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A night of drama at Atlanta Motor Speedway....and some title contenders take it on the chin


     Wall Street wizard Warren Buffett (L) and Kyle Busch. Team owner Joe Gibbs invited Buffett to a pit road pit box seat for the Atlanta 500. So Buffett clearly sees the value of investing in Kyle Busch....just wonder how he's going to do it (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)         

   By Mike Mulhern

 Three guys who have been struggling – Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson – finally got things going again, battling for the win in Sunday night's Atlanta 500, Stewart coming out on top, but Edwards and Johnson proving again their championship potential, with the NASCAR playoffs just days away.
    But it was another bad night for Denny Hamlin, who started from the pole, led a bunch of laps early, put on a good battle with Stewart, but then went behind the wall with a blown engine.
    "It was fun racing with Denny like that....and whoever got caught in traffic, the other guy got the lead back," Stewart said after his first win of the season, part of a long, slow turnaround to what has generally been a disappointing year.
   As fast as Stewart was during this race "We struggled on restarts all night, until that last time," he said. "I nailed it finally.
    "I was scared if we ever lost that position, we were never going to get it back.

   "And then we got a great pit stop the last time, and without that I think we could have done this. I think we came in fifth and came out second."
   Stewart's comeback this season has been a long time coming. "It hasn't come in any big leaps, but a slow, steady process," Stewart said.
  "Man, I told (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) I have never been so happy to win a race in my life.
    "It's been awhile.
     "And this is a place that's not been good to us.
     "But, man, we had an awesome car. I know Denny Hamlin was really good, and we had to fight him. But we were pretty good. And Carl was good all night too. So we definitely earned this one.
    "It seems like an eternity since we won a race.
    "Especially with the chase a week away now....we need this momentum.

    "This team has been doing an awesome job the last two and a half or three months. We've been kind of quiet this year; we took off slow."   


     Denny Hamlin's bad luck continues. He stands by his car, awaiting the wrecker to hook it up for the ride back to the garage after the engine broke early in the Atlanta 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     For runner-up Edwards, the thrill of the chase was clearly invigorating. He's still looking for his first win since late 2008, but the past two months Edwards has been the hottest driver in NASCAR.
    "That was fun," Edwards said, after congratulating Stewart in victory lane. "Tony just had such a fast car there at the end...but we're back.
    "We're doing it.
    "We're scoring more points than anybody.  
     "We're heading into the chase.  
     "The last couple of months have been great."
    And in victory lane?
     "I just told Tony 'Good job,'" Edwards said.
     "His car was amazing.  He did a really good job of driving it.  
      "The place where he was driving on the track, I couldn't run there.  
       "I was just letting him know I thought he did a really good job."


    NASCAR tour points leader Kevin Harvick ran strong until blowing a left front tire, forcing repairs (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And what's triggered this turnaround, which began almost suddenly in early July.
     "I can't say what turned it around," Edwards said. "Bob (Osborne, his crew chief) and the guys have just been working hard, and that's what it's about. When they go to the shop, and we're not running the way they want, they've got to keep digging and keep working.  
     "I know we don't look like we did in 2008 (when Edwards had a league-leading nine tour wins), but we're better set to go race for that championship now
than we've ever been.
   "The last pit stop was spectacular. That's probably the best pit stop I've ever had.
    "When you run up front like that, you get in that mode of racing for the win and the victory, and that's good for everyone...especially for us at this point.
    "We've scored a ton of points the last seven or eight races.  We've performed probably better in that stretch than we ever have, and it makes me
really excited.  
    "I'm really looking forward to the chase.  It's going to be fun.
    "When Jimmie (Johnson) and Kasey (Kahne) and I were racing two and three-wide for the lead there for a few laps, there was one point I was laughing going down the front straightaway, it was just fun.  
    "That's what racing is about -- having some fun.
     "And I feel this track really lends itself to that style of racing."
    And this still isn't an easy track to get around. "I don't think that the guy who wins this race even has a car that drives great," Edwards says.
    "It's a very difficult track.
    "It's just got a lot of character, and that's why I think all of us like racing here so much."


     Scott Speed's blown engine was quite dramatic (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Kahne meanwhile wasn't very happy with Newman after the race, and he showed his displeasure.
    The two had bumped late, while battling with the leaders and a win on the table.
    "I was just going down the straightaway and got hit from behind....I feel like he lost us about 20 spots," Kahne griped. "He said he got hit from
behind and that forced him into me, so that's racing.
    "But either way, we're the one that took the big shot there."
    Newman went to Kahne in the garage after the race to explain his side of the situation.
    "Ryan and I are fine," Kahne said.  "We don't have an issue with each other.
    "It's just that when you get racing, sometimes it gets you mad."

    Greg Biffle crashed out midway, and he took the blame: "It was my fault.  I didn't know we were still three-wide, and I guess I cut down on Ryan Newman.
    "I have to watch the replay. 
     "He certainly didn't cut us any slack.  He could have cut us some slack and let us go there. 
     "I'll have to watch the replay before I make my judgment. But I didn't know we were still three-wide. 
     "It looked like I had cleared him....along with AJ Allmendinger, and I just turned down into the corner -- and unfortunately he was there.
     "We still locked ourselves into the chase, so we're excited about that. We're 161 points ahead, so I've got to beat one car, if whoever it is wins and leads all the laps. So we're pretty much locked in."   

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     Runner-up Carl Edwards (L) goes to victory lane to congratulate winner Tony Stewart (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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