It may have taken nearly two days, but on a misty day in Atlanta, there was drama in the “mist” in the final ten laps as Jeff Gordon, in a classic display of good, hard, and clean racing on worn tires, held off a determined Jimmie Johnson by 0.598 seconds to truly earn his 85th career victory in the Advocare 500, placing him in sole posession of third all-time on the NASCAR victory list, ahead of Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
“Not too many people get to do that these days, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it either. We got ahead of him on that run before that,” said a relieved Jeff Gordon after the race. “The track was really tight after that rain delay, and our car was too tight at the beginning but boy did it come on strong at the end. I was just trying to keep a distance between me and Jimmie (Johnson) because I knew I had to manage the tires a little bit, I was a little bit longer run.”
“I could hear his wheels spinning and revs pick up when he was underneath me, that forced me to pick mine up and spin a little bit. A couple of times I slipped up and let him get underneath me, but somehow we kept the momentum and was able to stay on the outside of him. I think having that outside lane in one and two was a bonus for us. Great race by Jimmie and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, hi to Rick, that was him on the phone I was talking to. He is excited to have a one-two battle like that.”
Kasey Kahne won the pole for the race at 186.196 mph with Clint Bowyer on the outside front row, leading the field to the green flag. Kahne led the early stages of the race when the day’s first caution came out on lap 11 when Bobby Labonte looped his car in the turn 4 grass. On the restart, Kahne lost the lead to Jeff Gordon, who held the lead until the lap 30 competition caution and maintained the lead after pit stops.
The third caution of the day came out on Lap 93 for another Bobby Labonte spin, this time resulting in his car tagging the turn 2 inside wall hard and ending his day. Thirty-eight laps later, caution number four fell for debris from Andy Lally’s flat tire. The race would then go back to green until on lap 177, the caution fell for the stalled vehicle of David Gilliland, who spun trying to make pit road and broke his drive-shaft in the process.
The race would go back to green until the sixth caution of the afternoon fell on lap 202 for heavy mist on the track, resulting in a brief red flag. When the race got back underway, there were literally a couple of laps of hard green-flag racing until, once again, rain slowed down the proceedings with caution number seven. After a lengthy caution to dry the track, the racing got back underway with Martin Truex Jr. in the lead following a 2-tire pit stop. He was quickly passed by Jimmie Johnson but the caution came out again after Clint Bowyer made contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, sending his #33 Cheerios Chevrolet Impala into the Turn 4 wall on lap 243 for the 8th caution of the day.
“He (Juan Pablo Montoya) races everybody that way, that is why he sucks. You can’t race that way in this sport, plain and simple and I’ll call him out for it,” stated an irate Bowyer following the incident. “I think that is how about everybody in the garage knows what they are up against anytime that 42 is around. He is like a pinball out there because he is a bully. There has got to be some give and take. You are out there racing for nothing. He dive bombs the restarts and then before you know it he’s in the way and wrecking somebody.”
“It is just frustrating. I knew what I was up against anytime you are racing against him. It doesn’t help my situation.”
After the race went back to green with Johnson in the lead, the ninth and final caution of the day came out when Mark Martin got loose and tagged Regan Smith into the inside turn 2 wall. That set up a final green flag run with Johnson getting a huge lead early on, but Gordon caught him with 49 laps to go and took the lead. But Johnson was not done with Gordon. In the final ten laps, the two drivers pursued each other with such passion and flair normally reserved for short-track racing. It was the teacher versus the student and despite Johnson’s best efforts, Gordon managed to hold on for his 85th career victory and third win of the 2011 season.
In the excitement of the race for the win, Gordon briefly forgot that was his 85th career win.
“I totally forgot about that. I got so excited with the whole win and Jon Edwards (PR) didn’t do his job back there telling me I won 85. I can’t do anything without him. And I’ve got to say hi to Ingrid and Leo and Ella. Ella, I hope you had a good day at school today, baby; it was her first day. And I know how excited they are and I can’t wait to get home and see you guys. But 85, wow, that is unbelievable. I’m just blown away at the kind of day we had and the kind of year that we’re having. I just feel rejuvenated in such a big way. It’s because of this race team and the race cars I get to drive. 85 yeah! I can’t wait to get home and celebrate with these guys and my family. 85.wow!”
Johnson was left to settle for second.
“I’m so glad I grew up racing in the dirt. If I didn’t grow up racing around all those deserts and all those stadium tracks, I think I would have spun out four or five times there at the end,” Johnson chuckled post-race. “It was just a great effort for this Lowe’s team. We started off the race really bad and made some great adjustments on pit road and the car came to life. We got ourselves up there in the mix and had a little bit more speed on Jeff (Gordon) there in the long haul, but I just couldn’t get my Impala past his. So it was one of those deals.”
“I’m very happy for Hendrick Motorsports and thankful that the fans stuck around some and the ones that watched at home. We’ll go on to the next one.”
The average race speed was 124.623 mph with 9 cautions for 64 laps and 35 lead changes among 14 drivers. The attendance listed was 29,700, which can be attributed to the race being on a week-day and the race took 4 hours exactly and 58 seconds.
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