Tropical Storm Lee made more headlines than NASCAR this week after postponing the race in Atlanta until Tuesday and hanging around and threatening to cause havok in Virginia this weekend as well. Fortunately for race fans the storm has moved North and the remnants of the storm, but we keep the victims of the storm that caused carnage from the Gulf coast right up through Maine and into the Maritimes in our collective thoughts and prayers.
Jeff Gordon refused to let a little rain stop him in Atlanta.Ã‚Â After dominating the race for most of the day Gordon proved that perseverance pays off.Ã‚Â After waiting 2 extra days to run the race, the driver of the #24 car felt it was definitely worth the wait.Ã‚Â It was 4 time (champion) vs. 5 time (champion) as Gordon and Johnson played cat and mouse at the head of the field in the final laps of the race.Ã‚Â Johnson closed the gap chasing down Gordon and reducing his 2 second lead to nothing in the final 20 laps of the race but it was Gordon who held on to the lead at the end taking the checkered flag in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about boys!”Ã‚Â Gordon yelled after crossing the finish line ahead of Johnson.
“That was fun. I was slipping, he was slipping,” Gordon said. “There were a couple of times I thought he had me.
“This team is on a roll.”
This win was the 85th of Gordon’s career putting him in sole possession of third place on the all time winners list behind Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105) and ahead of Darrel Waltrip and Bobby Allison (both with 84 wins).
Johnson was also elated with his second place finish and with the battle with his teammate in the final laps of the race.
“I’m so glad I grew up racing in the dirt,” said Johnson, who ventured into stock cars after an off-road racing career. “I think I would have spun out four or five times there at the end.
“We started the race really bad … [then] the car came to life. I just couldn’t get past [him].”
“The last couple of weeks, we’ve been able to send a … message to all our competitors of how strong this team is and how good our race cars are.
“I love the fact that at Bristol, I felt like we had a car that could win there and then we come to a big mile-and-half track and we do win.”
But it was Tony Stewart who provided the most excitement in the race as he drove from 11th to 3rd in the final 81 laps under the green flag.Ã‚Â His car came to him like a freight train and he gained 8 seconds on the leaders as he chased them down trying for the win.
“Man, we had an awesome car at the end,” Stewart said. “[We were] gaining eight and a half seconds on the leader there, definitely an awesome run. And we had a lot of guys we got back in those last 10 laps.”
“More so than anywhere we go to, you actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that’s what makes it fun here because guys overdrive their cars, run too hard on the front [end of a run] and then they fall off the last half.”
David Reutimann had a surprise for everyone this week in qualifying.Ã‚Â That surprise was a really fast race car.Ã‚Â Running 7th in the first practice and then dropping to 42nd fastest in the second round of practice, Reutimann looked like he would be running with the start and parkers at the back of the field.Ã‚Â Once his qualifying run started however his car came to life as he blazed around the track setting the pace at 127.383 mph around the 3/4 mile “D” shaped oval short track.
“This is our first pole here and the first pole in a while for the Aaron’s Dream Machine,” said Reutimann, who had not won a pole since May 2009 at Dover. “It’s been a dry spell for us, so it feels good.
“Things haven’t gone quite the way we wanted them to this year, but we’re working hard to get things turned around, and I think what you’re seeing is a direct result of some of the stuff that we’re doing different.”
In contrast to Reutimann’s efforts in qualifying, other teams who had better practice times did not make as good an effort during qualifying.
Dale Earnhardt Jr had the 3rd fastest practice times during second practice yet he qualified 27th.Ã‚Â Jr knows how hard it is getting around this racetrack but with this being the final race before the chase his fans expect him to get to the front no matter what.Ã‚Â Maybe this will light the fire in him that his fans have been saying has been missing since the early part of the season.Ã‚Â Only time will tell.
Tony Stewart unloaded a 30th place car and even after 2nd practice has only advanced to 27th in time.Ã‚Â Coming off his 3rd place finish in Atlanta Stewart seems optimistic of his chances in Richmond.
“I don’t remember what it’s like to qualify in the top four here,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely a lot harder. In the spring race here we qualified in the back and got a lap down early and never could recover from it.
“But I think we’ve got a car that runs well. It seems like after about 10 laps our car is as good as anybody else’s and maybe a tick better after 20 laps on. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of long, green-flag runs.”
Denny Hamlin and Brad Kesolowski sit on the edge of getting into the chase.Ã‚Â Thanks to the wild card slot that NASCAR added this year, both drivers are sitting pretty with enough wins to move into the chase taking up the final 2 spots in the 12 chaser field if they hold those positions after the end of the race in Richmond.Ã‚Â They could however also be the spoilers for 2 of the series biggest starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr and Tony Stewart sit 2 points apart in 9th and 10th place in the standings.Ã‚Â Kesolowski would be mathematically able to knock either of them out by finishing 23 positions ahead of Stewart and 25 points ahead of Jr, which would knock either of them back a position or 2 depending on how the other finished.Ã‚Â The whole make up of the bottom 2 spots and the Wild Card spots would change as neither Stewart or Earnhardt have a win yet this season so far.