Ask some of the drivers in the Sprint Cup Series what their favorite race track is, and a strong majority will say it is Atlanta. It is wide, multiple grooves, high speed, and the drivers love to run here. This weekend, for the first time, the officials in Atlanta decided to run their race under the lights. With the Chase looming in a of couple weeks, it was seemingly appropriate to have the race run at night because it would turn out to be another exciting night of racing.
Pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. led the 43-car field to the start of the Pep Boys Auto 500. Right away he brought the No. 1 car to the head of the field, as he led for the first 36 laps until the first caution flew when Sam Hornish Jr. spun coming out of the fourth turn.
Pit stops were the name of the game as the leaders got four tires and some adjustments. Kasey Kahne got the lead on pit stops, but shortly after the restart Truex got the lead back. It would be a true case of deja vu as the second caution flag came out with Truex in the lead, and it was Hornish spinning once again.
Pit stops again shook up the field, as this time coming out of pit road it was Kyle Busch taking the lead in the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota. Busch would hold his lead until lap 72 when he was passed by Jimmie Johnson. He would go on to lead until the third caution flag flew of the night. Carl Edwards had a puff of smoke come out his exhaust, and slowed on the track. He would come to pit road and put the hood up with engine problems. Edwards would end up finishing 37th.
Kyle Busch would win the race off pit road and reclaim the lead for the restart on lap 86. Busch would go on to lead the next 11 laps, but the car on the move again was Truex Jr. as he would make his move around Busch to get his third lead of the race.
Truex would hold his lead as the fourth caution came out on lap 104 as Max Papis cut a tire down, hitting the outside wall. Pit stops again yielded a new leader as Busch once again made his way out front after another fast pit stop.
Busch did not hold his lead for very long as a couple laps after the restart, Denny Hamlin made the move around Busch to get his first lead of the night. Hamlin would pull away from Busch, but the car on the move again was Johnson, and he began battling Hamlin side-by-side for several laps, finally making the pass on lap 128 for his second lead of the night.
Three laps later the caution came out for debris on the track. Pit stops again jumbled up the leader as it was Jeff Gordon winning the race off pit road for his first lead in the race. When the field went back to green on lap 135, both he and Hamlin began an intense battle. Gordon would lead, then Hamlin, then they’d race door panel to door panel. Gordon eventually got the better line and passed Hamlin on lap 139 to secure the lead.
Hamlin would get the lead back on lap 166, but the car that was making some noise and looking for a great run was Kevin Harvick as he made his move to the lead position on lap 167. Harvick got his first win at this track back in 2001, and he was looking very good on this night.
Green flag pit stops were the plan after Harvick got the lead. Guys like Gordon, Hamlin and Johnson were on pit road around lap 187, while Harvick made his pit stop one lap later, handing the lead over to Brian Vickers. Once Vickers made his pit stop on lap 190, the field was cycled back around to Harvick as he was back out front.
The caution would come out on lap 200 shortly after the pit stops as Johnson spun out in turn 2. Despite just being on pit road, the field once again came back in for new tires and fuel. Harvick did not give up his lead as he won the race off pit road.
The field was restarted on lap 207 with Harvick out front, but Kasey Kahne was on the prowl as he immediately made the move on Harvick one lap later.
Kahne would hold his lead until lap 228 as Harvick again made the pass, but Kahne would not go away as they would battle for five laps for the top spot. Harvick finally got the lead on lap 231 and would hold onto his position until the sixth caution came out on lap 245. Kurt Busch got loose coming out of the fourth turn, and spun into Reed Sorenson, and Busch went into the outside wall.
Pit stops really shook up the field during this round as Harvick had a slow pit stop, taking him from the lead to fourth. Meanwhile, Johnson was forced to go to the garage. As Johnson was coming off pit road, he spun his left-rear axle. Johnson would return to the track later in the night, but three laps down. He would finish 36th.
Kahne would win the race off pit road and led the field back to the green flag. It would not stay green for long as Joey Logano wrecked on lap 268 in the fourth turn. Pit stops did not jumble the field up as much this round, as Kahne held his lead with Harvick running second.
On the ensuing restart, Kahne got a good lead, but behind him Juan Montoya got a great restart as he passed Harvick for the runner-up spot. On lap 275, Montoya made his move around Kahne for his first lead in the night.
Harvick would fall back to fifth, but soon would make his move back to the front. Harvick would take the lead again on lap 305, despite having water coming out the overflow of the engine.
The final caution flag came out on lap 309 as Clint Bowyer spun out in turn four. Harvick’s crew couldn’t believe it as they had a two-second lead on the field.
The field would come to pit road one final time, and it was once again Harvick keeping his lead, but Kahne would come out second
The field would get the final restart on lap 315, with only 10 laps left in the race. It did not take long for Kahne to make a charge as he passed Harvick coming down the backstretch to get the lead. Kahne would soon build up over a two-second advantage, which would prove to be too much for Harvick to overcome. On this night in Atlanta, it was Kasey Kahne taking his second checkered flag of the season, winning the Pep Boys Auto 500.
The win moves Kahne up to sixth in the point standings, and now with only one race left before the Chase begins, anything is possible.
Saturday night is the final race to get into the Chase as NASCAR makes it’s second trip to Richmond. The car to really watch for on Saturday is going to be Kyle Busch, without a doubt. He won at this track earlier this year, and is right now just outside the Chase standings. “Rowdy” Busch will definitely look to make an impact.
I would look for Hamlin to also make a big run on Saturday night. This is his hometown track, and he has been so close to winning here that he is bound to get one. With him sitting currently fouth in the standings, a second win would give him 20 bonus points when the Chase field is set.
The Chevy Rock and Roll 400 will settle everything and set the top-12 for the final ten races of the season. It will be exciting, it will be chaotic, and it will be one spectacular night of action. Coverage from Richmond will begin at 7 p.m. The remaining 11 races this year will all be broadcast on ABC.
RESULTS: 1-Kahne 2-Harvick 3-Montoya 4-Reutimann 5-Martin 6-Hamlin 7-Vickers 8-Gordon 9-Newman 10-Biffle
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Stewart 12-Kenseth 13-Kyle Busch 17-Earnhardt Jr. 22-Logano (R) 34-Burton 36-Johnson 37-Edwards 38-Kurt Busch
CAUTIONS: Nine for 45 laps. Lap 36-40 (Hornish spin), 59-63 (Hornish spin), 81-85 (Edwards engine), 104-107 (Papis wreck), 131-134 (debris), 200-206 (Johnson spin), 245-251 (Kurt Busch and Sorenson wreck), 268-272 (Logano wreck), 309-313 (Bowyer spin)
LEADERS: 30 lead changes among 13 drivers. Truex Jr. 1-38, Kahne 39-41, Truex Jr. 42-61, Kyle Busch 62-71, Johnson 72-82, Kenseth 83, Kyle Busch 84-95, Truex Jr. 96-105, Waltrip 106, Kyle Busch 107-109, Hamlin 110-127, Johnson 128-131, Hamlin 132, Gordon 133-135, Hamlin 136-138, Gordon 139-165, Hamlin 166, Harvick 167-188, Vickers 189-190, Harvick 191-202, Newman 203, Harvick 204-207, Kahne 208-227, Harvick 228-229, Kahne 230, Harvick 231-247, Biffle 248, Kahne 249-274, Montoya 275-304, Harvick 305-314, Kahne 315-324.
POINTS (One race before Chase): 1-Stewart, 3694 points* 2-Gordon, -237* 3-Johnson, -290* 4-Hamlin, -398 5-Edwards, -532 6-Kahne, -541 7-Kurt Busch, -542 8-Montoya, -549 9-Newman, -556 10-Martin, -568 11-Biffle, -569 12-Kenseth, -617
*Already locked in Chase