HAMPTON, Ga. — Shortly after the 200th lap in Tuesday's AdvoCare 500, a heavy mist started falling on Atlanta Motor Speedway, forcing officials to call for a caution. After pit stops by the usual suspects, it was time to meet the new drivers atop the leaderboard:
J.J. Yeley and Landon Cassill.
No disrespect to those guys, but they aren't exactly title contenders in the Chase for the Championship.
Imagine the howls if a deluge had come, and those guys had been declared the top two finishers.
Such are the possibilities when bad weather converges with a sport predicated on a dry surface to keep cars from slipping and sliding all over the place, coupled with the demands of a big TV contract that leaves little flexibility.
Fortunately for NASCAR, the weather held up and teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson battled hard in the final 10 laps to turn it into a fantastic finish.
There was a nice historical twist too, as Gordon snagged his 85th victory to move past Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for third on NASCAR's all-time win list. Gordon trails only Richard Petty and David Pearson.
"I'm just blown away this year," said Gordon, who won for the third time this season and is fifth in the points standings. "I feel rejuvenated."
NASCAR's response: "Whew."
The race easily could have turned into a big wet intermittent joke and a logistical nightmare for everyone involved.
This race was supposed to go off Sunday, until the remnants from Tropical Storm Lee pushed through the Atlanta area.
I'm not sure what NASCAR could have done, besides trying to wiggle an earlier start time Sunday, moving up from the original 7:30 p.m. slot. ESPN obviously sets scheduling way ahead of time, not to mention the squeeze it would have put on about 100,000 fans to get to the track hours earlier than expected.
So perhaps it's best to file it under the "Is what it is" category.
"I'm glad we got the race in its entirety," Chase qualifier Carl Edwards said.
The good news for the title contenders is that everybody got through OK, with the exception of Clint Bowyer (bump and grind with Juan Pablo Montoya) and David Ragan (hit the wall).
NASCAR's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is in ninth place and hanging onto a Chase spot, two points ahead of Tony Stewart.
And Johnson once again has surged into the points lead, giving everyone the nicest villain to root against as he bids for his sixth consecutive title.
I suppose everyone should be fortunate that NASCAR finally can look forward to other things. Richmond will be a blessing unless a monsoon comes.
Goodbye, Atlanta Motor Speedway.
You can keep the umbrella.