Even though it's the year 2011 and NASCAR's former "young gun" is now a seasoned veteran, 40-year-old Jeff Gordon drove like a youthful spirit on the slick 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.
On a somewhat misty and soggy Tuesday at Hampton, GA, Gordon rocketed his way en route to his fifth career win at the famed track.
Starting from the fifth position, Gordon showed flashes of his dominant title years, leading 146 of the 325 laps to capture his third victory of the season.
Already locked with a Chase seed, his triumph on a cloudy and damp Tuesday afternoon placed him at least in the third position once the playoffs begin in two weeks.
While the results will show that Gordon beat teammate Jimmie Johnson and led the most laps, he certainly earned the checkered flag, as both drivers' cars were slipping and sliding along the treacherous corners with loose handling machines.
Certainly, it was a win that Gordon reflected with significance and appreciation, as he moved into sole position of third spot on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup wins list with his 85th victory.
"I totally forgot about that," Gordon said during his post-race celebration with ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch. "Eighty-five, wow! That is un-un-believable. With the kind of day we had, the kind of year we’re having, I feel rejuvenated."
Gordon credited crew chief Alan Gustafson and his pit crew on his milestone win, saying that his team's efforts on the last two pit stops were "money."
As immaculate as Gordon's win was, give credit to Jimmie Johnson for driving his hardest to try and grab his second win of the year.
Both drivers' Chevrolet Impala cars broke loose in the corners, as they both willed and wheeled their machines on worn out tires and a slick track.
"I’m so glad I grew up racing on dirt," Johnson said. "I could have spun out four or five times at the end."
Instead, the five-time defending Cup champion leaves Atlanta with a runner-up finish and the points lead as the Cup circuit hits up Richmond International Speedway for this Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachio 400 (Live at 7 PM EDT on ABC).
Feeling nearly like a race winner was Tony Stewart, whose season has bore resemblance to the stock market with another feast or famine result (third). Still, the 40-year-old two-time Cup champion took his solid finish in stride.
"The points are big going into next week, that’s for sure," Stewart said. "I’m proud of the effort everybody gave this week. It may come down to one point."
Rounding out the top-five finishers were Kurt Busch, who locked up his Chase seed, and Carl Edwards, who captured Saturday night's Nationwide race.
Ryan Newman also nabbed his Chase seed by placing 20th while Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth, assured himself a wild-card spot in the 12-driver field.
Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and A.J. Allmendinger placed seventh through tenth, turning in respectable performances on a tricky, misty Tuesday afternoon.
Saturday night's race at Richmond may not capture the same last second dramatics of the inaugural Chase, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart will have to produce decent performances to lock their playoff spots.
Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, who's not been as stout as he was in 2010, looks to just make his way into the postseason hunt with the 12th spot with his one victory earlier in the year at Michigan.
As for the race itself, it belonged to Jeff Gordon, who continued his hot streak of leading the most laps for the third straight race in a row as well as placing 13th or better for the past 10 races.
Next to Brad Keselowski, Gordon has put up solid numbers in the summer and he looks to capture his third career win at "The Action Track."
Here's a look at the top-12 points standings heading into Richmond, VA, with drivers' team, manufacturer, and wins (if any) listed in parenthesis:
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/2 wins)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/3 wins)
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/3 wins)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/1 win)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy)
- Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/3 wins, WILD CARD)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win, WILD CARD)