Gordon outduels Johnson
It was a thrilling display by two of the sport’s biggest stars, who drove the high-banked Atlanta Motor Speedway like it was nothing more than a little dirt track.
When Gordon held on at the end Tuesday, taking the checkered flag for his third win of the year and 85th of his career, there was little doubt he’ll be making a serious run at his fifth Cup title.
Ohhhh, we can’t wait for these two to go at it again in the Chase for the championship.
“I’ve been trying to step it up for 10 years,” Gordon said, referring to the decade he’s gone since the last of his four titles, a period when he ceded dominance to his teammate Johnson.
But the driver of the No. 24 car isn’t ready to fade away just yet. Spurred on by a new crew chief, Gordon is going through a career renaissance at age 40, already winning more races this season than he did the last three years combined. He’s certainly feeling good about his chances heading to the Chase, which begins after next weekend’s race at Richmond.
“I’m just excited to go to the racetrack,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter where we go—our cars are competitive, we’re having a blast out there and I think we have more to come when the Chase starts.”
With his win in the rain-delayed AdvoCare 500, Gordon snapped a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for third on the career victory list. Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) are the only drivers in Cup history with more wins than Gordon.
Johnson made one last run for the lead on the final lap, but had to back off to keep from putting his car in the wall. Gordon pulled away to win by 0.598 seconds.
The defending champ
isn’t going to give up his unprecedented title run without a fight. In fact, he moved past Kyle Busch to take the top spot in the season standings, so he’s still the one everyone’s chasing even with only one win this year.
“We’re having a terrible year,” Johnson quipped. “The reality is we have a lot to be proud of. ... We know we have a very good chance of winning the championship.”
Tony Stewart finished third to solidify his hold on 10th place—the final spot in the Chase that will be determined on points—going to Richmond.
Six drivers had already clinched a spot in the 12-driver playoff, and three more joined them Tuesday. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are locked in on points, and Brad Keselowski wrapped up at least a wild card with his sixth-place finish.
This was only the second Cup race since 1978 to be run on a Tuesday. It was originally scheduled for Sunday night, but rain forced a two-day postponement.
Gordon clearly had the best car on the 1.54-mile trioval, leading 146 of the 325 laps. Cambridge native Matt Kenseth was next, out front for 64 laps, and Johnson led just 29 laps. Kenseth finished ninth.
Stewart was followed across the line by Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards.
Janesville Travis Kvapil completed just 17 laps because of an electrical problem and finished 42nd.
Last updated: 6:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012