HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, wipes his face with a towel in the garage after he was knocked out of the race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 2, 2012 in Hampton, Georgia.
We may be two races from the Chase, and Dale Jr. may rule the NASCAR fandom world. But when Danica Patrick is suiting up for a Sprint Cup race, the NASCAR world takes notice. Such was the case Sunday night, as Danica hit the track at Atlanta for the AdvoCare 500. And while the big story was the big names competing for the final Chase spots, next season will be a different story when Danica is running full time with the big boys. But as for this season . . .
11 + 4 = 1?
That math may certainly apply come next weekend, as Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, picked up his series-leading fourth win of the season Sunday night in Atlanta. If he remains the highest-seeded driver with four wins after next weekend’s race at Richmond, Hamlin will be the No. 1 seed in the standings when the points reset for the Chase.
No, that’s good smoke
While many Chase hopes went up in smoke (or flames) on Sunday, Denny Hamlin took control of the Chase with his burnout-inducing fourth win of the season.
Jamie McMurray found that out the hard way, as his run-in with the wall late in the race set up the final dash for the finish line. But as painful as that was for No. 1, that was nothing compared to the damage done to . . .
NAPA, oh wow!
Martin Truex Jr. had a nice lead and was conserving fuel as the final laps ticked off the board on Sunday. And with only a few to go, it looked like he was going to hold off Denny Hamlin to get the win. But once McMurray hit the wall, the pack caught up to Truex. And when Hamlin beat Truex off pit road, the No. 11 got his favored line and kept the No. 56 winless in 2012 (though locked into a Chase spot).
Jimmie Johnson will be in the Chase. And with three wins thus far, he will be near the top of the standings when they reset. But on Sunday night, all that mattered to the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy was the wreck that sent him into the wall late in the race.
Jimmie Johnson’s wreck may not have damaged his Chase hopes much, but the same cannot be said for Ryan Newman. The driver of the No. 39 wrecked out the second race in a row and is now in win-or-bust mode for Richmond next weekend.
How it went down
Here is the collision that sent Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman to the garage . . . and possibly ended Newman’s hopes for a Chase spot.
Kyle Busch had a strong car most of the night, and finished in the top 10. For that, he maintained his tenuous hold on a wild-card spot. He sits in 12th and with one win has the No. 2 wild-card spot. But sitting only 12 points behind him, and also owning a race win in 2012, is Jeff Gordon. Who said Richmond in September would be easy?
Four-time needs one more
Jeff Gordon had his eye on the checkered flag on the final shootout finish at Atlanta, but failing to win now leaves him in 13th place in the standings and out of wild-card position. But his path to the Chase is rather easy: Win next week and he is in.
Subway, beat fresh
Each weekend, Carl Edwards takes the track looking like a prime candidate for his first win of 2012. And each weekend, something happens to prevent it. On Sunday, despite driving a subpar car to a top-10 spot much of the race, Edwards couldn’t hold his position, ultimately falling a lap back shortly before his car gave out. Now, he heads to Richmond in need of a win to have any shot at the Chase.
The sun may have set as the race got going on Sunday, but the temperatures and the action were hot until the checkered flag dropped at Atlanta.
Greg Biffle may be one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR, but he is a dad first, as daughter Emma gets to spend the final moments before Sunday's race in his arms.
Never a dull moment
When there are only two races to go before the Chase, even the race to be first off pit road is hotly contested.
That didn't last
Tony Stewart (red No. 14 Office Depot Chevy) may have led the field at the green flag, but he had one long and unhappy night at Atlanta on Sunday.
For Danica Patrick, 2012 is all about getting laps in a Sprint Cup car before competing full-time in the circuit in 2013.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 began under the sun on Saturday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But while the sun faded away, the action on the track did not, as the race came down to a last-lap pass after a final restart caused by a wreck involving Danica Patrick.
Before she was involved in the late-race tangle, Danica Patrick had to slam on the brakes for a pit stop. Once again, Patrick was competitive in the race, earning a 13th-place finish.
Holding her own
Danica Patrick and her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet sit 10th in the Nationwide standings following Saturday night's race.
And when the smoke cleared ...
It was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. standing tallest, passing Kevin Harvick on the final lap and holding off Brad Keselowski for his fourth Nationwide win of the season. It was the perfect finish for owner Jack Roush, who needs another such finish for one of drivers in Sunday's Sprint Cup race, as Carl Edwards is in a tight battle for a Chase wild-card spot.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (far left) poses with the rifle he won with retired US Special Forces soldier Greg Stube in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday. With the win, Stenhouse now sits only 12 points behind series leader Elliott Sadler with nine races remaining.
Primed for a run
Indeed, Kevin Harvick had a strong car most of the night Saturday. But a last-lap pass by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gave the Roush young gun the NRA American Warrior 300 and extended the veteran Harvick's winless streak on the Nationwide circuit.
A crew member checks under Jeff Gordon's car during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Ryan Newman waits in the garage area during Sprint Cup practice. Newman is battling for a wild-card berth and needs to pick up some ground at Atlanta.
3 for 6
Despite the best efforts of his pit crew, Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet, finished sixth in Saturday night's Nationwide race.
The King is in the building
Or on the track, at least. Richard 'The King' Petty looks on from the grid prior to the start of the Nationwide race on Saturday.
Getting a feel
Kasey Kahne liked what he saw early Saturday, taking fourth in qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But the race was a different story as he finished 28th, 67 laps off the pace.
Taking it all in
Nationwide Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looks over the number 6 Ford during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Are we there yet?
Jamie McMurray sits in the #1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet before the start of practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Pen to paper
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Shocks and Struts Toyota, signs autographs for fans during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1.
What's so funny?
Brian Scott, driver of the #11 Dollar General Toyota, looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Danica Patrick signs her autograph on the hood of the pink #7 Godaddy.com Chevrolet after a press conference announcing the special livery after practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1. The special livery will be on the car for the Nationwide Series race in Charlotte, NC, October 12, 2012.
James Buescher, driver of the #30 Central Wire Chevrolet, shares a laugh with a crew member before the start of practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1.
Gimme a push
Crew members push the #54 Monster Energy Toyota driven by Kyle Busch (not pictured) through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1.
Watch what happens
Max Papis (L) talks with Danica Patrick (R), driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, before the start of practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series NRA American Warrior 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 1.
What is this, the 'Dukes of Hazzard?'
Nope. It's just Kyle Busch getting into his truck before Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch had won here before, and held the lead with five laps to go. But would he win?
Ty one on
No, Busch would not win. Instead, Ty Dillon made a late pass in the No. 3 to get by Busch and, despite Rowdy's best efforts, held off the NASCAR star for his first career win in a truck.
Soak it all in
Ty Dillon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday. It was his first win in 17 starts in the series. He is now third in the standings, nine points behind leader Timothy Peters.
And share the moment
Ty Dillon's crew greets their driver after he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 200 at Atlanta on Friday.
Up in smoke
Tim George Jr., driver of the No. 2 Applebee's Chevrolet; Ron Hornaday, driver of the No. 9 AMFMEnergy/Anderson's Maple Syrup Chevrolet; and Jason White, driver of the No. 23 GunBroker.com Ford, are involved in a crash during Friday night's truck race. The three finished 28-30 in the race.
Taking it in
Matt Kenseth hangs out in the garage prior to NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway Friday. Kenseth has a chance to lock into the Chase for the Sprint Cup this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. (right) and Clint Bowyer share a lighter moment in the garage. Truex announced Friday that he had signed a contract extension to remain with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Joey Logano makes adjustments in his car prior to heading onto the track for practice Friday.
Danica Patrick looks intense during practice for Sunday's NASCAR race.
David Starr fires his engine prior to practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 200 at Atlanta on Friday.
Ready to roll
Nelson Piquet Jr. stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Friday. Piquet is ninth in the series standings entering the race.
Ty Dillon watches practice from atop the hauler. Dillon enters the race third in the standings, 25 points behind leader Timothy Peters.
Justin Lofton prepares to take to the track in Truck practice Friday. Lofton is fourth in the series standings.