3 September 2012
Hamlin's fourth thwarts Gordon's hopes
Or rather: McMurray' right front tyre happened, blowing out and plastering the #1 against the frontstretch outside wall. A caution with five laps to go meant that the field immediately closed up and a GWC restart was going to happen after all. The game had been changed: those cars who had been trying to get to the end on fuel had to pit, and even Jeff Gordon wasn't feeling confident in case the number of GWC attempts spiralled and wrecked his chances.
Hamlin won the race off pit road ahead of Truex, giving him control of the restart with Gordon lining up alongside Harvick on the second row and followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was a question of who got the best getaway at the green flag: and it wasn't Truex.
"I had trouble all night on the outside on restarts," signed Truex. "As soon as I tried to go to third gear, I just would light the tires up and there was nothing I could do about it. I really don't know why it was doing it, but every restart it did the same thing and I'd get beat into turn 1."
As Truex spun his wheels he was passed in quick succession by Gordon and Keselowski: the caution had cost him the win and left him having to settle with fourth place after a hard night's work.
"I'm pretty disappointed," Truex said after the end of the race. "It sure would have been nice to get a win. I've been pretty close here recently. It sucks when you have one locked up like that and the caution comes out. But that's the way it goes. We weren't good enough on the restarts, so I wasn't good enough."
Now the question was how was going to win the shootout for the lead. Hamlin and Gordon quickly pulled away, making it clear that the matter would be between the two of them and was none of Keselowski's business. Coming out of turn 2, Gordon had his chance - and didn't take it.
"He made a mistake off of 2, and I got a run on him, and I made a bad decision," admitted Gordon. "I should have just run into the back of him going into 3 and moved him up the race track.
"We'd be sitting in victory lane right now counting another win," he said of hesitation to press home the attack. "This Chase is too important to be in it for me not to make a move like that. I wouldn't have wanted to wreck him, but I would have liked to have that one over again."
But he didn't. The moment had passed, Hamlin was still in the lead - and he stayed there through to the chequered flag, Gordon coming home 0.378s further back. Second was good, but it wasn't a win: and wins are all that count in the battle for one of the two wild cards into the Chase that Gordon so desperately needs right now.
By thwarting Gordon's run, Hamlin had done a huge service for his team mate Kyle Busch who ended up in sixth place. While Kasey Kahne is looking set to take the first wild card by virtue of his two wins so that his 23rd place finish at Atlanta because of chronic engine problems didn't unduly hurt him, Gordon and Busch are tied on one win apiece. If Gordon had made it two, then Busch would have been all but finished for the season, rather than still clinging on to that final Chase spot coming out of this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr.
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