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Sprint Cup - Stewart Race Report Atlanta

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Atlanta, Sep. 3, 2012: Tony Stewart’s outlook Sunday night heading into the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was positive. Stewart, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), started from the pole. And with three wins at the 1.54-mile oval, Atlanta historically had been a very good track for Stewart.

The start of the 325-lap race began well for three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Stewart. After battling with series point leader Greg Biffle for the lead, Stewart took hold of first place on lap two and held it for the next eight circuits before surrendering the lead to Jeff Gordon.

But Stewart began to drop back, and back and back. The handling of his Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy would not let him power through the corners like the rest of his counterparts. No matter what changes crew chief Steve Addington made to aid the car’s handling, little progress was made. When the checkered flag mercifully dropped, Stewart finished 22nd, one lap down.

“We just couldn’t get the handle on this thing tonight,” said Stewart, who won in March 2004, October 2006 and September 2010 at Atlanta. “We needed more side bite in the corners, and I was just too free. We chased it all night. We’ll go back to the shop, tear it apart and see what the deal is.”

Enduring a worse night was Stewart’s SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, who finished 35th. Newman, the driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Medicine Chevrolet, was caught in a crash on lap 270, ending his night and putting a wild-card spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup further from his reach. Only one race remains before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

SHR driver Danica Patrick, who is driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR, finished 29th in her continuing Sprint Cup education. Atlanta marked Patrick’s fifth career Sprint Cup start and her first at Atlanta.

Denny Hamlin won the AdvoCare 500 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his series-leading fourth of the season and his first at Atlanta. It was Hamlin’s second consecutive victory, as he won last weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Gordon finished .378 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were six caution periods for 31 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 327-lap race, which was extended two laps beyond its scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.

With round 25 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He remained 10th and has 769 points, 110 back of Biffle and 18 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Newman fell two positions to 17th and has 697 points, 182 behind Biffle and 72 behind 10th-place Stewart.

Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Busch remained in the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his victory April 28 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, combined with his 12th position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Newman and Joey Logano.