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Denny Hamlin takes Atlanta for series-high fourth Sprint Cup win

HAMPTON, Ga. — There may be a new sheriff in the Chase.

Denny Hamlin held off Jeff Gordon in a two-lap overtime to win Sunday night's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his Sprint Cup series-leading fourth victory of the season.

With one race remaining until the start of the Chase for the Championship, Hamlin would be the No. 1 seed, having the most wins.

Hamlin's crew got him out in front going into the green-white-checkered restart when the contenders all made pit stops.

"I have been really good here the last few years and not won," Hamlin told ESPN. "Our car faded a little bit but — pit crew. Pit crew won me the race. That's what a championship team's all about is having all those pieces of the puzzle put together. And this year I think we have it all."

Brad Keselowski finished third, Martin Truex was fourth and Kevin Harvick was fifth.

Hamlin scored his second straight Cup victory and the 21st of his career.

By outgunning Gordon, Hamlin also preserved teammate Kyle Busch's status as the second provisional wild card in the Chase for the Championship.

The top 10 in points have clinched spots with only the two wild cards left to be settled in Saturday's regular-season finale at Richmond.

"I got everything I could ask for, I got the restart I wanted," Gordon told ESPN. "Got to the outside … I made a run on him and made a bad decision. All night I was able to get into guys' quarterpanels and get to the outside of them and stay there. I should have just run into the back of him going into (Turn 3) and moved him up the racetrack. We would be sitting in Victory Lane right now.

"This Chase is too important for me not to make a move like that. I wouldn't have wanted to wreck him but I would like to have had that one over again."

Hamlin beat Gordon by 0.378 seconds after a caution spoiled a probable victory for Truex, who was leading by two seconds when Jamie McMurray wrecked on the frontstretch on Lap 320.

After the midpoint of the race, Harvick and Hamlin established themselves as the class of the field, running away from the pack after a restart on Lap 135. Hamlin's team opted to stretch fuel mileage, intending to finish the race on one more stop after coming to pit road under green on Lap 221.

Harvick had pitted for fuel and four tires on Lap 216 and would have needed two more stops to make it to the end of the race. The tradeoff was that the extra five laps on new tires had given Harvick an 8.4-second lead over Hamlin after the cycle of stops.

Hamlin, however, trimmed a second per lap from Harvick's advantage and had pulled up to the bumper of the No. 29 Chevrolet when caution for Juan Pablo Montoya's brush with the outside wall on Lap 241 made all the fuel calculations moot.

Hamlin beat Harvick off pit road under the yellow and held the top spot after a restart on Lap 248. Truex moved past Harvick into the second position one lap later and kept Hamlin in his sights during the ensuing green flag run.

Running a higher line than Hamlin, Truex was moments away from taking the lead when the engine in Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford blew on Lap 264, causing the fourth caution of the night. The early end to Edwards' night forces last year's Chase runner-up to win next Saturday at Richmond to have a chance at a wild-card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Pit stops on Lap 266 put fuel strategy back into play. Hamlin, for instance, left pit road needing to save four laps worth of fuel to get to the checkered flag.

On the restart on Lap 270, though, the entire tenor of the race changed when Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish wrecked on the backstretch.

.FAST FACTS

Sprint Cup points

Through 25 of 36 races. The top 10 plus two wild cards (based on wins) through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Greg Biffle# 879—

D. Earnhardt Jr.# 871 8

Matt Kenseth# 858 21

J. Johnson# 848 31

Martin Truex# 838 41

B. Keselowski# 831 48

Denny Hamlin# 822 57

Clint Bowyer# 811 68

Kevin Harvick# 807 72

Tony Stewart# 769 110

Kasey Kahne* 751 128

Kyle Busch* 746 133

Jeff Gordon 734 145

Carl Edwards 720 159

Paul Menard 710 169

* current wild-card holders

# clinched Chase spot

Note: NASCAR posts official points today

Denny Hamlin takes Atlanta for series-high fourth Sprint Cup win 09/03/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 3, 2012 12:13am]

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