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Gordon earns historic 85th victory at Atlanta

September 06, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson does all he can to delay milestone

It may have taken two extra days to complete the AdvoCare 500, but for Jeff Gordon, it was worth the wait.

The four-time Cup champion chased down teammate Jimmie Johnson in the waning stages of Tuesday's rain-delayed Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, then held off a furious rally by Johnson to score his third win of the season and the 85th of his career.

"Hell yeah! That's what I'm talking about boys!" an elated Gordon yelled after crossing the finish line .598 second ahead of Johnson.

Gordon was strong early, leading 100 of the first 164 laps. And after two brief stops for rain -- one that brought a halt to the action for nearly 25 minutes -- he slowly worked his way back into the lead on Lap 276, passing Johnson, and then held his advantage through a final round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 284.

He had nearly a 2-second lead with 22 laps remaining in the 325-lap race, but Johnson closed the gap and the two battled furiously through the closing moments.

"That was fun. I was slipping, he was slipping," Gordon said. "There were a couple of times I thought he had me.

"This team is on a roll."

Gordon's win moved him into sole possession of third place in the Sprint Cup Series' all-time win list, trailing only Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105). He had previously been tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

"I'm so glad I grew up racing in the dirt," said Johnson, who ventured into stock cars after an off-road racing career. "I think I would have spun out four or five times there at the end.

"We started the race really bad ... [then] the car came to life. I just couldn't get past [him]."

Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards completed the top five, with Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and A.J. Allmendinger sixth through 10th.

Johnson's runner-up finish left the five-time champion alone atop the points standings. He entered the race tied with Kyle Busch, who finished 23rd.

"I think everybody recognizes how strong they are," Gordon said of his teammate. "You can never count them out."

Johnson has six top-five finishes among his eight top-10s in the past 10 races. Gordon also has eight top-10s in that stretch, with four top-fives.

"The last couple of weeks, we've been able to send a ... message to all our competitors of how strong this team is and how good our race cars are.

"I love the fact that at Bristol, I felt like we had a car that could win there and then we come to a big mile-and-half track and we do win."

Crew chief Alan Gustafson said the team's program for 1.5-mile tracks had been an area of concern.

"This was one of the race tracks that we felt like, to be an elite team and contend for the championship, we'll have to do well on these styles of race tracks," Gustafson said. "There were times when I felt like we were going to win the race and times that we were 10th and it looked like it was going to rain out."

Gordon, a winner at Phoenix and Pocono earlier this year, led seven times for 146 laps. He is now fifth in points.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Jeff Gordon claimed his 85th career Cup Series victory, giving him sole possession of third place on the all-time winners list. It broke a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.
• This was the 11th 1-2 finish for teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson; Gordon has won seven of them.
• Jeff Gordon led 146 laps, including the final 38; that was the most laps led by any driver, and it was the second week in a row in which Gordon led the most laps.
• This was the 15th career victory on a 1.5-mile track, tying Jimmie Johnson for the most all time.
• This was the fifth Atlanta victory for Jeff Gordon, but his first since the fall of 2003.
• Hendrick Motorsports earned its 198th Sprint Cup Series victory.
• Chevrolet claimed its 10th victory of the season (most of any manufacturer) and 37th win at Atlanta (also the most by any manufacturer).
• Jimmie Johnson (second) earned his 11th top-five finish of 2011, which ties him for the second most in the series.
• Tony Stewart (third) picked up his third top-five of 2011; He has just four top-10 finishes in the past 10 races.
• Kurt Busch (fourth) had only his second top-10 finish in the past six races.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) is tied with Jimmie Johnson with 11 top-five finishes in 2011.
• Brad Keselowski (sixth) earned his sixth consecutive top-10 finish; his worst finish in the past six races is ninth.
• This was only the second race run on a Tuesday since 1978; the other was run at Michigan.

While Gordon was celebrating another milestone victory, the Chase picture became a bit clearer as Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Keselowski clinched spots. Nine drivers have qualified for the Chase. Three spots remain open going into Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond.

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