What was a very boring night for the longest time turned out to be one exciting finish. For lap after lap, through each green-flag run of pit stops, the laps kept clicking away. It seemed as if fuel strategy may play out in the end, and it changed.
Then it seemed fuel would become critical after a caution, as to if one could save enough. But, in the end, it was who wanted it more, and who was best under pressure.
No question, the best car on the track and the best team on pit road were one in the same, and that was the team of the No. 11 car, Denny Hamlin. He consistently was out front, leading the most laps, and the pit crew was absolutely flawless each stop. The final pit stop, leading into the green-white-checkered finish, was their shining moment.
Entering the pits in third, the team beat both Martin Truex Jr, who was leading, and Jeff Gordon onto the track.
At that point, it was a matter of holding on, as on that restart, Gordon was right up the bumper of the No. 11, as he wanted to get the win even more than the rest of the field. He tried, and came close, but couldn't make it stick, a move Gordon eventually said he regretted, saying he should have gotten into Hamlin and moved him up the track, knowing the Chase was approaching and he still wasn't locked in.
Still, the win was just as big for Hamlin, his fourth of the year. It makes it a better position for him once the standings are re-seeded on wins, and gives him a lot of momentum heading into a track he's extremely strong at.
As for the win in regards to the writers, it didn't help many as no one picked him. However, some bad runs have jumbled up the standings. Here's what they look like after the AdvoCare 500:
Sal Sigala Jr. (836) Jimmie Johnson finished 34th (3)
Billy Fellin (829) Jimmie Johnson finished 34th (4)
Christopher Leone (821) Jeff Gordon finished 2nd (2)
Rob Tiongson (817) Jeff Gordon finished 2nd (4)
Ryan O'Hara (806) Jeff Gordon finished 2nd (2)
Dustin Parks (802) Jeff Gordon finished 2nd (1)
James Broomhead (791) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd (3)
Kelly Crandall (791) Jimmie Johnson finished 34th (3)
Misan Akuya (787) Tony Stewart finished 22nd (1)
Patti Rodisch (782) Greg Biffle finished 15th (2)
Kara Martin (769) Jimmie Johnson finished 34th (2)
Michael Hirshbein (754) Kyle Busch finished 6th (1)
Next Race: It has come down to one more regular season event. The top-10 in the standings all are in the Chase, but two spots remain. Some may run conservative, others want a win, and others will go all out for a win.
What better place to determine the Chase than what is known as "Racing Perfection" and has given NASCAR many great moments, both in the pre-Chase era and in today's times. Many former winners at this track are in the Chase, some wanting another win to go up in the seeding, while others want a win just to lock into this year's field.
It is all up in the air, and writers this is the final race under the current "pick who you want" rules for the pool. It's a big weekend, and implications are high. Your picks for the regular-season finale, the Federated Auto Parts 400, are due by 10 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 6.
AUTHOR NOTE: The picks article is going to be posted on Thursday night as my schedule has me working mornings the next few months, and this week my high school football game is on the road, so I will be posting it a bit early. It is critical that you get in picks on time, as in the Chase there will be extremely little wiggle room for tardiness. I had one pick this week that came just minutes after deadline, but was included (as in arrived in my inbox at 10:02 p.m.).
This week I will also send an email to everyone regarding how the Chase rules will be employed for the pool. They are similar to what they were last year, however based on a couple things that happened in last year's Chase, there are a couple more added, but nothing too major.
Please be aware of the changes, and any questions can be asked in regards to them.