Hampton, GA – Jeff Gordon overcame a late-race vibration - a race delayed two days due to Tropical Storm Lee.
Gordon, 40, claimed his 85th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series, which put him in sole possession of third on the series' all-time race winners list. Richard Petty holds the record in NASCAR's premier circuit with 200 wins, followed by David Pearson with 105.
"Eighty-five, wow, that is unbelievable," Gordon said. "I'm just blown away about the kind of day we had and the kind of year we're having. I'm feeling rejuvenated."
With less than 50 laps remaining, Gordon told crew chief Alan Gustafson over the team radio that he was experiencing a bad vibration, probably due to a loose wheel. When Gordon made his final pit with 41 laps to go, his team made adjustments to the car, which put him into the lead for good after a cycle of stops under green concluded with 38 laps left.
Johnson chased down Gordon with 10 laps remaining and ran side-by-side with him for the lead at one point, but Johnson's car got loose several times during the last four laps.
"I am so glad I started racing on the dirt, because if I didn't grow up racing around all of those deserts and all of those stadium tracks, I think I would have spun out there at the end," Johnson said.
Gordon crossed the finish line 0.6 seconds ahead of Johnson for his third win of the season.
"That was a lot of fun racing with him," said Gordon, who led a race-high 146 laps. "I was slipping, and he was slipping. It was very tough there at the end. There were a couple of moments where I thought he got us. What an incredible victory for this [team]."
Gordon also claimed his fifth win at Atlanta but his first here since October 2003. The four-time Sprint Cup champion made his first series start at this track in November 1992.
Tony Stewart's third-place finish kept him in the coveted 10th spot in points with only one race to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins. Stewart was coming off a disappointing performance at Bristol the last weekend in August.
"We looked at today as a day that we gained some momentum back, so it's big especially going into a week where anything can happen," Stewart said.
The top-10 drivers in points, as well as two wild-card holders, after next Saturday night's race at Richmond will qualify for the playoffs, which start September 18 at Chicagoland.
Busch and Ryan Newman, who finished 20th, clinched a top-10 spot in the Chase. Keselowski, with three wins so for the season, secured at least a wild card spot. He is currently 11th in the rankings (23 points behind Stewart).
"Today was a huge confidence builder for us, because we took a bad day and still got a good finish out of it," Keselowski said. "That's what you've got to do for the Chase."
Keselowski was one of four drivers who had a shot at winning $1 million for himself, his charity and one lucky fan in the "Sprint Summer Showdown" bonus program. If Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch or Paul Menard would have won the 500-mile race at Atlanta, that driver would've collected the cash award. Ambrose, Busch and Menard all finished outside the top-10.
Denny Hamlin continues to hold the second wild card spot after finishing eighth. Hamlin moved up one position to 12th in points.
Clint Bowyer's playoff hopes took a huge hit with a 36th-place finish. On lap 242, Bowyer made contact with the wall after Juan Pablo Montoya bumped into him.
"You just can't race around the [expletive]; you never can," a frustrated Bowyer said about Montoya. "Anybody in this sport knows what you're up against when the No.42 [Montoya] comes up. He dive bombs the starts and bullies his way up in there. Before you know it, he's in the way and wrecking with somebody. Unfortunately, I was the victim this week."
Montoya finished 15th.
Just three positions remain available in the Chase heading into Richmond.