- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- Out of nowhere Sunday night, Kyle Busch emerged with a chance to tie for the top seed in the Chase. And he thought his team previewed just how well it might perform in the playoffs.
Busch just kept hanging around and hanging around, sort of in the hunt but not up front, for most of the Advocare 500. He didn't take the lead until his crew gave him a spectacular stop to get him out of the pits first with only 36 laps left of the 325 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The win was Kyle's fourth of the season, so a victory next week at Richmond would tie him for the top Chase seed with Matt Kenseth, who has five. Busch currently is tied with points leader Jimmie Johnson for the second seed.
Notorious for faltering in previous Chases, Busch gushed hope on this one, based largely on Sunday night.
"It started a little ugly," he said of his race. "And I was a little ill on the radio, I'm sure. But I can't say enough about [crew chief] Dave Rogers and the team he's assembled around us.
"I think if you could paint a championship on one night, in one race, I think tonight was the night," Busch continued. "We certainly had a lot to overcome. Dave and these guys stuck with me. For as bad as I may have been talking, they certainly never gave up. They kept going to work and trying to figure things out for me.
"They made my life a little easier behind the wheel, although Atlanta is never easy."
His car "was good at the end," he said, and his crew was better.
"Track position. My boys!" he said of that final stop. "My boys on pit road, man! What can I say?"
While Busch lurked and fumed most of the evening, and his crew made myriad adjustments, other drivers far more desperate to make headway toward the Chase had their moments of bright hope but faltered.
Keselowski dropped to 15th in the standings, 28 points out of the Chase cutoff, all but snuffing his chances of a repeat championship.
Gordon's sixth-place finish lifted him from 13th to 11th in the standings, but the four-time Cup champion remains on the outside looking in going into next Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond.
Logano moved closer to a playoff berth, his second-place finish lifting him to eighth in the standings. But he was deeply disappointed at missing the win after leading the most laps Sunday night, 78.
After pitting out of sequence with a loose wheel early, Logano mingled up front for the lead in the middle stages and then led 35 straight laps before the fateful final stop, when he came out of the pits third.
For the next restart, "I didn't give myself room for when Kyle spun his tires," Logano said. "I got pinned in and the 56 [Truex] put me three wide and I was having trouble at that point. Went all the way back to sixth and had to work my way back up."
On the final restart, with 21 laps left, Truex shot from third, inside, to take the lead briefly, but Busch kept coming and got back out front.
"I almost had Kyle on that last restart," said Truex, who salvaged a third-place finish driving with a broken right wrist. "I almost had him cleared, but he got on my right rear getting into Turn 3 and got me loose."
But, Truex conceded, his car "was too tight anyway, and I probably wouldn't have been able to hold Kyle off even if I could have cleared him."
Third wasn't bad, Truex reckoned, considering that "It was pretty tough for a while there, just hanging onto the car, with my wrist. It hurt pretty bad for a while."
Logano, looking dominant at times, "felt like I had the race-winning Ford tonight," he said. "The only thing I would change about it is if it had been better in the first six laps of a run. After that, the thing was a rocket ship."
Toward the end, "I just needed 30 laps of green-flag racing to get all the way up there," Logano said. "We were catching him the last few laps. Just needed five more laps. Maybe less."
But now, going to Richmond, Logano is still fighting for a playoff berth.
And Kyle Busch will be gunning for a top seed in the Chase -- and afterward, just maybe, gunning to win it all.
Notorious for faltering in previous Chases, Kyle Busch will enter the 2013 playoff with great optimism, thanks in large part to one mind-boggling victory Sunday night at Atlanta.