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 2012 Chase, Hamlin would be the No. 1 seed, having the most wins.
Brad Keselowski finished third, Martin Truex Jr. was fourth and Kevin Harvick was fifth.
Kyle Busch took early command of the race, leading 60 of the first 81 laps.
Aric Almirola brought out the race’s first caution on Lap 40 after dropping oil on the track. Busch continued to lead on the restart.
Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin got into a back-and-forth battle for the lead, with Hamlin moving out front on Lap 82, Busch regaining the lead on Lap 85 and Hamlin retaking the top spot on Lap 91.
Kevin Harvick moved into the lead on Lap 135 and quickly moved out to a big advantage.
Debris on the backstretch brought out a caution on Lap 131. Harvick still led the way on the restart on Lap 135.
Halfway through the 325-lap race, Harvick remained the leader followed by Hamlin and Truex.
Harvick remained in charge until the race’s third caution came out on Lap 241 after Juan Pablo Montoya slapped the wall. All of the lead-lap car pit for tires and fuel and Hamlin was the first on pit road and took over the lead.
On the restart on Lap 247, Hamlin was followed by Harvick and Busch.
Carl Edwards, who had been having a solid night, began to develop engine problems on Lap 264 and a caution was called on Lap 265 when Edwards’ car dropped oil on the track.
“I love this race track, but it looks like (we broke) a piston or something. It started making noise about 25-30 laps ago and it’s just hard to put into words,” Edwards said. “That’s just how our season has been going and I don’t know what the reason is.
“We’ll go to Richmond and go win that race and somehow maybe a miracle will happen. We’ll make the Chase and go win this championship. That’s our mission.”
After pit stops, Hamlin continued to lead on the restart on Lap 270 followed by Truex and Harvick.
Shortly after the restart, a three-car wreck erupted involving Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.
On the restart on Lap 280, Hamlin remained in the lead followed by Truex, Busch, Matt Kenseth and Harvick.
Two laps later, Truex easily made his way under Hamlin to take the lead for the first time.
With 25 laps remaining, Truex maintained a big advantage over Jeff Gordon.
On Lap 321, Jamie McMurray had a tire blow which brought out the seventh caution of the race. All of the lead-lap cars elected to pit, with Hamlin the first car off pit road to take the lead.
On the restart on Lap 326, Hamlin was followed by Truex, Gordon, Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
In Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hardly felt guilty after sneaking away with his fourth Nationwide victory of the year.
“Heck, yeah, we stole it,” he said. “We’ve had a few stolen from us, so you go out and get as many as you can.”
Stenhouse used a late push from runner-up Brad Keselowski to pass Kevin Harvick and win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
After a restart with three laps to go, Harvick lost the lead on the final lap as his car got loose coming out of Turn 2 and, Stenhouse, who was bumped by Keselowski on the front straightaway, went ahead for good in Turn 3.
“It was good, hard, clean racing, and I’m glad that we could put on a show for fans because it really wasn’t a show up until that point,” Stenhouse said. “It was a great night and fun racing with Kevin there.”
Stenhouse, the defending series champion, moved within 12 points of leader Elliott Sadler.
Keselowski got into a heated argument after the race with Harvick, who accused him of throwing a water bottle out of his car to cause an earlier caution flag.
Harvick, who led 157 of the 195 laps, failed to win a Nationwide race for the eighth time when leading the most laps.
“The run was really good, but obviously it wasn’t what NASCAR wanted so we kept throwing cautions for things,” Harvick said. “The car that caused the caution pushed the car that won the race by us and we weren’t able to get by him, but what can you do?”
As he and Keselowski sat side by side speaking with reporters after the race, neither driver backed down from his stance.
Harvick blamed Keselowski for tossing the water bottle and causing a caution that led the field catch up.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Harvick said. “He told me after the race that he’d never thrown a water bottle out, and you know what that means. He told me it was intentional. It is what is,” Harvick added before turning to Keselowski and muttering, ‘So, sleep good.’ “
Keselowski stared straight ahead as Harvick spoke, and he later was absolved when the only infraction NASCAR charged him with was for speeding as he entered the pits on lap 51.
“If that water bottle would’ve been the cause for the yellow, it went out of my car 15 or 20 laps before the yellow came out,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know specifically what lap it was. I guess that’s why I was caught off guard that the water bottle caused it. I don’t know why the yellows come out. The yellows come out all the time in the race without an explanation.”
Sadler finished fourth, followed by Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillion, pole winner Kyle Busch, Cole Whitt, Sam Hornish Jr. and Michael Annett.
Danica Patrick, making her first Nationwide start in Atlanta, finished 13th.
After a red flag came out following a wreck that took out James Buescher, Mike Bliss and Kyle Fowler, there were 20 cars sidelined from the 43-car field.
Stenhouse said before the race that he was surprised that his Ford didn’t win the pole, but after the race he credited crew chief Mike Kelley with continuing to tighten the car on pit stops and giving him enough power to beat Harvick’s No. 33 Chevrolet on the final restart.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and many times at the end of the race you’re frustrated, the driver is frustrated and the team is frustrated because you don’t get the best adjustment,” said Jack Rousch, owner of Stenhouse’s No. 6 Mustang. “And all night tonight, for the three stops we had, Mike Kelley dictated great changes, as good a changes as I’ve seen in 25 years.”
Busch, the Nationwide career leader with 51 victories, has had a frustrating weekend after finishing second in the Truck race Friday night. He’s winless in the Nationwide series this year, but won a pole for the first time in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Toyota.
Hornish, in third place, dropped 32 points behind Sadler in the series race. Dillon is fourth, 37 points out.