Surprising and Not Surprising: Atlanta AdvoCare 500

With a rain delay of days instead of hours, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race which was to have run at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday evening of the Labor Day weekend, was finally completed on Tuesday afternoon. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 52nd annual AdvoCare 500.

[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”245″][/media-credit]Surprising:  While one five-time champion Hendrick Motor Sports driver is usually the one peaking at this stage of the season, it was most surprising that the other HMS four-time champion instead took the checkered flag for the multi-day rain-delayed race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Jeff Gordon, driving the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, beat out his teammate to score an historic 85th victory, placing him solely in the third position of all-time wins in NASCAR.

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This was Gordon’s third victory for the season and his 13th top-10 finish in 2011.

“This team is on a roll,” Gordon said. “I don’t care if it’s Sunday or Monday or Tuesday; to have a race like that, man, that’s awesome. It feels awesome.”

Gordon was also feeling awesome by making history, in addition to celebrating his daughter Ella’s first day of school.

“I just feel rejuvenated in such a big way,” Gordon said. “85 yeah! I can’t wait to get home and celebrate with these guys and my family. 85, wow!”

Not Surprising:  To no one’s surprise, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, was the one nipping at Gordon’s heels, careening sideways behind his teammate to take the checkered flag in the runner up position.

This was Johnson’s 13th top-10 finish in 20 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Man, that is what racing is all about,” Johnson said. “I am grateful that I got to grow up racing off-road trucks and buggies because I was dead sideways those last 10 or 15 laps.”

Since the Chase is looming with just the Richmond race to set the championship field, it was also not surprising to see Johnson take the points lead, now 21 points ahead of Kyle Busch.

When asked about that, Johnson said with a smile and a laugh, “Yeah, we’re just having a terrible year. So, hopefully we can pick things up a little bit.”

Surprising:  Two drivers who were having much-needed good runs ended up with surprisingly bad finishes.  Clint Bowyer, behind the wheel of the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, got into it with Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 241, dashing Bowyer’s hopes for any Chase possibilities with his 36th place finish.

“We’re out here racing for a spot in the Chase,” Bowyer said after being released from the infield care center. “He’s out here racing for nothing.”

“I’m tired of it,” Bowyer continued of his tussle with JPM. “He’s just an idiot.”

The other driver with a surprisingly good run but bad finish was David Ragan, behind the wheel of the No. 6 UPS Ford. Ragan, also hoping to make the Chase, was running in the top ten for much of the race, only to fall victim to engine failure.

“I bet there’s still a mathematical chance that we could win Richmond and get into the top 20 and make the Chase,” Ragan said optimistically. “And that’s certainly the mindset we’re going to have.”

“We’re not going to give up no matter what.”

Not Surprising:  Both Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart held serve on their ninth and tenth place positions respectively in the point standings.

While the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet had an outstanding run, finishing third, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Military Intelligence/Amp Energy Chevrolet had an unsurprisingly tough run, finishing 19th.

This was Stewart’s 15th top-10 finish in 25 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“It was just a really good Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy,” Smoke said. “It was a long day for sure and we battled a lot of adversity to get up there. I’m just really proud of these guys.”

“It was not a good day,” Junior said in contrast. “We didn’t have a good car.”

“We worked on it a little bit and had a couple decent runs where we were competitive, but just fought the car all day long and just couldn’t make anything happen.”

Both drivers can clinch positions in the Chase for the Cup championship at the next race in Richmond. Stewart will clinch if he finishes 18th or better, 19th or better and leads one lap, or 20th or better and leads the most laps.

Earnhardt, Jr. will clinch is he finishes 20th or better, 21st or better and leads at least one lap, or 22nd or better and leads the most laps.

Surprising:  After leading laps and looking like a race win contender, it was surprising to see the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion slide back after one of the race’s rain delays to finish ninth.

“After the rain, we didn’t do anything to the car,” Matt Kenseth said. “We just put a set of tires on it and it was junk.”

“I don’t really know what happened,” Kenseth continued. “We had a lot of speed and it was pretty fast the first half of the race, but we just struggled after that.”

Not Surprising:  It was not surprising, yet again, to see Brad Keselowski continue his ‘Iron Man’ performance since injuring himself in a testing wreck. The driver of the ‘Blue Deuce’ finished sixth, locking himself into the Chase.

Surprising:  In addition to the race winners, there were other winners at Atlanta as well.  First and foremost were all of the children battling cancer that were featured on Carl Edward’s car. In their honor, the driver of the No. 99 Aflac ‘Friends of a Feather’, finished top-five.

“We appreciate Aflac being on board with the Aflac Cancer Center,” Edwards said. “It’s if you want to help these kids out.”

“These are great kids,” Edwards continued. “We wish we would have gotten a win for them, but it was a good run.”

Another winner was Huckleberry Pets, who scored the ‘Official Small Business of NASCAR’ title thanks to Tony Stewart’s great run.

“It was great to get Huckleberry Pets the title today,” Stewart said. “I wish we could have won her a million dollars, but we did the best we could.”

Not Surprising:  Unfortunately, but not surprising, no one claimed the Sprint Summer Showdown bonus. While several drivers were eligible to win a million for themselves, their charities and their respective fans, not one was able to score the ultimate promotion.

Sadly, fans Andrea Gay, Helene Cross, Ron Rempinski, Dana Hardie, and Molly Hilyard did not find their Sprint pot of gold since Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch respectively did not take the checkered flag at Atlanta.

Surprising:  In a surprising driver swap, Mike Skinner actually got to finish a race, and did so solidly in 27th place. Skinner climbed into the No. 36 Collective Soul/Golden Corral Chevrolet for Dave Blaney who was suffering from kidney stones.

Not Surprising: A.J. Allmendinger continued his solid run streak, this time with a 10th place finish in his No. 43 Best Buy Ford.

“That’s where we are as a team right now,” Allmendinger said. “We’re about an eighth to a 12th or 13th place race team, but that’s better than where we had been, so that’s the improvement I’m looking for.”

“If we can just keep getting there, whether we make the Chase or not, then I’ll be really happy with the season.”

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