Jeff Gordon had the most dominant car during Tuesday’s running of the 52nd annual AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but teammate Jimmie Johnson made him work for the win in the closing laps.
Gordon led seven times for a race-high 146 laps, taking the lead for the final time on lap 276 of the 325-lap event. Following the final pit stops of the day with 42 laps to go, Johnson closed to within a few car lengths to Gordon’s back bumper, but was unable to pass the No. 24 Chevrolet. However, in the closing laps Johnson muscled his No. 48 to Gordon’s door and battled side-by-side with his teammate and car owner for several laps before giving way to Gordon.
“We used it up there in the end and I was slipping and sliding,” Gordon said about the final laps. “The track really changed a lot after that rain delay. Our car was real, real tight and we had to free it up. That was a lot of fun racing with him (Johnson). I was slipping and he was slipping. The throttle control was very tough there at the end. There were a couple of moments where I really thought he got us.”
Gordon’s Crew Chief Alan Gustafson was especially proud of the team’s performance at Atlanta due to the fact that 1.5-mile tracks make up a large percentage of the venues in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“This was one of the race tracks we felt to be an elite team and contend for the title; we had to do well on this style of track,” Gustafson said. “I’m pleased to do that.”
Following the race, Gordon discussed the conditions that make Atlanta such a racer’s track.
“I think that any track that we go to that has pavement that is of this consistency, that is this worn, that has aged, and is abrasive like this, and as long as Goodyear can find a tire that can hold up in these kinds of conditions, then this is the ultimate track and it’s the ultimate place,” said Gordon. “When you’ve got a track that cars are running on the bottom, middle, the top at both ends of the racetrack, and the drop off of speeds from the beginning to the end of the run; that to me is what you want to see in a racetrack.”
The top three finishers all sported Chevrolet bow-ties, with Tony Stewart finishing third. Stewart echoed Gordon’s sentiments about Atlanta being a great track for drivers.
“I will say this: if Ed Clark (president and general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway) decides to repave this racetrack, I will personally shoot him myself,” Stewart jokingly said. “This place is so racy, so much fun. It’s like Jimmie said, here more so than anywhere we go to, you actually have to take care of your tires and kind of budget them for your run. That’s what makes it fun here.”
Gordon won his 85th-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the same track that he started his career at in 1992. He moves to third in all time Sprint Cup wins, trailing only Richard Petty and David Pearson. For a variety of reasons, Atlanta holds a special place in Gordon’s heart.
“I’ve always enjoyed this racetrack,” said Gordon. “My first Busch (now Nationwide Series) win came here and that’s kind of where Rick (Hendrick) recognized me and where we kind of connected. I ran my first race here, winning some big races here, clinching the championship or celebrating championships here. This place has always been a place I’ve enjoyed going to. Plus I think it’s a great racetrack. The surface, and the slipping and the sliding around, and having to run up against the wall in one and two and on the bottom in three and four. It’s a very challenging racetrack and it can be your best friend or worst enemy. It’s been a good track for me over the years.”
Early in the event, it appeared Kyle Busch would run away with it, possibly winning the Sprint Summer Showdown and a total payout of $3,000,000. The Las Vegas native led 19 laps and ran among the leaders for much of the first half of the event, but sustained damage to his No. 18 machine following contact with the wall.
Matt Kenseth led 64 circuits and at times was the car to beat. However, Kenseth and his team struggled to keep up with the ever-changing track conditions that Atlanta presents to all drivers and faded to ninth in the finishing order.
“After the rain we didn’t do anything to the car,” said Kenseth. “We just put a set of tires on it and it was junk. We adjusted on it a little bit and put another set on, but we got really loose at the end and couldn’t keep up.”
Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five, with Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and A.J. Allmendinger taking home top-10 finishes.
With only one race remaining prior to the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the points race gained some clarity following Atlanta. Gordon, Harvick, Busch and Ryan Newman all clinched top-10 positions in the Chase, while Keselowski locked himself into one of the two Wild Card positions.
The race, originally scheduled for a Sunday night start, was postponed until Tuesday morning due to persistent rain from Tropical Storm Lee. A light mist continued through much of the event, bringing out the caution on two occasions. The race was also red flagged for nearly 25 minutes just past the halfway point.
The win was Gordon’s fifth checkered flag at AMS, moving him into a tie with Bobby Allison for fourth-most all time at the 1.54-mile speedway.