Jeff Gordon's season has been getting better and better, and he confirmed his impressive momentum heading into the Chase with a thrilling win over reigning champion Jimmie Johnson in the delayed, rain-hit Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Tuesday morning hadn't exactly been the ideal for the running of the AdvoCare 500 Sprint Cup race, but after some 38 hours delay from the originally scheduled start time because of severe storms passing through the area, it was a relief to everyone to see the track get dried off in time for the revised 11am start for the 325 lap race.
Because of the heavy rain fall that had cleaned off the track since the last time that cars ran on it, NASCAR organised a competition caution for lap 30 - only to have a real yellow come out well before that when Bobby Labonte spun through the grass on lap 13.
Polesitter Kasey Kahne fought over the lead with Clint Bowyer early in the race and after the first restart, but Kahne's pace soon fell off and he would end the race parked in the garage with engine problems. Joe Gibbs Racing duo Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin would then run laps in the lead early on, but it wasn't to be Kyle's day either. His handling deteriorated mid-race with the car variously too tight and then snapping suddenly loose, and not even a lengthy visit to pit road could fix the problem or the damage the #18 picked up hitting a barrier as a result. A pit lane penalty for a commitment cone violation added to his woes and he ended up finishing in 23rd place a lap down.
Instead it was Jeff Gordon who inserted himself into the top spot on lap 46 and from thereon was an ever-present threat for the remainder of the race, leading a total of 146 laps - more than twice the amount of the next man, Matt Kenseth, who managed to run 64 laps in front during the day.
Having caused the first caution of the day, Bobby Labonte triggered a second on lap 93 when he spun into the wall and seriously crumpled the front end of the #47. Andy Lally brought out the next caution on lap 128 when he scraped the wall, giving Matt Kenseth his first opportunity to lead the race when he won the race off pit road ahead of Kyle Busch.
When the green flag came out, Kenseth seemed slower than expected down the front straight and Busch was obliged to check his speed or be penalised for overtaking before the start/finish line, which sent a compressive ripple through the field. AJ Allmendinger got loose as a result and ended up clipping the back of Kevin Harvick's car, sending the #29 into a sideways spin that by rights should have not only wrecked him but wiped out half the tightly-paced field behind him in the aftermath, but somehow Harvick held on to it and continued on his way.
Gordon briefly retook the lead as the event hit the mid-race distance of 163 laps, the point at which it could be ruled 'official' even if the weather then forced it to be curtailed for further rain. And with the clouds getting lower and the mist thickening up over Atlanta Motor Speedway for the last half hour, there was a distinct possibility that this could indeed happen at any moment.
Kenseth went to the lead again, but it was Carl Edwards who won the next round of green-flag pit stops to go in front on lap 175. That cycle of pit stops was just coming to an end when David Gilliland came to a stop at the entrance to pit land and forced a fifth yellow.