Monday, September 3, 2012

Hamlin Goes Back-to-Back

 When Denny Hamlin won at Kansas in April, he had to beat Martin Truex Jr. late to win it.  At Atlanta, Hamlin's pit crew got him out in front of Truex on a late pit stop, and no one was able to catch Hamlin as he ran away with his fourth race of the season.

Denny Hamlin celebrates his victory (Courtesy Getty Images)
Tony Stewart won the pole for Sunday's race, and he led the field to the green flag.  He chose to start on the outside, and he was passed by Greg Biffle on the inside coming out of Turn 2.  Stewart was able to get back around Biffle on lap two to regain the lead.  Jeff Gordon started the race in fifth, but by lap six, he had gotten into the second position and set his sights on Tony Stewart.  On lap 10, Gordon was able to get around Stewart for the lead.  Stewart then began falling back, losing second place to Kyle Busch.  Busch quickly caught Gordon, and passed him for the lead on lap 17.  Gordon lost second place to Denny Hamlin, who began chasing down his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. 

On lap 35, Denny Hamlin was able to get around Busch when he got caught up getting through some lapped traffic.  The first caution came out on lap 40 when Aric Almirola's engine let go.  Kyle Busch won the race off pit road, and led Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Mark Martin to the green flag on lap 44.  Busch pulled away from the field, but Hamlin began to catch him when Busch got stuck in lapped traffic.  Busch was able to lead until lap 86 when he had to make a green flag pit stop.  When the round of stops had cycled around, Busch was once again the leader, with Hamlin right on his tail. 

On lap 91, Busch bobbled in Turn 4 and Hamlin was able to get the lead.  Greg Biffle hit pit road on lap 119 to start another round of green flag pit stops.  Hamlin remained the leader during the round of stops, and led Kevin Harvick by 2 seconds after the stops.  The second caution of the race came out on lap 130 for debris. 

Hamlin leads Kevin Harvick (Courtesy Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin led the field to the green flag on lap 135.  Kyle Busch had some trouble on the restart, causing the outside lane to bottle up.  Kevin Harvick was able to get around Hamlin for the lead coming out of Turn 4.  Joey Logano, who had been suffering from a stomach virus all weekend, came in on lap 148 with a flat right front tire.  On lap 175, Harvick came in to make another green flag pit stop.  Hamlin took the lead when Harvick pitted, but he brought the 11 car into the pits on lap 177.  After the round of stops, Kevin Harvick was once again the leader.

On lap 183, Clint Bowyer brought his car in for an unscheduled stop.  Bowyer had been running eighth at the time, but he had been complaining about low voltage in the car's battery.  He finally had to come in so his team could replace the battery.  On lap 208, Mark Martin came in to start another round of green flag pit stops.  Harvick gave up the lead on lap 217 to make his pit stop, and Hamlin quickly took the lead.  Harvick was able to retake the lead when Hamlin pitted on lap 221.  Hamlin lost a lot of ground to Harvick when he pitted much later than the 29, but Hamlin began to quickly close in on Harvick with fresher tires. 

The caution came out on lap 241 for Juan Pablo Montoya, who slapped the outside wall when his car got a little loose.  The field came in for pit stops under caution, and Hamlin beat Harvick out of the pits, and led the field back to the green flag.  Hamlin was able to pull away from the field.
Edwards' car sits in the garage (Courtesy Getty Images)
With about 71 laps to go, Carl Edwards began to slow on the track, and he believed that he had a voltage problem.  His crew told him to switch batteries, but that didn't help.  He then believed that he had something broke in one of the cylinders.  On lap 264, Edwards' engine finally let go, bringing out the caution for the fourth time.  The caution also may have ended Edwards' Chase hopes for the season as well. 

Harvick led the field back to the green flag on lap 269, and Harvick got a great restart.  On the backstretch, contact with Sam Hornish Jr. sent Jimmie Johnson across the track and into the car of Ryan Newman to bring out the night's fifth caution.  The race restarted on lap 279, with Hamlin leading Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. 

Hamlin wasn't able to break away from Truex on the restart, and he was able to stay on Hamlin's bumper.  On lap 284, Truex was able to take the lead away from Hamlin to lead his first laps of the night.  Jeff Gordon worked his way around Denny Hamlin for second place on lap 291, but Truex had already gotten out to an almost two-second lead.  Truex got out to a lead of over three seconds, but he began to give it all back to Gordon as he had to begin saving fuel.  With just five laps to go, Jamie McMurray slammed into the frontstretch wall to bring out the last caution of the night.  All the leaders came in to pit, and Denny Hamlin gained the lead from Truex on the race off pit road. 

Martin Truex Jr. leads (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted with a green-white-checkered, and Truex spun his tires, allowing Hamlin, Gordon, and Brad Keselowski to pull away.  Gordon tried to get past Hamlin on the final lap, but he was able to hold off the charge to win his second race in a row. 

Jeff Gordon finished second, and Brad Keselowski finished third.  Martin Truex Jr. finished fourth, and Kevin Harvick was fifth.  Kyle Busch finished sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh, and Paul Menard finished eighth.  Matt Kenseth finished ninth, and Mark Martin finished tenth.  Greg Biffle finished 15th after an uneventful day.  Joey Logano had been suffering from a stomach virus all weekend, and came home 18th.  Tony Stewart finished 22nd after a terrible day.  Kasey Kahne had numerous problems throughout the night, and he finished 23rd.  Clint Bowyer finished 27th after having battery problems most of the night.  Danica Patrick finished 29th, six laps down.  Jimmie Johnson finished 34th after his late-race wreck.  Carl Edwards finished 36th, and will have to win to make the Chase next weekend.

After the race, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick all clinched their spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Tony Stewart also clinched his spot, because if he falls out of the Top 10 next week, he will get one of the Wild Card spots. 

After an uneventful race at Atlanta, next week's race promises to have some drama.  The Federated Auto Parts 400 will be run at Richmond International Speedway, and it will be the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  The race will be the final shot many drivers have at making the Chase, including Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon.  Next week's race will be run at 7 p.m., and can be seen only on ABC.

Courtesy Getty Images

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