By Brian Willwerth
The Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway finally ended Tuesday afternoon, more than 44 hours after the green flag was supposed to drop.
When it was all over, Jeff Gordon took his #24 car to Victory Lane for the third time this season. He and teammate Jimmie Johnson staged a tremendous battle in the final 15-20 laps, with both drivers slipping and sliding all over the racetrack. But Gordon was able to hold on for the win. It was the 85th career win for the four-time champion. That ranks him third all-time behind Richard Petty and David Pearson. Gordon was very emotional about the accomplishment in his post-race interview.
Tony Stewart, who desperately needed a strong performance, came up big in the final laps to finish 3rd. Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. Busch, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski all clinched spots in the Chase for the Championship.
The race was supposed to happen Sunday night, but was postponed until Tuesday because of rain. NASCAR did not even try to race on Labor Day because the forecast was unfavorable. Even on Tuesday, the race was delayed several times by a heavy mist, and it felt like the race may never end.
THE WRECK WRAP: It was a rough afternoon for 6-time Atlanta winner Bobby Labonte. He spun out in Turn 4 early in the race and became a human lawnmower, cutting the infield grass. He stayed in the race, until he spun out again and hit the inside wall even harder. The second wreck ended his day.
Clint Bowyer’s Chase hopes took a big hit when Juan Pablo Montoya sent him spinning into the wall. Bowyer clearly was not happy with JPM, as he gave the driver of the #42 a mock applause as he drove past under caution. When asked about the incident, Bowyer told ESPN that “you can’t race around a jackass.”
Regan Smith also had an encounter with the inside wall, as Mark Martin got into the back of the #78 car.
NEXT WEEK: Bring on Richmond. Who will fill out the rest of the playoff field? Right now Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are hanging on to the final two spots in the top ten. There is also one wild card spot up for grabs. Who will be left out? We’ll know after next Saturday night. I’ll be making a field trip down to Virginia to see how it all plays out. I can’t wait!