Denny Hamlin had a large reason for celebration at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day Weekend when he won the AdvoCare 500. That celebration, though, could lead to an even bigger one. As the Chase for the Championship enters its final stretch, Hamlin finds himself right in the middle of a hunt for his first championship.
Hamlin’s Atlanta victory was, at the time, his second series victory in a row. Although that much success is tough to replicate, Hamlin has done his best. He has one Chase victory at New Hampshire, a second-place finish at Charlotte, performances good enough to keep him within touch of points leader Brad Keselowski, 20 points out of the lead.
“I don't know that Joe Gibbs Racing really went anywhere, it's just we haven't had the chance to show what we have,” Hamlin said following the AdvoCare 500. “We're starting to bring better race cars to the racetrack, and everyone in the shop is excited about what these final weeks are going to bring.”
Hamlin is looking to put himself in elite company by pocketing a victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a series title within the same season.
Two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart have won championships and claimed wins at Atlanta in the past 10 seasons, joining a list of five drivers who have accomplished the feat a total of 11 times. On that list are three NASCAR Hall of Famers – Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip in addition to a shoe-in for future induction – Jeff Gordon along with Stewart and Johnson.
For Atlanta to translate into a chance to win a championship should come as no surprise. Described by many in NASCAR as a driver’s racetrack, its high banks demand the very best a driver can muster up. Atlanta’s surface is abrasive, taking a heavy toll on tires. If you can win a race here at Atlanta Motor Speedway, odds are that you can win at just about any other track on the NASCAR circuit.
Just ask Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion who won at Atlanta and celebrated a series championship in 1998.
“You know going into this race that it's going to be a fight,” Gordon said. “ You know, the track is just so slick, and your car has a lot of grip for about five laps and then all of a sudden it just starts going sideways.”