NASCAR: Denny Hamlin earns second straight Sprint Cup victory
Hampton, Ga. • Denny Hamlin won his second straight Sprint Cup race, holding off Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checkered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
With his series-leading fourth win of the season, Hamlin gave himself a shot to top the standings when the 12-driver Chase starts after next weekend's race at Richmond.
Asked if he feels like the driver to beat for the championship, Hamlin replied, "I don't have to say anything. Wins are all that matters."
Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be positioned for his first win since 2007 until Jamie McMurray smashed into the wall on the front straightaway, bringing out a caution with three laps to go. The leaders went to pit road, and Hamlin's crew got him back on the track first, just ahead of Truex.
While Truex struggled to get up to speed on the restart, Hamlin pulled away with Gordon right on his bumper. The four-time Cup champion desperately needed a win to bolster his chances of getting into the Chase, but couldn't get by Hamlin on the final lap.
"I wanted this one real bad," Hamlin said. "The car faded a little bit, but the pit crew won me that race. That's what a championship team is all about. This year, I think we have it all."
Gordon was kicking himself for failing to pull off a pass on Hamlin, saying he was too tentative going into turn three. Instead of putting pressure on the leader, the No. 24 car drifted up near the wall going through the high-banked turn while Hamlin pulled away.
Now, Gordon will almost surely have to win at Richmond to claim a wild card.
"I would like to have that one over again," Gordon said. "I guess I'm getting soft in my old age."
Brad Keselowski finished third, while Truex faded to fourth.
Along with Hamlin, eight other drivers have locked up their spot in the Chase based on points: Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Truex, Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart, who has three wins this season, is assured of at least a wild card.
Kasey Kahne, with two wins, has all but locked up a spot in the playoff.
1. G. Biffle 879
2. D. Earnhardt Jr. 871 -8
3. M. Kenseth 858 -21
4. J. Johnson 848 -31
5. M. Truex Jr. 838 -41
6. B. Keselowski 831 -48
7. D. Hamlin 822 -57
8. C. Bowyer 811 -68
9. K. Harvick 807 -72
10. T. Stewart 769 -110
11. K. Kahne 751 -128
12. Kyle Busch 746 -133