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Atlanta recap: Johnson earns Chase spot

 

HAMPTON, Ga. (Sept. 5, 2010) – Jimmie Johnson secured his spot inside the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a third-place finish in Sunday night’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top 22. Jeff Gordon finished 13th, Mark Martin took 21st and Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored 22nd.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Atlanta in seventh and contended for the win, leading eight laps toward the end.

“It was a really good night,” said Johnson, who ranks seventh in the driver standings. “There were times where we lost the handle, and we were able to address the car and get it back. All in all, solid day—good job in the pits, good job on the track. I’m glad to get a good run on a track that’s been tough on us.”

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/Jeff Gordon Foundation Chevrolet, entered Sunday’s race with his spot secure in the Chase. He started 18th and climbed his way inside the top 10. Handling became an issue, though, and the No. 24 team worked hard to help Gordon finish 13th.

Martin lined up his No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in 17th with his sights set on cracking back into the top 12 in the driver standings. His forward progress was hampered by handling issues, though, and Martin crossed the finish line 21st. He remains 15th in the driver standings, 147 points behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer with one race remaining until the postseason field is set.

“We just weren’t fast enough,” Martin said. “We really weren’t that far off on our balance. We just didn’t have the speed. We battled and really some of the long runs were ok – we were really close to the leaders. But I was three-quarters of a lap behind. We’ve just got to get our stuff faster.

“We’ll take these next races, and we’ll work really, really hard like we have been to get in the Chase,” Martin added. “And we’ll work hard to get prepared for next year. We had such a rocket ship last year, and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and I both had a career year last year. That’s what we hope to have next year. Right now, we’ve got some work to do.”

Earnhardt followed Martin across the finish line in 22nd in his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet. Earnhardt started the race 25th and steadily improved his position. He spent most of the race running in the top 15.

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