|Clint Bowyer celebrates his Richmond victory (John Harrelson/Getty)|
Earnhardt led Hamlin to the green flag on lap 51, and Earnhardt was able to pull away from Hamlin on the restart. The caution came out again on lap 52 for a spin by David Ragan. Earnhardt led Hamlin to the green flag on lap 57, and he was able to pull in front of him again. On lap 59, Hamlin was able to get around Earnhardt for the lead.
Hamlin led until lap 85, when Earnhardt was able to get around him for the lead. His lead didn't last long, however; Hamlin was able to get back around the 88 for the lead on lap 91. The caution came out on lap 138 for rain, and the field came in to make pit stops. Denny Hamlin was able to beat Earnhardt off pit road. Hamlin was leading Earnhardt when the red flag came out on lap 152.
After a red flag that lasted 52 minutes, the race restarted on lap 155 with Hamlin in the lead. Earnhardt was able to get the lead from Hamlin on the restart, but he was able to take it back on lap 159. Earnhardt began to fall back through the field, and he fell to as far back as eighth. Marcos Ambrose pitted on lap 227 to kick off a round of green-flag pit stops. Denny Hamlin gave up the lead on lap 233 to make his pit stop. The caution came out on lap 235 for Clint Bowyer, who had cut down a tire and spun on the frontstretch.
Denny Hamlin led Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. to the green flag on lap 240. On lap 242, Truex was able to get around Hamlin for the lead. Hamlin was able to get the lead back from Truex on lap 249. The caution came back out on lap 276 for rain. Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin were among the drivers who came in to make pit stops under the caution. When NASCAR announced that the race would go back green, Hamlin and Earnhardt pitted on lap 282, a lap before the green flag waved.
On lap 283, Kasey Kahne led Truex and Jimmie Johnson to the green flag. On lap 285, Tony Stewart took Kahne and Matt Kenseth three-wide into Turn 1 to take the lead. Ryan Newman was able to work his way to second, and he began to chase down his boss. Newman, who needed to win the race to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, took the lead on lap 300.
|Bowyer works his way through traffic (Jerry Markland/Getty)|
Bowyer continued to lead, and was followed by Hamlin. Those two drivers were trying to make it to the finish without having to make another pit stop. While they were trying to save fuel, Jeff Gordon was trying to save his season; Gordon was trying to get as many spots as he could, as he began to pick up spots, and points, on Kyle Busch. When Gordon moved into fifth place, he moved one point ahead of Kyle Busch for the final Wild Card spot.
With 15 laps to go, Mark Martin was able to get under Denny Hamlin for second place, and Hamlin quickly lost third to Jeff Gordon. With seven laps to go, Gordon made a bold move on Martin for second place. Gordon was hoping that Bowyer would run out of fuel in the closing laps, but he had enough fuel to get his second win of the season.
Jeff Gordon was able to finish second, and he raced his way into the Chase, as he was one point ahead of Kyle Busch. Mark Martin finished third after a strong run, and Tony Stewart finished fourth. Matt Kenseth was fifth, followed by Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the Top 10. Kasey Kahne was 12th, Jimmie Johnson 13th, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 14th. Kyle Busch finished 16th, and failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Carl Edwards finished 17th, and Denny Hamlin was 18th after having to pit in the closing laps.
The Wild Card provided the excitement that it promised. The race for the Chase did not end until the checkered flag fell, with Jeff Gordon ahead of Kyle Busch by one point. Next week, the Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off, and the fight for the championship promises to be as exciting as it was last season. Next week, the GEICO 400 will kick off the Chase from Chicagoland Speedway, and it can be seen at 1 p.m. next Sunday, only on ESPN.
|The 2012 Chase Field (Jerry Markland/Getty)|