Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rating the AdvoCare 500: 2 Stars **

After a rough-and-tumble night at Bristol Motor Speedway a week ago, the Sprint Cup Series brought back the long green-flag runs more typical of 2012 on Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The relative lack of action earns this race a 2 Star Rating.
Denny Hamlin won the race to put him in prime contention for the championship once the Chase begins in two weeks at Chicagoland Speedway, but Martin Truex Jr. should have won the race. Shockingly, it wasn’t NASCAR’s fault he didn’t win.
Truex Jr. led 40 laps Sunday night and had a substantial lead with five laps to go when Jamie McMurray blew a tire and pounded the frontstretch wall. That sent the leaders to pit road to get four tires because the surface at Atlanta is so rough. Denny Hamlin came from fourth to first on the exchange of pit stops and lined up alongside Truex Jr. to settle the race.
Truex Jr. had trouble getting through the gears so Hamlin and Jeff Gordon checked out in front. Gordon almost had a shot at Hamlin on the final lap, but he got loose, Hamlin won and Truex Jr. finished a disheartening fourth place.
Truex Jr. still clinched a spot in the Chase, but instead of the papers being full of stories that say Truex Jr. is a serious contender for the championship, he is left as an afterthought that happens to be in the Chase but probably won’t be much of a championship threat.
This loss is a tough won for Truex Jr. and the #56 team because they have come extremely close to several wins this year and have come up empty every time. Truex Jr. has six top-fives, 14 top-10s and should’ve won the spring Kansas race if not for a late caution.
A win might have been even more beneficial than the three bonus points he would’ve received once the Chase standings are set. Sometimes a breakthrough win can open the floodgates for several more wins in the near future. It’s amazing sometimes how difficult it is to break into Victory Lane but then seems relatively easy to return after that first win.
For example, Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports had gone 16 races without a win before Johnson won the Southern 500 in May at Darlington Raceway. Since then, Johnson has won three more races (including the All-Star Race) and Hendrick Motorsports has won seven races.
Truex Jr. hasn’t won since Dover in June 2007, a span of 192 races. That streak certainly weighs on him, and Sunday night’s fourth-place finish was devastating. However, if he can get that win during the Chase, he could go on a roll and really be a factor in the championship at the end of the season.
Sunday’s race might not have been the most exciting race in the world, but next week’s race at Richmond International Raceway could be thrilling. Seven drivers are in wild card contention, but the only way most of them can make the Chase is to win the race. That could make for a memorable short track race.
The final regular-season week of the season is always a fun one, and all the ingredients are in place for another wild race to send us to the Chase. We’ve been waiting for this race seemingly the entire season, and hopefully it satisfies our hopes.
In any case, have a wonderful week, everybody.

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