Sept 2, 2012; Hampton, GA, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) celebrates after winning the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

NASCAR At Atlanta: Denny Hamlin Holds Off Jeff Gordon's Late Charge

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NASCAR Atlanta Results: Carl Edwards Hoping For 'Miracle' To Make Chase

The hits just keep on coming for Carl Edwards and his No. 99 team, which now sits on the brink of championship elimination after engine problems ruined his race on Sunday night at Atlanta.

Edwards, who had a chance to take advantage of his competitors' off-nights and move closer to the top 10 in points, instead tumbled to 14th and now needs what he said would be a "miracle" to make the Chase at Richmond next week.

"I just can't believe this," he said, standing in the garage after his crew pushed the lifeless car off pit road. "We've never had this bad of luck. I've been trying to live right and do the right things, so I hope there's a reason for all of this, but, man, it's just so frustrating."

Edwards said the engine started making an unusual noise roughly 30 laps before it expired, but he was in denial at first. He figured it would be OK, but a piston suddenly broke and his night came to an abrupt end.

"Somebody is trying to teach me something here," he said. "I hope we get all of this out of our system soon, because it sure is fun to go win these races and be in the hunt. This is not fun."

Roush Fenway Racing, which uses Roush Yates Engines, hardly ever has significant motor trouble. The last time Edwards suffered a blown engine was in October 2009 at Charlotte.

"I don't ever quit and this team doesn't ever quit, but, man, that's getting kicked when you're down right there," he said.

Edwards needs the following things to happen in order for him to make the Chase:

• He must win at Richmond;

• He must finish 15 spots better than Jeff Gordon;

• He must finish 27 spots better than Kyle Busch.

Obviously, that's a lot to ask. Richmond is one of Busch's best tracks, so the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would have to get caught up in some sort of crash or have engine trouble like the No. 99 car in order for Edwards to catch up. At the same time, Edwards must win at a place where he's never gone to Victory Lane (though he did finish second in last year's fall Richmond race).

"It's so amazing how many things can compound and go bad, but we're still standing up and everybody is alright," he said. "We'll go racing at Richmond for the win. There's no better place. (Atlanta) is as good as it gets and Richmond is almost as good as this place for us."

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After Sixth-Place Atlanta Result, Kyle Busch In Decent Position To Make NASCAR's Chase

With a sixth-place result on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch controls his own destiny entering the final race of the regular season – all he has to do is win.

But Busch has a backup plan, too. If he or another one-win driver doesn't win the race and Busch maintains his wild card points lead over Jeff Gordon, Busch will still get into the Chase.

"Richmond is a place where we would like to win because that would set us up really well for making this Chase," Busch said. "But we've also got to have a game plan if we're not capable of winning. ... I'm not going to say that we're comfortable or that we're going to be in yet, because anything could happen. Jeff's no slouch at Richmond, either."

A victory at Richmond is a realistic outcome for Busch, as he won the spring race in April. In 15 starts at the historic half-mile, Busch has four wins and an average finish of 4.76.

But for part of Sunday night's race, it looked as though Busch wouldn't have to worry much about Richmond. He led 66 laps in the first half of the Atlanta race before ultimately finishing sixth.

The Joe Gibbs Racing left pit road in ninth prior to the final restart and was generally satisfied with his day – and also pleased teammate Denny Hamlin prevented Gordon from picking up a crucial win.

"Overall, our night was good," Busch said. "We ran up front and had a good long run car. But we didn't get what we needed to on that last pit stop and came out ninth. We passed a few of the cars we needed to and our teammate did us justice by keeping (Gordon) out of Victory Lane."

Other drivers still mathematically eligible for a wild card spot include Paul Menard, Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. Kasey Kahne currently holds the other wild card spot with two wins, but has not yet clinched.

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NASCAR Atlanta Results: Jeff Gordon Regrets Not Bumping Denny Hamlin

With the checkered flag ready to be waved on the NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon was in the position he wanted to be in as he closed in on race leader Denny Hamlin.

As the pair raced off of Turn 2, Gordon had a run on Hamlin and had to make a decision on how to best get around the No. 11 machine: Should he use his momentum and attempt to pass Hamlin on the outside, or should he get to the back of Hamlin's bumper and move him up out of the groove?

Gordon chose the first option, and it was a decision he immediately regretted afterward as he bobbled between Turns 3 and 4, leaving Hamlin to drive away with the victory.

"I'm just mad at myself right now," Gordon said. "I guess I'm getting soft at my old age; I'm too nice. Fifteen years ago, I would have just moved him up the racetrack. I don't know why I didn't do that."

For Gordon, it was choice that could come to define his season, as he desperately needed a victory Sunday to put himself in excellent shape to make the Chase. Instead, he will now head to next week's regular season finale at Richmond in the same position he entered Atlanta: Needing a win to salvage his season or miss out on the playoffs for just the second time in his career.

"We got a lot of pressure on us, so we're going to be going there guns loaded and ready to do battle," Gordon said. "I mean, just like what we did tonight.

"We're just going to fight all the way to that last lap. Short track is a little bit different than mile-and-a-half. I think everybody expects there to be a little more pushing and shoving on the short track. So that's definitely going to ramp up the intensity."

But with his season hanging in the balance, Gordon made it clear that he won't be so nice if he finds himself in the same position at Richmond on the white flag lap.

"Don't get in front of me on the last lap," Gordon (somewhat) jokingly told third-place finisher Brad Keselowski.

"That race is always intense," Gordon continued. "I've been a part of it when I was either trying to get in – like this – or trying to stay in the Chase. There is so much on the line and trying to win the race.

"But when you look at how many guys have to win, the points and everything else, it's going to be a pretty crazy night."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Goes From Embarrassed To Pleased After Top-10 Atlanta Result

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a seventh-place result at Atlanta on Sunday night, so you wouldn't think he'd use words like "embarrassed," "disappointed" and "worried" to describe his race.

But after being caught a lap down early and running 18th or 19th for most of the night, Earnhardt Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports team were able to pull out a good finish despite a car he said was "real bad."

"I thought it wasn't that bad in practice, but it just wasn't good," he said. "We'll have to start from scratch."

Uh oh, Junior Nation. You hear that? Start from scratch? Sound the alarms! With half the Chase consisting of 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta, Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team are S-C-R-E-W-E-D.

"We've got a year to figure it out before we come back," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Wait, what? Don't panic just yet, people.

As it turns out, Atlanta is so unique because of its track surface that Earnhardt Jr. wasn't the least bit concerned the weekend's struggles could carry over to the Chase.

"We got a lot of ideas and I'm not worried by no means," he said. "There's not another track like this on the circuit, so I'm not too worried about the Chase. It's not really a gauge of how we're going to run, I don't think, going forward."

And in case you were thinking Earnhardt Jr. and his team were trying some crazy experimental setup, that wasn't the case, either. The reason is the same as why Earnhardt Jr. isn't worried about the Chase – because Atlanta doesn't apply to anywhere else.

"That track is really worn out, and you run a lot of old, traditional stuff here," he said. "What we had just wasn't working for me."

Anyway, Earnhardt Jr. and his team did manage to get a top-10 out of what should have been a crappy night, so at least that's something. The driver said it was a reminder to "not implode or self-destruct when things aren't going right."

"It showed us tonight no matter how bad things are looking that you have to keep plugging away, because you never know what might happen," he said.

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Now What? A Look At The 2012 NASCAR Chase Picture After Atlanta

With just one race remaining until NASCAR's Chase field is set, nine spots of the 12 playoff spots are already clinched heading into the final regular-season race at Richmond.

But after Sunday night's Atlanta race, there's still much to be decided about which drivers will compete for the championship.

Here's a look at the Chase picture after the Atlanta results:

Top nine are all good

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.

Final spot in the top 10 still available

Tony Stewart is just 18 points ahead of Kasey Kahne for the final spot in the top 10, and even Kyle Busch could still take a top-10 position if Stewart has trouble. Busch is 23 points behind Stewart, so if the defending champ is involved in some kind of early wreck, that top-10 spot could be up for grabs.

Stewart would still make the Chase as a wild card if he fell out, but his three victories wouldn't count toward the playoffs. Plus, it could have an impact on the wild card picture for other drivers (see below).

Wild Card No. 1

Kasey Kahne has not clinched a wild card spot yet. Why? Because if Stewart falls out of the top 10 and Jeff Gordon wins at Richmond, Gordon could theoretically move ahead of Kahne in the wild card standings. Meanwhile, Stewart's wild card would come with three wins, so he'd have the No. 1 spot and Kahne would be gone.

But that's fairly unlikely, and Kahne is the heavy favorite to get one of the wild cards heading into Richmond.

Wild Card No. 2

Here's where it gets really tricky, so let's break it down by driver:

Kyle Busch is in the best position because he's 12 points ahead of Gordon for the final wild card spot and already has a win. So he'd make the Chase if he just finishes in the top 10 while none of the other one-win drivers go to Victory Lane, or he could be in if he just won himself. And he's really good at Richmond.

Jeff Gordon needs to either finish 13 points ahead of Busch (who has the tiebreaker) and hope none of the other one-win guys go to Victory Lane. Or he could just win the race and get in that way.

Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano all need to win the race. Win, and they're likely in. No need to worry about points, really.

Carl Edwards is fairly screwed despite being 14th in the standings. He needs to not only win at Richmond, but he also needs to make up 26 points on Busch and 14 points on Gordon. It's a very tall order.

Paul Menard can only get in if he wins and the track opens up and swallows the No. 18 and No. 24 cars. But it's still mathematically possible, unless I calculated wrong.

Everyone else is eliminated, including top-20 drivers like Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton.

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NASCAR At Atlanta Results: Denny Hamlin Holds Off Jeff Gordon For Win

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, Hamlin scored his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his series-best fourth 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.

Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Truex and Kevin Harvick.

After the midpoint of the race, Harvick and Hamlin established themselves as the class of the field, running away from the pack after a restart on Lap 135. Hamlin's team opted to stretch fuel mileage, intending to finish the race on one more stop after coming to pit road under green on Lap 221.

Harvick had pitted for fuel and four tires on Lap 216 and would have needed two more stops to make it to the end of the race. The tradeoff was that the extra five laps on new tires had given Harvick an 8.4-second lead over Hamlin after the cycle of stops.

Hamlin, however, trimmed a second per lap from Harvick's advantage and had pulled up to the bumper of the No. 29 Chevrolet when caution for Juan Pablo Montoya's brush with the outside wall on Lap 241 made all the fuel calculations moot.

Hamlin beat Harvick off pit road under the yellow and held the top spot after a restart on Lap 248. Truex moved past Harvick into the second position one lap later and kept Hamlin in his sights during the ensuing green flag run.

Running a higher line than Hamlin, Truex was moments away from taking the lead when the engine in Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford blew on Lap 264, causing the fourth caution of the night. The early end to Edwards' night forces last year's Chase runner-up to win next Saturday at Richmond to have a chance at a wild-card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Pit stops on Lap 266 put fuel strategy back into play. Hamlin, for instance, left pit road needing to save four laps worth of fuel to get to the checkered flag. On the restart on Lap 270, though, the entire tenor of the race changed when Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. wrecked on the backstretch.

His car destroyed, Newman's only realistic avenue into the Chase is the same as Edwards' -- victory at Richmond.

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NASCAR Atlanta Starting Lineup: Tony Stewart On Surprising Pole For Tonight's Race

Tony Stewart will lead the starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and that's a bit surprising.

Why? Because as good as Stewart is – three championships and 47 career wins – the driver has never been much of a qualifier.

Stewart's pole position earned in Friday's qualifying was just the 14th of his 14-year career – and just his fourth pole in the last seven years.

So what gives? Why isn't Stewart a good qualifier?

"I think the biggest thing is we get so focused on the race balance of the car that I just never historically in this series been a good qualifier," he said. "I don't know why that is. I've just never been great on it. I feel like we're always good in race runs, but qualifying is just obviously not my strong suit.

"That's kind of what makes today cool. ... I wish I could qualify better more often, because I have to pass more cars every week when we start where we qualify normally."

Here's the full starting lineup for NASCAR's Atlanta race tonight (set for a green-flag time of 7:49 p.m. Eastern):

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Greg Biffle
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Mark Martin
  7. Denny Hamlin
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Marcos Ambrose
  11. Kasey Kahne
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Aric Almirola
  14. David Ragan
  15. Sam Hornish Jr.
  16. Kurt Busch
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Casey Mears
  20. Jamie McMurray
  21. Brad Keselowski
  22. Dave Blaney
  23. Danica Patrick
  24. Kevin Harvick
  25. Bobby Labonte
  26. Jeff Burton
  27. Regan Smith
  28. Martin Truex Jr.
  29. David Gilliland
  30. Clint Bowyer
  31. David Stremme
  32. Trevor Bayne
  33. Juan Pablo Montoya
  34. Jason Leffler
  35. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  36. Scott Speed
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. Reed Sorenson
  39. Scott Riggs
  40. Landon Cassill
  41. Travis Kvapil
  42. TJ Bell
  43. JJ Yeley
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NASCAR At Atlanta 2012: TV Viewer's Guide For Tonight's Race

Storylines, notes and three drivers to watch for in tonight's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

Storylines

How reliable are the Hendrick engines?

With seven combined wins and three drivers a virtual lock to make the Chase, there is little doubt in the garage that Hendrick Motorsports is the organization everyone else is measuring themselves against. But if there is one area of concern for Hendrick, it would have to pertain to the reliability of its engines.

That uneasiness arose two weeks ago at Michigan when the team suffered four motor failures throughout the course of the weekend - including three during the race itself.

And like Michigan, Atlanta is a high-speed oval where engines are often pushed to and frequently beyond the limits. So was Michigan simply an aberration, or a serious chink in the Hendrick armor? One way or another, 500 miles of hard racing tonight should give us a better understanding of whether this is truly the team everyone else is gunning for in the Chase.

Atlanta: A Sign of What's To Come In The Chase

There are a lot of variables that need to come together if a team is to excel during the Chase and contend for the title. Chief among those variables is the ability to perform well on the mile-and-a-half tracks which constitute half of the 10 races (Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead). If you don't have speed on the intermediate style tracks, winning a championship is nothing more than a pipedream.

This is why tonight will be a great indicator of who has what on the 1.5-mile ovals. Yes, Atlanta is different than the above five tracks, but if a team struggles this evening, it's hard to believe they will be much of a factor in the Chase. Look back to last year's race, when all five drivers who ended the season 1-5 in points finished somewhere in the top 10.

Jeff Gordon Needs A Repeat of Last Year

Atlanta Motor Speedway has produced a lot of good memories for Jeff Gordon over the years. Twenty years ago this was the site of his first career Sprint Cup Series and also a track where he has been victorious five times - including 12 months ago when he led 146 laps en route to his third win of the year.

Now, on the brink of not qualifying for the Chase, Gordon needs another dose of Atlanta magic to reinvigorate his year. And as Gordon said himself on Friday, just about any result other than a win will be seen as a disappointment. Because anything less than a victory will really put the screws to him with just one race left in the regular season.

Worth Noting
  • Tony Stewart isn't known for his qualifying prowess, but when he does start on the pole he typically performs quite well. This is noted by the fact he has 10 top 10 finishes in the 13 races he's started P1.
  • Tonight, Dancia Patrick will join Shawna Robinson and Janet Guthrie as the only women to start a Cup race at Atlanta.
Favorites

1. Greg Biffle

As evident by his victories this season at Texas and Michigan, it is obvious Greg Biffle isn't lacking for speed on the intermediate tracks. And with Biffle pacing the final round of practice, it is equally obvious that the No. 16 team has brought that speed to Atlanta.

2. Kyle Busch

Despite a win here in 2008, Atlanta hasn't been one of Kyle Busch's better tracks, as he has just three top 10s in 14 starts. But hungry - some would say desperate - and with a Toyota that was quick in every practice session, Busch will be up front at the end contending for his second victory of the year.

3. Brad Keselowski

An accident last week at Bristol snapped Brad Keselowski's top 10 streak at seven. No matter, as the driver of the Blue Deuce was near the top of the leaderboard in practice and should be in the hunt for his second of the season on a 1.5-mile track.

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Kevin Harvick Upset With Brad Keselowski's Water Bottle Toss, But NASCAR Says It Didn't Cause Caution At Atlanta

Kevin Harvick was angry – understandably so – after a late debris caution in Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Atlanta benefited two of his competitors and ultimately may have cost him the win.

Due to the timing of the caution – which fell at the end of green-flag pit stops – two drivers were able to pit for fresher tires than Harvick. One of those drivers, Brad Keselowski, helped push eventual race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. past Harvick.

Around the time of the debris caution, ESPN showed viewers at home – and on Sprint Vision screens at the track – an in-car video of Keselowski throwing a water bottle out of his window during the green flag. While that's a common practice for drivers, it led many viewers to believe the caution was connected to the water bottle based on the TV images.

Even Harvick's team thought the water bottle was the "debris" which brought out the yellow. Harvick was told about the water bottle toss while still in the car, and it infuriated him – especially when Keselowski wasn't penalized for it.

But as it turned out, he and his team had the wrong information. Keselowski did throw a water bottle out the window, but that didn't have anything to do with the yellow flag.

"The debris TV showed first was a water bottle, which is not why we threw the caution," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said after the race. "There was a piece of aluminum up there...some debris up on the outside getting into Turn 1. While the caution was out, we picked up the water bottle also."

ESPN later showed a worker picking up the aluminum piece after the water bottle incident. Pemberton said drivers are allowed to toss plastic water bottles out of the window during the race and that it is a common practice.

"We understand that they do (throw bottles)," Pemberton said. "Normally, they'll wind up falling to the inside of the track or the apron or something like that. Occasionally, we've seen in past years where they throw out a big drink bottle and we can't tell what it is (and it prompts a caution), but that's been awhile. We don't hit anybody (with a penalty) for throwing a plastic water bottle out."

Harvick, though, did not receive that explanation immediately after the race. Thinking the water bottle cost him the race, he walked from his car to where Keselowski's No. 22 was parked on pit road and confronted the driver for a cheap move.

Keselowski looked surprised and said he had no clue what Harvick was talking about, because it was news to him that a water bottle had caused the caution. The Penske Racing driver later said he was confused because he threw the bottle out of the window 15 or 20 laps before the caution, and that it was one of three bottles he tossed during the race.

But Harvick, who had one of the most dominant cars in any series this season, was in no mood to let the water bottle incident go when he visited the media center – and sat right next to Keselowski.

"It's pretty obvious," Harvick said. "They put it on TV and showed it, and the caution came out the same lap. He told me after the race: 'You've never thrown a water bottle out?' You know what that means.

"He told me it was intentional. So it is what it is."

Then Harvick turned to Keselowski.

"Sleep good," he said sarcastically. On his way out of the media center, Harvick lightly smacked Keselowski's cheek twice.

For his part, Keselowski said he was "caught off guard" by the focus on the water bottle because he did not believe it was connected to the caution. The driver said all drivers throw bottles and helmet visor tear-offs out of their cars.

Keselowski said Harvick was just frustrated, and he sympathized with the Richard Childress Racing veteran.

"Sometimes in racing, you do everything right and it just doesn't work out," he said. "If you're not mad about it, you're not a racer. So how can I sit here and bash Kevin? Kevin is a racer, and he had the best car and didn't win. If he wasn't mad as hell, I would personally be mad at him, because that's his job. That's why he's a great racer.

"So just give him some time. He'll figure out the situation with NASCAR. Cooler heads will prevail, and that's just the way it is."

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NASCAR At Atlanta 2012: Start Time, Lineup, TV/Radio Schedule, Live Streaming Info And More

It's NASCAR race night at Atlanta Motor Speedway and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about tonight's race for you below.

What time does the race start tonight? The CEO of race sponsor AdvoCare will give the command for drivers to fire their engines at 7:40 p.m. Eastern time tonight. Following a few pace laps, the drivers will take the green flag at 7:49 p.m. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race itself, turn on your TV set at 7:49 p.m. EDT.

Race name/distance: The AdvoCare 500 is a 500.5-mile race around the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, which consists of 325 laps. The Cup cars will run 200 miles longer than the Nationwide cars and 300 miles longer than the Trucks.

TV and radio: Tonight's race can be seen on ESPN. Every Sprint Cup Series race for the rest of the season will be seen on network. There IS live streaming of the race tonight, using the Watch ESPN App and NASCAR.com's RaceBuddy. You can listen on the Performance Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check PRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.

Twitter: If you're planning to be away from your TV or radio and want updates tonight, you can follow me on Twitter. I'll be tweeting live race updates from the track.

National anthem: As per Atlanta tradition, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound will perform tonight's national anthem. Haase and his group are a Southern gospel quartet, and they've performed the Atlanta anthem for the past several years.

Tickets: Atlanta is not close to a sellout and there are plenty of tickets available for tonight's race if you're thinking of making a last-minute trip.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, predicts hot and humid weather with a chance of scattered storms. It's tough to tell if one of the storms will hit the track – he compares the storms to throwing marbles down on the ground and watching them scatter – but there could be a delay if the track is soaked by one.

Last time: Jeff Gordon moved into third on NASCAR's all-time wins list by picking up his 85th career victory last season at Atlanta. Unfortunately for Gordon, he's won only one time since and needs another victory tonight to help get him into the Chase with a wild card.

Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Greg Biffle
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Mark Martin
  7. Denny Hamlin
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Marcos Ambrose
  11. Kasey Kahne
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Aric Almirola
  14. David Ragan
  15. Sam Hornish Jr.
  16. Kurt Busch
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Casey Mears
  20. Jamie McMurray
  21. Brad Keselowski
  22. Dave Blaney
  23. Danica Patrick
  24. Kevin Harvick
  25. Bobby Labonte
  26. Jeff Burton
  27. Regan Smith
  28. Martin Truex Jr.
  29. David Gilliland
  30. Clint Bowyer
  31. David Stremme
  32. Trevor Bayne
  33. Juan Pablo Montoya
  34. Jason Leffler
  35. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  36. Scott Speed
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. Reed Sorenson
  39. Scott Riggs
  40. Landon Cassill
  41. Travis Kvapil
  42. TJ Bell
  43. JJ Yeley
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Travis Pastrana Closes Out 2012 NASCAR Schedule With Best Career Run

Travis Pastrana's final NASCAR race of the season was on pace to be his best until he made a mistake in the closing laps on Saturday night at Atlanta, hitting the wall with 26 laps to go.

The incident derailed what had been the best drive of his career since coming to the Nationwide Series at the start of the season, and he even led the first laps of his NASCAR career – the result of staying out under caution as the leaders pitted on lap 119.

But Pastrana's position wasn't entirely the result of a fluke. The X Games star had managed to stay on the lead lap for the majority of the first half of the race, even as Kevin Harvick had lapped over half the field. Pastrana had looked more than competitive in the early going.

Pastrana, who recently starred in the Nitro Circus 3D movie, admitted he was excited and nervous leading his first laps on a restart, describing it as a "really cool feeling."

Though he was swallowed up by the cars behind him on the lap 127 restart – most of them on fresher tires – it taught him a valuable lesson in tire management in his transition to NASCAR. Pastrana's older tires did not stick as well as those with fresher rubber and Pastrana rode up the banking in Turn 4 and pancaked the outside retaining wall.

He drove his car to pit road, received repairs and finished the race in 26th, 22 laps down.

"I learned that you can't keep running that pace on tires that have an extra 20 laps on them, especially at this track on those tires, but we were," Pastrana said. "We could do it for a few laps. It's just a matter of it going to bite you eventually, you need to start back in the corner, and I paid the price for it."

Atlanta was the final race of his planned eight-race Nationwide Series schedule this season.

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Danica Patrick: 'I Definitely Didn't Mean To Cause An Accident' In Atlanta NASCAR Nationwide Race

Danica Patrick indirectly affected the result of Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway when her contact with James Buescher brought out the final caution and set up a wild finish involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

Patrick was running the high line on the backstretch when it appeared as if Buescher drifted up the track and made contact with Patrick's No. 7 Chevrolet. The contact sent Buescher into the inside retaining wall and also collected Mike Bliss and Kyle Fowler. Buescher was unable to finish and took 23rd while Patrick continued on to finish 13th - two laps off the pace.

"We started running the high line and the grip was so good that we got a run off the exit," Patrick said. "It was typical Atlanta racing where the top-runners get off the corner really well and the guys on the bottom don't have any momentum coming out.

"I definitely didn't mean to cause an accident but everyone was fighting for position and I had to respect the outside lane, carry the momentum, and just found myself in an accident."

Patrick struggled all weekend but seemed to find momentum in the second half of the race. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. instructed Patrick to move up the banking and she responded with faster lap times. She even stayed on the lead lap for a majority of the middle stages of the race before falling to the leaders and making contact with Buescher.

"We were loose the whole time but Tony did a great job of getting me back on the lead lap for a bit – but I just wasn't fast enough," Patrick said. "We made the most of our day and we brought it home, which is always a good thing."

Patrick had one of the more dramatic days of anyone in the field as she also ran over tire debris from Denny Hamlin's wounded car on lap 84. Despite a warning from her spotter, Patrick chose to run directly over the shredded tire instead of swerving to avoid it. This was similar to an incident at Montreal where Patrick ran over a shoe that was tossed onto the racing surface.

"I'm really not shocked by anything in front of me anymore," Patrick said. "I don't know what is next. There was nothing I could do to miss it and if I had tried to yank the steering wheel to avoid it, I probably would have spun. So I had no choice but to hit it. I don't think it caused any damage which is a good thing.

Patrick will also compete in Sunday night's Sprint Cup Series race; she's set to start in 23rd.

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NASCAR Atlanta Nationwide Series Results: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Steals Race On Last Lap

There's an arrest warrant out for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -- or perhaps there should be -- after the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion stole Saturday night's NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stenhouse grabbed the lead from Kevin Harvick on the final lap, after a restart with three laps remaining. Contact between the cars of Danica Patrick and James Buescher caused the eighth and final caution and set up the three-lap run to the finish.

Brad Keselowski, on fresh tires, passed Harvick for the second spot. Harvick ran third, followed by Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.

Before the final restart, however, Harvick had the race in hand, leading 157 laps and opening an advantage that exceeded 16 seconds at one point.

Emblematic of Harvick's dominance was a restart on Lap 127. Travis Pastrana had stayed out under caution for Eric McClure's brush with the Turn 2 wall and led the first laps of his Nationwide career under yellow.

Under green? Another matter. Pastrana led the field to the restart, but before the field cleared Turn 2, Harvick had powered from fifth to first, as Stenhouse tried in vain to keep pace.

Harvick lost the lead briefly during a cycle of green-flag pit stops late in the race, but he was back in front for a restart on Lap 188, after NASCAR called the seventh caution of the night on Lap 182 of 195 for debris in Turn 1.

After the race, Harvick had harsh words for Keselowski, who threw a water bottle from his car before NASCAR called the debris caution. NASCAR officials said the water bottle was not the reason for the caution.

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NASCAR At Atlanta: Can Teammates Help Each Other Make The Chase?

How much help is a teammate who's locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup willing to give a teammate who's struggling to make it?

Would a driver be asked to give up a victory to help a teammate make the Chase, and, if asked, would he do so?

Three major Cup teams -- Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing -- have drivers either locked in or all but certain to make Chase. Each also has one or more drivers on the Chase bubble who might need help from a teammate to clinch a berth in NASCAR's 10-race playoff.

Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards, who lost last year's championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, is 12th in the Cup standings this season but winless through 24 races. A victory Sunday at Atlanta or Sept. 8 at Richmond likely would propel Edwards into the Chase.

"You're always thinking a little bit about what you can do to help a teammate, possibly, especially when it comes down to two races like this," said Greg Biffle, Edwards' teammate and the current Cup points leader. "Will one point or two points make a difference? In Carl's situation, not really. A win is the only thing that's going to make a difference. Would I give up the win to get Carl into the Chase? It would have to come down to circumstances.

"I would say it's unlikely. That's a very hard call, because I take those three points (bonus points for a win) into the Chase. If I give the win to Carl, Carl makes the Chase, and I lose the championship by two or one or three -- that's a hard call. And really, if you think about it, our sponsor, and the guys that work on this car, and the crew chief, and our owner, Jack (Roush), wants us to do the best we can and expects us to do the best we can and succeed. . . .

"That's what everybody expects. If Carl is on the inside of me, and we're racing hard for the position, am I going to give him maybe a little bit more room or something? That could be maybe a more likely scenario than just saying, 'Oh, go ahead. He's 10 car-lengths back, it's the white flag, and I'm going to give him the win.' "

Among the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. already have earned Chase positions. With two wins, Kasey Kahne holds the first of two provisional wild-card spots.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, on the other hand, is in danger of missing the Chase for only the second time since NASCAR's playoff format debuted in 2004. Gordon is 14th in the standings, 16 points behind 13th-place Kyle Busch, who currently occupies the second provisional wild-card position.

Gordon and Busch have one victory each this season, and a win for either driver in the next two races likely would mean a Chase spot. Should neither Gordon nor Busch get to Victory Lane, Gordon could overtake Busch by scoring 17 more points than the Gibbs driver over the next two races -- provided none of the other one-victory wild-card hopefuls (Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose or Joey Logano) gets a win.

If Gordon needs a handful of points, can he count on his teammates to give up a position to help him -- short of sacrificing the chance to win a race?

It's a complex problem, and it involves striking a balance between organizational and individual goals. Team owner Rick Hendrick's stated desire at the start of the season was to put all four of his cars in the Chase. But at what price, given that the integrity of competition also is involved if one driver allows a teammate to win?

In Kahne's case, the first priority is securing a Chase spot for his No. 5 Chevrolet team. Beyond that, the object is to keep the non-Hendrick drivers out of Victory Lane by running up front.

"I think, basically as a team, we try to take up as many of the spots up front as possible, and if we can do that, we're getting more points than the other guys," Kahne told the NASCAR Wire Service after Nationwide qualifying on Saturday. "I don't think there's a lot of things you could do, or would really want to do, but we'll definitely all work hard to run as close to the front as possible. That gets us all points."

How about giving up a position to get Gordon an extra point, if he needed it?

"I'm racing to get in myself," Kahne said. "Jimmie and Dale are locked in, so I don't know what they would do or how they would think about that, but I could miss it just as easily as Jeff can at this point."

Denny Hamlin, a virtual lock for the Chase with three wins, says there's not much he could do to help Busch, his teammate, qualify for the Chase. Sacrificing a victory is out of the question.

"There's nothing we can do for him, really," Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service. "What happens when it comes down to Richmond -- I know we're both good at Richmond -- say I'm 1, he's 2, and he needs it. There's no way I can justify to my guys and my team that we're going to give up three points in the Chase to get a teammate in.

"I think all that comes into play, and really there's just nothing you can do. We're teammates within the shop. The crew chiefs are teammates and all that, but when you get out there and try to race, you're just doing all you can, and there's not much you can do other than don't try to screw up your teammates. Don't race him hard or put him in a bad spot on restarts -- that's about all you can do."

Biffle also hopes that no organization will resort to questionable tactics to gain a Chase spot for one of its drivers.

"We don't like to see that," Biffle said. "We expect people to race heads-up and not to bring out a caution or spin out to bring a caution out when somebody's leading and somebody just pitted and trap 'em a lap down.

"You don't want to be the guy doing that, and you don't want to be labeled as that team or that company. At least I don't. I'm not going to put myself in that spot."

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NASCAR Nationwide Series Atlanta Race Preview: Title Fight Gets Tense

Wearing protective driving gloves is status quo in NASCAR racing, but after last weekend's Nationwide Series scrum at Bristol Motor Speedway, the gloves -- in hockey terms, anyway -- have been dropped for the tour's top two drivers.

Series leader Elliott Sadler and defending Nationwide champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will renew their suddenly tense championship battle in tonight's NRA American Warrior 300 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stenhouse nudged his way past Sadler during the two-lap sprint to the finish in last Friday night's Food City 250 at Bristol, securing a runner-up finish for himself and relegating Sadler to fifth. The move whittled three points off Sadler's series lead, which now stands at 19.

The two title contenders had a pointed post-race conversation that may set the tone for the final 10-race stretch.

"I told him, we've always raced each other with a lot of respect," Sadler said Friday at Bristol. "I'm glad he didn't wreck us, but it's not the finish we deserved. He opened it up. Now we can race differently the last 10 races."

Atlanta's high-speed high banks are not the most conducive for issuing paybacks, but if sparks were to fly for the series' top two, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon are within striking distance. Hornish, whose recent surge was tempered somewhat by a 10th-place finish at Bristol, is 28 points behind Sadler in third. Dillon, the top Nationwide rookie, is 35 points off the top in fourth place.

Five Sprint Cup Series regulars -- Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski -- are entered in the 300-mile event, which has been monopolized by Cup stars in recent years. The last NASCAR Nationwide Series regular to win at Atlanta was Jamie McMurray in 2002.

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NASCAR Atlanta Starting Lineup 2012: Tony Stewart Leads Qualifying For AdvoCare 500

Tony Stewart doesn't win pole positions very often. In fact, throughout his multi-championship, 47-win career, Stewart had only 13 poles in 488 starts heading into this weekend.

Make that 14.

Stewart, one of the final cars to go out in Friday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway, posted a lap of 186.121 mph by using the high line to bump Greg Biffle from the top spot. The defending champion will start on the pole for only the fourth time in the last seven years.

Biffle will start second, followed by Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. The top 10 was completed by Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose.

Danica Patrick, making her fifth career start, qualified a career-best 23rd – ahead of drivers like Kevin Harvick (24th), Clint Bowyer (30th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (35th).

Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss failed to qualify for the race.

Here is the starting lineup for Sunday's AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Greg Biffle
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Mark Martin
  7. Denny Hamlin
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Marcos Ambrose
  11. Kasey Kahne
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Aric Almirola
  14. David Ragan
  15. Sam Hornish Jr.
  16. Kurt Busch
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Casey Mears
  20. Jamie McMurray
  21. Brad Keselowski
  22. Dave Blaney
  23. Danica Patrick
  24. Kevin Harvick
  25. Bobby Labonte
  26. Jeff Burton
  27. Regan Smith
  28. Martin Truex Jr.
  29. David Gilliland
  30. Clint Bowyer
  31. David Stremme
  32. Trevor Bayne
  33. Juan Pablo Montoya
  34. Jason Leffler
  35. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  36. Scott Speed
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. Reed Sorenson
  39. Scott Riggs
  40. Landon Cassill
  41. Travis Kvapil
  42. TJ Bell
  43. JJ Yeley
DNQ: Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Stephen Leicht, Mike Bliss.
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Jeff Gordon: Repaving Track Surfaces Is Hurting NASCAR

Atlanta Motor Speedway is fast, challenging and bumpy, and it also features multiple grooves which allows drivers to race side-by-side. In essence, it's a driver's track – and it's one of Jeff Gordon's favorite tracks to compete on.

So during his weekly media session on Friday, Gordon was passionate about the need to keep Atlanta just the way it is and not fall victim to the latest trend in NASCAR: Tracks unnecessarily repaving their racing surfaces.

"I feel like we're hurting this sport by doing all these repaves," Gordon said.

In the last six years alone, 10 different tracks have undergone some sort of repaving/reconfiguration. However, Atlanta is one of the few tracks which has not – and it's not a coincidence that drivers say the racing on the 1.5-mile oval is some of the best on the Sprint Cup Series circuit.

The frequency at which tracks are repaving their surfaces is "extremely disappointing to me," Gordon said.

"I feel like it's challenging Goodyear in ways that has to be frustrating to them," he said. "It challenges the teams and everybody. And it takes away from putting the best race out there as well.

"We come here and this place is old, worn-out, cracks everywhere and yet every driver loves it. We're slipping and sliding around and the racing is pretty spectacular."

Gordon acknowledged it is sometimes inevitable for tracks to have to resurface for reasons out of their control. Daytona, for example, had issues with a pothole during the 2010 edition of the Daytona 500.

But what Gordon wants is for tracks to be mindful of what a repave will do to the caliber of the racing. And when a repave is necessary, Gordon hoped tracks would use a different material than is currently being used (other drivers have said recent repaves are almost too good because the tracks don't wear out).

"I just hope that more tracks aren't looking at when they're going to repave, but how you accomplish what's out there right now with a repave," Gordon said. "Because we're paving these race tracks with what we're trying to pave highways with – and this is not a highway. This is a racetrack and I think the whole model of repaving needs to be rethought and readjusted.

"I know we can come up with better surfaces – not longer-lasting surfaces – but one that is better for racing and what we're looking for as drivers, teams and fans."

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Danica Patrick Faces Another NASCAR Sprint Cup Challenge At Atlanta

A few laps after Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were involved in a helmet-tossing incident at last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol, Danica Patrick considered doing the same thing to Regan Smith.

Patrick, who was defying expectations (including her own) by running on the lead lap at Bristol in the latter stages of the race, was wrecked by Smith. She contemplated giving Smith the finger as she stood on on the apron, but decided just to wave her index finger at him instead.

"Fans love that stuff," Patrick said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where she'll compete in Sunday night's Cup race. "They were cheering like heck for me to do something. I wanted to give (Smith) the finger but I've heard that they fine you for that. So I wagged it instead. We could have had a lead-lap finish and a top-20 night."

Patrick believes her success at Bristol is a testament to her progress as a developing NASCAR driver. Her practice times early in the weekend are routinely at the bottom of the charts, but her feedback and diligence has her faster each time she takes to the track. Patrick has admitted to having low goals for her Sprint Cup Series starts but is satisfied with her performance as the race progresses.

"In the Nationwide Series, I don't have goals because they would be much higher than what actually happens," Patrick said. "You never know what to expect when you take that final step to the Sprint Cup level, but it's refreshing to see the car come around, make passes and get faster."

Patrick again practiced near the bottom of the charts on Friday, turning in the 42nd-fastest time out of 47 cars. This weekend's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races will be her first at the 1.5-mile speedway.

She attributes the lack of speed early in the weekend to her car's setup. Patrick prefers to start her weekend on the tight side, with crew chief Greg Zipadelli progressively loosening up the car as the weekend advances.

"I was having all kinds of fun out there this afternoon," Patrick said. "I felt really loose the whole time so it wasn't until the very last run that I feel like we tightened it up enough to be a little more aggressive on the throttle."

Atlanta is the fifth of a planned 10-race schedule intended to introduce Patrick to the Sprint Cup Series. Her remaining races include Chase races at Chicagoland, Kansas, Dover, Texas and Phoenix.

"This is why Tony [Stewart] picked these tracks," Patrick said. "These are important races at the end of the season. They are longer races, races that change from day-to-night, and those are the most important things for me to learn right now."

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NASCAR At Atlanta: Tony Stewart Says He And Matt Kenseth Are Fine

Tony Stewart said he and Matt Kenseth are "fine" after talking Friday morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and he hopes to move on from their incident at Bristol.

"It's like we mentioned earlier in the week: We have too much to do the last 10 weeks to be worrying about each other," Stewart told reporters after recording the third-fastest time in practice. "It's just like we always said: There are 43 people out there and they are not always going to agree on the track at the same time. The big thing is getting it done and over with now."

At the start of his interview session, Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark approached and gave Stewart an Atlanta Braves jersey (the joke being the Braves need someone who can throw as well as Stewart threw his helmet at Kenseth).

Stewart did not seem particularly amused and told Clark to go away before he agreed to pose for a picture with the jersey.

Later, the driver said he understood why fans were so entertained by the incident at Bristol.

"People like emotion," he said. "Every other sport gets a cool-off period, every other sport you get time to calm down, where our deal, it's a little bit different – we don't have that. It's not like one play is a bad play and you go to another play; the bad deal for us is we are done for the day. That is where it's different."

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NASCAR At Atlanta: Kyle Busch Finds Chase Bubble Situation 'Stressful'

Kyle Busch isn't struggling in points this season because he's lost his edge. The reason he's hanging onto a NASCAR Chase wild card spot by a thread is because his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team has had a lot of bad breaks.

But even though Busch knows he's done virtually everything he can to make the Chase, he's still experiencing some stress in the final weeks until the 10-race playoff field is set.

"It's definitely stressful," Busch said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "Obviously, you know if we miss the Chase, we're just going to be another race car out there on the racetrack running around in circles for the rest of the year."

Though that might seem a bit harsh – and Busch noticed how it sounded – the ultra-competitive driver added: "That's how I feel about it."

"We want to make the Chase and we want to go out there and have the opportunity to race for a championship and be making circles for a reason," he said. "That's just what the year has kind of drawn out of me, I guess. It's just been a frustrating season, a tough one that's tried to bring us down. There really hasn't been too much to be excited about this year."

That said, Busch (currently in the second wild card spot with one win) still has an excellent chance to make the Chase. His goal is just to go after solid finishes and hope that's enough to make it (though a win would obviously help).

Busch is currently 16 points ahead of Jeff Gordon for the final wild card spot (standings here), but if Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano or Carl Edwards win at Atlanta or Richmond, Busch could be bumped out.

"If we run top-five both these weeks and don't score a win, I feel like we still have a really good shot at getting in," he said. "If we run 20th this week, then going into Richmond, it may take a win to make it in. We'll see how it plays out."

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At Atlanta, Matt Kenseth Wants To Put Bristol Incident With Tony Stewart Behind Him

Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart spoke before Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway, according to a photo posted by Stewart's public relations Twitter account.

Earlier in the morning, Kenseth said he had tried to speak with Stewart and couldn't connect with the driver, but he planned to try and talk with him about the incident between the two competitors last week at Bristol.

"Honestly, last week I was really surprised," Kenseth said. "I wasn't trying to put our cars in a bad situation. I thought we were gonna make it through there and I thought it was gonna be alright, so I'm not sure what all went down there."

Kenseth said typically – about "99 percent of the time, at least" – he and Stewart show each other more on-track respect than most competitors do for one another.

"There have been a couple instances here and there," he said. "But overall, we try to show each other a lot of respect and we usually get that back."

Earlier in the week, Stewart already indicated he was willing to move on from the incident. He told reporters during a midweek sponsor appearance that he would not specifically seek out Kenseth for retribution (though he initially said he would after Bristol).

"I can promise you, we'll probably go out and race each other like we always do," Stewart said. "When you've got 43 guys every week, you're not always going to agree. You're going to disagree at times. This isn't new. This isn't the first time something has happened like this, and it's not the first time it's happened with Matt. It's never really lingered to the next week."

Kenseth said there have been times when he's "done dumb things or made people mad," and it's never enjoyable to be in that situation. But after the competitors either apologize or agree to disagree, peace can be easy to come by – and is likely necessary to get rid of the distraction.

"The best thing to do is try to get it in your rearview mirror as quick as you can, try to get whatever problem...resolved and move on and go racing," he said. "You don't want to focus on being mad at somebody or somebody being mad at you – because if you are, you're taking focus away from your goal of trying to win races and try to win for a championship."

All that being said, Kenseth said he understands why other people have been entertained by his incident with Stewart.

"I love watching other people's conflicts," he said. "I mean, everybody does. It's human nature. I think fans loved the helmet toss. I thought that was cool, too, although I wish it wasn't being tossed at me, because it meant that he was upset with me."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Why NASCAR Fans Like Fights And Controversy

When Tony Stewart got out of his wrecked car and chucked his helmet at Matt Kenseth during last week's race at Bristol, many NASCAR fans found it to be highly entertaining.

As it turns out, some of the drivers did, too.

"What's funny to the majority is going to be funny to a race car driver," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "Especially if you had a history with either one of the guys involved in the deal, it makes it a little more personal. ... It's just as entertaining to me as it is to you or anybody else."

Earnhardt Jr. said he assumes fans feel the same way he does when he watches the NFL: He lives vicariously through the emotion seen on the field.

"I'm sure everybody watching the race has somebody's neck they'd like to wring," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There's probably a co-worker or two they wouldn't mind running their fist into his face."

When reporters chuckled at his comment, Earnhardt Jr. said he wasn't really joking.

"It's probably more likely than you imagine," he said.

On a similar note, Jimmie Johnson said fans like seeing fights for the same reason everyone watches reality television.

"People like to watch train wrecks and people like to watch controversy," he said. "We're all intrigued and you love to be a voyeur and check it out. Most of us dislike being in that situation when it happens, but it sure is entertaining to watch."

When Earnhardt Jr. watches football, he loves seeing a physical player make a big hit or express his emotions on the field. Since drivers are limited to what they can do with their cars, it makes a big impact with fans when someone like Stewart throws his helmet.

"(Fans) really connect to that emotion," he said. "It's like if you're driving down the road and somebody cuts you off on the highway, you'd like to shoot them the bird or something. And maybe you do."

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Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip Racing Announce Contract Extension

Michael Waltrip Racing confirmed what has long been rumored on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Both Martin Truex Jr. and Napa Auto Parts have signed three-year contract extensions to stay together.

The announcement marks a culmination in what has been a career year for Truex. With two weeks to go in the regular season, he finds himself fifth in points and is all but guaranteed a spot in the Chase for just the second time in seven full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

"... I think the key thing about today is Martin's attitude toward getting it done," said team co-owner, Michael Waltrip. "He came to Rob (Kaufmann, team co-owner) in April and said, ‘I want to drive this car next year. Y'all figure it out. I'm your guy.' That's the kind of guy you want driving your race car."

In his first two years with the organization,Truex finished no better than 18th in the final championship standings and as such, entering 2012 his future at MWR was in doubt.

But a commitment by the team over the over the offseason – which included bringing in Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, along with crew chief Brian Pattie and competition chief Scott Miller – has paid dividends. Not only is Truex a virtual lock to make the Chase, but so is Bowyer (and the third car shared by Martin, Waltrip and Brian Vickers has consistently been competitive).

"... It's been a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs," Truex said. "But Michael and I got together last year at Texas in April and he said, ‘Look, we're going to get our cars better, but I need you to help me.' Ever since, we've been on an awesome road to improvement.

"With those guys integrating me into the team and giving me some say and making me feel like I'm part of something has probably been one of the coolest and proudest moments of my life. It's been a lot of fun and I just want to keep it going."

According to Truex, both deals are for three years and what is a rarity in NASCAR nowadays, NAPA will be the lone sponsor on the No. 56 Toyota for all 36 races. That fact prompted a rare appearance from NASCAR president Mike Helton, who normally doesn't attend driver-sponsor announcements, but wanted to show his support for a sponsor who is a firm believer in what NASCAR offers.

Now that the deal is done, Truex's attention is focused solely on winning. And although that is something he has yet to do during his tenure at MWR, he has come through this year with a runner-up result at Kansas and third-place finishes at Bristol and Pocono.

"We're right there," said Truex. "We've been close - we've been capable of winning races all year long, we just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times and we've had the car to beat two or three races and we didn't do everything right.

"... For now, it's just a matter of getting that first one out of the way and quit worrying about it and go after a bunch of them. Maybe this will help - it will be great for the guys on the team to not have to worry about where their job is going to be next year and we're very excited about that and are looking forward to what we can do together."

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NASCAR At Atlanta: 2012 Weekend Schedule And Weather Forecast

Scattered showers and even a few thunderstorms are in the weather forecast for this weekend's NASCAR races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It appears it's not a matter of "if" it will rain, but "when" it will rain this weekend.

Atlanta_3_day_nascar_weather_forecast_medium

Very warm and moist air will be in place all weekend long, and when you combine that with daytime heating from the sun, we get scattered showers and thunderstorms. But what do I mean when I use the word "scattered?"

Imagine you have a bag of marbles and you dump the marbles on the floor. What do the marbles do is they scatter all over the floor. You can't predict where the marbles will land all you know is they will stop at random points on the floor. That's similar to the rain showers we can expect this weekend: It's hard to know where a rain shower will form, but if showers and storms start to form, then the threat of a shower or storm hitting the track increases and the radar needs to be watched.

The scenario this weekend doesn't look like a washout for any of the races, but practices and qualifying have a chance of being cancelled because of rain. It will also be very warm and hot as highs Saturday and Sunday reach the upper 80s to low 90s.

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Conditions in Atlanta, GA: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site|Mobile Radar

FRIDAY:
10 a.m EDT
Truck Series Practice – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 75
11:30 a.m EDT
Truck Series Final Practice – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 82
2:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Practice – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 84
4:35 p.m EDT
Truck Series Qualifying – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 85
6:10 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 84
8 p.m EDT
Truck Series Race – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 78

SATURDAY:
9:00 a.m EDT
Nationwide Series Final Practice – Patchy clouds, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 74
3:35 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Qualifying – Sun and clouds, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 88
5:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Sun and clouds, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 87
7:00 p.m EDT
Nationwide Series Race – Mostly cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 78

SUNDAY:
5:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 86
6:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 84
7:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 84
8:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 81
9:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 79
10:30 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Variably cloudy, chc. of scattered showers and storms – temp: 77

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NASCAR Atlanta Preview: Jeff Gordon Seeking Repeat In 2012

Last year's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway meant a milestone for Jeff Gordon. His 85th career victory, after a gripping duel down the stretch with teammate Jimmie Johnson, put him in sole possession of third place on NASCAR's all-time win list ahead of Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

This year, an Atlanta triumph would have even more immediate importance for the four-time Sprint Cup Series champ, who heads into Sunday's AdvoCare 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the 1.54-mile track in an almost must-win situation.

Last season, Gordon was securely locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs after Atlanta, fifth in points with three wins. This year, Gordon's career win total stands at 86 after he prevailed at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 5, but his Chase status remains in limbo with a 14th-place spot in the standings with two races left in the regular season.

"Obviously with what's going on for the Chase, it could be a crucial race for us," said Gordon, a five-time Atlanta winner. "We never go into any race banking on anything. We go in there working hard to win the race, but that's a track where I feel like there's been so few changes, it gives us a little more confidence that we can go in there and have a great weekend."

The top 10 in Sprint Cup points have a mathematical chance of securing their Chase fate after Sunday's 500-miler. The top four of points leader Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth punched their ticket for NASCAR's 10-race postseason last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The hunt for the remaining two wild-card berths remains a lively one. Kasey Kahne remains in control of the first wild-card slot with two wins and his 11th-place position in points. An Atlanta victory would distinguish Gordon from a gaggle of one-win drivers, including provisional second wild-card Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano. Among those one-win drivers, only Gordon and Busch have previously won at Atlanta.

Plenty of other factors could shake up the wild-card race before the regular-season finale Sept. 8 at Richmond International Raceway. If Tony Stewart, a three-time winner this season, were to teeter out of his 10th-place spot in the standings, he would lay claim to a wild-card berth. Additionally, Chase long shot Carl Edwards -- winless, currently 12th in points and a three-time Atlanta winner -- could sneak into the wild-card discussion with a victory Sunday.

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NASCAR's Wildest Wild Card Scenarios Heading Into Atlanta

Aric Almirola in the Chase? Jeff Burton gets the final wild card? How about Jamie McMurray? Here are three extremely unlikely – but possible – wild card scenarios for the last two weeks of NASCAR's 'regular season.'

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