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.
Final Laps: Hamlin wins it on pitroad (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
Press Pass: Jeff Gordon (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
|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 ); 131-134 (Debris Backstretch ); 243-247 (#42 Accident Turn 1 ); 266-269 (Oil on the Track [None]); 271-279 (#48, 22, 39 Accident Backstretch [None]); 321-325 (#1 Accident Frontstretch ).
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