 3 27.9 $82,375 Brakes
42 38 91 Reed Sorenson(i) Plinker Tactical Toyota 24 0 28.9 $82,280 Overheating
43 37 87 Joe Nemechek(i) AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota 22 0 24.3 $82,641 Rear Gear

Race Comments: Before an estimated crowd of 90,300, Denny Hamlin won the ADVOCARE 500, his 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 32 Mins, 45 Secs. Average Speed: 142.020 MPH Margin of Victory: 0.378 Seconds
Caution Flags: 6 for 31 laps: Laps: 40-43 (Oil on the Track [95]); 131-134 (Debris Backstretch [27]); 243-247 (#42 Accident Turn 1 [27]); 266-269 (Oil on the Track [None]); 271-279 (#48, 22, 39 Accident Backstretch [None]); 321-325 (#1 Accident Frontstretch [51]).


Lead Changes:
18 among 7 drivers: T. Stewart 0; G. Biffle 1; T. Stewart 2-9; J. Gordon 10-15; Kyle Busch 16-34; D. Hamlin 35-40; Kyle Busch 41-81; D. Hamlin 82; K. Harvick 83-84; Kyle Busch 85-90; D. Hamlin 91-134; K. Harvick 135-173; D. Hamlin 174-176; K. Harvick 177-215; D. Hamlin 216-221; K. Harvick 222-242; D. Hamlin 243-281; M. Truex Jr. 282-321; D. Hamlin 322-327.


Top 12 Driver Points: (1) G. Biffle 879;(2) D. Earnhardt Jr. 871;(3) M. Kenseth 858;(4) J. Johnson 848;(5) M. Truex Jr. 838;(6) B. Keselowski 831;(7) D. Hamlin 822;(8) C. Bowyer 811;(9) K. Harvick 807;(10) T. Stewart 769;(11) K. Kahne 751;(12) Kyle Busch 746.


Next Race: Sep. 8, 2012 - Richmond International Raceway

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