Avril Hammers Nine Inch Nails For Billboard‘s #1

'American Idol' veteran Bucky Covington opens in the album chart's #4 spot with his debut LP.

Whether they knew it or not, fans of both Avril Lavigne and Nine Inch Nails played instrumental roles in what’s been one of the year’s most-talked-about races for Billboard‘s albums chart peak. With new LPs from both artists hitting stores last Tuesday, the question of who’d come out on top was on the minds of music industry experts.

This battle royale between the bubbly pop-punk princess and venerated industrial-rock icon Trent Reznor injected some much-needed excitement into what was a rather anemic week for album releases. Those in the know called it all week — Lavigne’s third LP, The Best Damn Thing, did outsell Reznor’s Year Zero, and now we know that the race wasn’t such a close one.

With more than 286,000 copies sold during its first week at retail, Lavigne’s Thing trounced sales of Year Zero by close to 100,000 units, scoring Avril the second chart-topping opening of her career, according to the latest SoundScan figures. Mrs. Deryck Whibley’s sophomore set, Under My Skin, also bowed at #1 in 2004, but with 380,000 copies scanned. Nine Inch Nails’ latest settles for second best, having racked up close to 187,000 in sales; the band’s 2005 effort, With Teeth, debuted at #1 with 272,000 units grabbed up, and 1999′s The Fragile also entered the chart at #1, with 229,000 scans.

Now That’s What I Call Music! 24 — featuring contributions from Beyoncé, Fergie, Nelly Furtado and Nickelback — falls two positions to #3, selling another 68,000 copies its fourth week in stores. Following at #4 is the self-titled LP from Bucky Covington, one of the finalists from season five of “American Idol.” The disc scanned close to 61,000 copies, and was one of just seven albums to debut on this week’s chart.

The rest of the week’s fresh faces included country crooner Clay Walker, whose Fall bows at #15 with 32,000 units sold. Lumidee’s Unexpected scanned more than 16,000 copies to finish at #44. Reggaetón duo Rakim & Ken-Y’s Masterpiece, the “Commemorative Edition” of the pair’s 2006 LP, debuts at #116 with 7,000 sold, while claiming #171 with nearly 5,000 copies sold is Tragedias Reales de la Vida, an album from late Mexican singer Beto Quintanilla, who died last month.

Martina McBride’s Waking Up Laughing follows Bucky Covington at #5, climbing three spots thanks to week-three sales of more than 55,000. Dropping three places to #6 is Akon’s Konvicted, selling 52,000 units. Daughtry, the first, eponymous outing from Chris Daughtry’s rock collective, follows at #7 after selling another 52,000 and change, while Tim McGraw’s Let It Go finishes at #8 with more than 51,000 scans.

Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts surges ahead five chart positions this week, returning to the top 10 at #9 with 45,000 sales. And rounding things out at #10 is Timbaland Presents: Shock Value, which drops five spots with close to 40,000 copies sold.