Finally, Jeff Gordon has captured his record-breaking 85th career win. Gordon’s third win of 2011 made him the winningest driver in NASCAR’s modern era (post 1971). Gordon led the most laps in the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but needed to use all of his skill to hold off a charge from Jimmie Johnson in the closing stages. Johnson closed in with 10 laps to go, but Gordon held his line and bested his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the win.
Nearly 40 hours after the AdvoCare 500 was scheduled to begin, the drivers took the green flag under overcast skies on Tuesday morning. Gordon started 5th and dropped to 7th by the end of the first lap. On lap 5, he took 6th from Martin Truex Jr. Gordon re-entered the top-5 with a lap 6 pass on Matt Kenseth. He took 4th from Brian Vickers and ran 3rd when Bobby Labonte spun on lap 12 to bring out the caution flag. Gordon pitted for tires and restarted in 21st after 17 cars stayed on the track. On the restart, he moved to 18th within two laps by taking advantage of newer tires. On lap 20, Gordon ran in 13th and moved into the top-10 just three laps later. By lap 25, Gordon closed in on Kevin Harvick for 6th place. He moved around Harvick and Tony Stewart to re-enter the top-5. After pit stops for the competition caution on lap 31, Gordon restarted in 3rd place. He moved to 2nd on the restart and took the lead from Kyle Busch on lap 46. Gordon held the lead through a green flag pit stop sequence on lap 79 and opened a 2.5-second lead. However, Labonte’s second spin of the day on lap 94 slowed the field and erased Gordon’s lead.
Gordon swapped the lead briefly with Busch on the restart, but once again pulled out to a comfortable lead by lap 102. A debris caution on lap 130 slowed the field and pit stops followed. Gordon’s crew inserted a spring rubber and dropped three spots on pit road. He restarted 4th on lap 135 and moved to 2nd within two laps behind Matt Kenseth. He re-assumed the top spot with a pass on lap 146. However, Kenseth passed Gordon for the lead on lap 166. Two laps later, Carl Edwards sent Gordon back to 3rd. On lap 170, Denny Hamlin took a position from Gordon as the handling on the #24 car went away. Following a green flag pit stop sequence, the caution waved on lap 175 after David Gilliland stopped at the entrance to pit road. Gordon ran in 3rd place at the caution as a light rain mist began falling on the track. At the 200-lap mark, Gordon was more than 2 seconds behind Kenseth and Edwards when the caution waved for the rain mist. Gordon lost 5 spots on pit road after a track bar adjustment and came off pit road in 8th. As rain began falling, JJ Yeley and Landon Cassill stayed on the track, thus dropping Gordon to 10th. The race was red-flagged on lap 210.
After nearly a one-hour delay, the race went back under green on lap 220. Gordon quickly gained 3 spots and moved to 5th within one lap. However, rain began falling on the backstretch which forced a yellow flag. The green waved again on lap 231 with Gordon lined up on the inside of Denny Hamlin. Gordon fell back to 8th within a lap of the restart, but regrouped to take 7th from David Ragan with 90 laps to go. He moved back into the top-5 with 88 laps to go. Clint Bowyer’s wall contact brought out the caution flag on lap 240. Gordon restarted in 4th after gaining a spot on pit road. With 60 to go, he took the runner-up spot from Carl Edwards. He took the race lead from Johnson with 49 laps to go and held the lead through a cycle of green flag pit stops. In the closing stages, Johnson closed in on Gordon as the Hendrick Motorsports teammates battled door to door over the final 10 laps. Gordon held off Johnson by using the high line off the corners en route to his 3rd win of 2011 and his record-breaking 85th career win.
- This is the first time since May 2007 that Gordon led at least 50 laps in three consecutive races.
- Gordon led more laps in the AdvoCare 500 than he had in the previous 7 Atlanta races combined.
Road ahead: A quick turnaround from the rain-delayed week in Atlanta brings the NASCAR series to Richmond for Saturday night’s race. It’s the final race before the Chase for the Championship begins. Gordon had a strong effort at Richmond in the spring, but a hard crash on the backstretch in the closing stages ended his night.
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