Patrick earns career-best finish
Danica Patrick fell a lap down twice early in Sunday’s race, but after returning to the lead lap the third time, she remained there the rest of the night.
In fact, as the race drew to its conclusion, she avoided two wrecks and was running as high as fourth on the last restart before finishing a career-high sixth.
“It was a long night. Man, that race felt like it was 700 miles,” Patrick said. “Sometimes when you are running well they feel like that, because you are hoping it stays there, keeps going well, and you keep improving and don’t lose it.
“I am just so happy for the team. We have had pretty fast cars for quite a while now and not really great finishes for it.”
Two tires not quite enough: Before the first two-lap overtime, all of the lead-lap cars elected to pit. Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard took only two new tires and started first and second, respectively.
Kenseth was able to keep position on the restart, only to see the caution flag fly again and send the race to a second overtime. Kenseth didn’t fare as well, as Kasey Kahne passed him for the win.
“I got rolling got through the gears really good, but they got so much speed, (Kahne) just drove right up between me and Denny (Hamlin),” Kenseth said. “I don’t think I could do any more than I did.”
Good signs for Hamlin: Hamlin may have been disappointed he didn’t get the win, but he showed some positive signs in his third-place finish for the upcoming Chase.
He led 37 laps – the most he’s led in a race all season, including his victory at Talladega, Ala. His third place was his best finish since he was also third at Indianapolis in July.
“I thought we had a little better car than this and was pretty optimistic. Still, it puts us in position to win,” Hamlin said.
“That top line, you just can’t accelerate up there for whatever reason. It’s no different banking than the bottom, but for whatever reason, you just can’t get going.”
Busch, Truex tangle: Martin Truex Jr. completed a clean pass of Kyle Busch late in the race only to see Busch slam into him on Lap 324 to bring out a caution.
The two continued to bang fenders under the caution and after the race, Truex got in a heated confrontation with Busch and his crew chief, Dave Rogers, in the garage area.
“I passed him clean earlier and then he comes back and hits me from behind. It was totally uncalled for and hard to figure out why he did what he did,” Truex said.
Busch declined to comment.
Observations• There will be people outside of NASCAR who likely think there is something wrong with NASCAR fans’ warm reception of Tony Stewart as he ran in his first race Sunday night at Atlanta since his involvement in an Aug. 9 incident at a New York dirt track that left another driver dead. Although the investigation into the incident is not complete by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s department, welcoming Stewart back to the race track – his job – is not a sign of disrespect toward Kevin Ward Jr. or his family. Fans of NASCAR and Stewart should be able to applaud his return to the sport they follow without it being cast as uncaring or inappropriate. He has not been charged, much less convicted, of any crime.
• Sunday night’s race showcased the best of NASCAR’s new Chase format. A driver who looked like he would be sitting on the outside looking in at the championship playoff this season saw his fortunes change in the final two laps of a race. If that’s not drama and excitement, I don’t know what is.
• Patrick earned a career-best sixth-place finish and faces the same question as the other times she has set her career best mark. Can she duplicate it, or at least string together a series of strong performances? In the end, that’s likely the only way she will get in position to secure a much sought after victory.
Five key moments
1 . Pole-winner Kevin Harvick led the first 80 laps and a race-high 195 for the night.
2 . Jeff Gordon got taken out of contention early when he hit the wall after having a tire go down on Lap 78.
3 . Kasey Kahne took the lead for the first time on a restart on Lap 303 and appeared ready to claim the win until a caution with one lap to go sent the race into a two-lap overtime.
4 . Harvick wrecked on the restart of the overtime, setting up a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish with Kenseth in the lead.
5 . On the second two-lap overtime, Kenseth got a good start but Kahne quickly powered around him and held on for his first victory of the season.
Unofficial results and points standings