NASCAR – Camping World RV 400, Kansas Speedway – Sun Sep 28

It was a good day at the office for the majority of the Chase contenders, with only two significant major exceptions. But business as usual was topped off by a thrilling final duel between Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards.

The race started with an impressive 74 lap green period without any incidents. Jimmie Johnson led from pole, but didn’t look particularly dominant at this point and ceded the lead to Matt Kenseth on lap 16, who in turn handed it over to Martin Truex Jr. on lap 42. Early favourite for the win, Clint Bowyer, was judged to have jumped the green flag however, and given a drive-thru penalty that dumped him to the back of the pack.

Without any sign of yellows, the first pit stops were held under green. After the positions shuffled through, Kenseth was on top again – but Truex and Johnson were right behind, with Casey Mears running 4th head of Jeff Gordon who was having a good race despite feeling so ill that the team had a replacement driver on stand-by. Further back, Carl Edwards was working his way up steadily from a dismal 34th qualifying slot, and Juan Montoya was also recovering his way from starting dead last after having his times disqualified for a technical infringement.

But all eyes were on Kyle Busch, who started off reasonably well but then started to drop back fast from lap 24 onwards. Fears of a second successive engine failure loomed large, but the crew kept the car out despite going a lap down. Mysteriously, however, the engine started to come back to him around lap 70, and Kyle theorised that something may have been stuck in the engine and finally burned off; later on during a pit stop, the crew found a scrap of paper that might have been the cause covering up key intakes. But even then, Busch’s pace didn’t improve much and he went a lap down again before the end of a long and thankless race, a third consecutive disaster.

The first yellow of the day came out on lap 74, when Ryan Newman slid up into the wall. It was a harmless enough incident but enough to bring out the caution, and everyone hit pit road at this point. It proved an eventful pit stop, with AJ Allmendinger’s crew losing a tyre which rolled lazily across pit road and onto the grass; and a multi-way barging match between several cars which forced Carl Edwards to return to pit road to check for right fender damage. Matt Kenseth had a disaster, too – a problem with a loose lug nut saw him have to come straight back in, sending him tumbling down the standings after being so strong early on.

Now Casey Mears found himself at the head of the field, ahead of Truex, Gordon and Johnson. The running order for 2nd, 3rd and 4th was rapidly inverted after the green flag flew. But the second green stint was a short one – the yellow flew again just 14 laps later when Kyle Petty spun out of turn 2 when he got too low onto the apron of the track, sending him sliding through the grass. Simultaneously, Scott Rigg’s No. 66 car deposited a rather crucial drive shaft onto the track, so his was a hasty retreat to the garage.

Despite it being less than twenty laps since the last pit stops, everyone – bar leader Mears – came in again for new tyres and more fuel, and Kyle Busch finally got his lap back on a free pass. Mears had quick cause to regret his decision when Johnson quickly took the lead from him on lap 106 after the restart. Jeff Burton was also quick to pass Mears, while in 4th it was none other than the dark horse himself – Greg Biffle looking worringly on the pace once again.

Again, the green flag running was shortlived with another yellow out on lap 116 when teenage wonderboy Joey Logano (in his second Sprint Cup race) again showed that it’s a big transition to the top division by sliding into the wall, sending debris onto the track. Once again, the leaders took to pit road: now Truex was at the front of the field, leading Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. Tony Stewart managed to incur a pit lane speed penalty, putting him to the back of the lead lap.

Green flag running this time lasted less than a lap before the fourth caution of the day – Matt Kenseth was tapped into a spin by a bump from Casey Mears, who admitted that he had misjudged the starting pace. Kenseth smoked his tyres running sideways, but kept it away from the wall and any other cars. That put him at the back of the lead pack, and he spent the rest of the race recovering to finish in a very creditable 5th.

Another green flag on lap 125 was quickly met with a matching yellow on lap 126, when another of the Chase contenders, Tony Stewart, spun across the grass after an altercation while passing Brian Vickers. The on-track bust-up followed a pit lane encounter between the crews, with Stewart’s exit during the previous pit stops impeded by Vickers’ crew, who in turn took exception at Stewart cutting through their pit box – one even trying to kick the No. 20 as it went past. As well as picking up a ton of grass in his rallying, Stewart also damaged his front splitter, affecting handling and causing the number 20 to go a lap down; in the end it started falling apart, necessitating a much longer green flag stay on pit lane that well and truly put him out of the running – like his ill-fated team mate Kyle Busch.

At the restart on lap 133, Truex led Johnson, Biffle, Bowyer and Gordon, but Johnson quickly passed Truex to take up the lead for the next forty three until Carl Edwards finally arrived at the front on lap 177, having battled his way up from a starting place of 34th and befitting from only the second prolonged stint of green flag racing of the race. Once the green flag stops worked their way through, Johnson was leading Carl Edwards by 1.475s ahead of Truex and Biffle, but again Edwards soon got past Johnson to take the lead.

After a great run through the first two hundred laps, Martin Truex’s race come undone in the final stages. The latest tyres really seemed to unsettle the car and he dropped a bunch of places, but worse was to come when his shifter (that’s gear stick for us non-Americans, right?) literally broke. The team could not fix this highly unusual failure and he finished the race in the garage.

This latest extended green latest 85 laps, from lap 133 to lap 218, when Travis Kvapil brought out the sixth yellow, this time for debris by hitting the wall. The leaders gratefully came in for their last pit stop of the day, and once again Jimmie Johnson’s hugely impressive crew – combined with having the pole sitter’s pit box, best on pit road – got him out on track in the lead. The question now was whether he could keep the lead this time, all the way to the chequered, or whether Edwards would once again get past him.

At the green flag on lap 222, Johnson led Edwards, Gordon, Burton and Biffle away; but the yellow was back within three laps after Michael Waltrip spun coming off turn 4. When the green came out on lap 230, it was for the remainder of the race – despite Waltrip again hitting problem with 12 laps to go when his tyre blew spectacularly, wrecking his front left bodywork and showering rubber and debris over the track apron. Even so, NASCAR opted to keep the track green and not ruin the spectacle, to no ill effect – good call.

In the final few laps it was clear that the race had come down to a two-man shoot-out. Johnson had indeed managed to hold off Edwards this time, but in the final two laps it looked as though Edwards had the speed and hunger to take the position from Johnson. He ducked, he dived, he tried every move he could – and Johnson implacably fended him off. On the final turn, Edwards flung the car past Johnson – and hurtled up to brush the wall. There wasn’t any major damage but the friction slowed him up enough for Johnson to power past and take the chequered flag – a great finish to an otherwise fairly predictable race.

Behind them, Greg Biffle – despite having a poorly handling car at this point – just managed to edge Jeff Burton for third place.

In the end, an impressive 10 Chase drivers made up the top 13 positions. Only Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart had bad days; for Kyle, that must seem like it’s Groundhog Day all over again.

1   1   48  Jimmie Johnson    Chevrolet     195/10  267 Running
2   34  99  Carl Edwards      Ford          175/5   267 Running
3   18  16  Greg Biffle       Ford          165/0   267 Running
4   13  24  Jeff Gordon       Chevrolet     160/0   267 Running
5   3   17  Matt Kenseth      Ford          160/5   267 Running
6   36  29  Kevin Harvick     Chevrolet     150/0   267 Running
7   37  31  Jeff Burton       Chevrolet     146/0   267 Running
8   12  6   David Ragan       Ford          142/0   267 Running
9   14  84  A.J. Allmendinger Toyota        138/0   267 Running
10  4   19  Elliott Sadler    Dodge         134/0   267 Running
11  30  11  Denny Hamlin      Toyota        135/5   267 Running
12  24  07  Clint Bowyer      Chevrolet     127/0   267 Running
13  28  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet     124/0   267 Running
14  10  5   Casey Mears       Chevrolet     126/5   267 Running
15  9   83  Brian Vickers     Toyota        118/0   267 Running
16  15  12  Ryan Newman       Dodge         115/0   267 Running
17  16  26  Jamie McMurray    Ford          112/0   267 Running
18  2   8   Mark Martin       Chevrolet     109/0   266 Running
19  40  44  David Reutimann   Toyota        111/5   266 Running
20  42  42  Juan Montoya      Dodge         103/0   266 Running
21  8   9   Kasey Kahne       Dodge         100/0   266 Running
22  32  38  David Gilliland   Ford          97/0    266 Running
23  25  70  Tony Raines       Chevrolet     94/0    266 Running
24  21  43  Bobby Labonte     Dodge         91/0    266 Running
25  7   21  Bill Elliott      Ford          88/0    266 Running
26  17  41  Reed Sorenson     Dodge         85/0    266 Running
27  6   15  Paul Menard       Chevrolet     82/0    266 Running
28  27  18  Kyle Busch        Toyota        84/5    266 Running
29  19  10  P Carpentier *    Dodge         81/5    266 Running
30  31  2   Kurt Busch        Dodge         73/0    265 Running
31  26  22  Dave Blaney       Toyota        70/0    265 Running
32  35  01  Regan Smith *     Chevrolet     67/0    265 Running
33  23  77  Sam Hornish Jr *  Dodge         64/0    265 Running
34  33  28  Travis Kvapil     Ford          61/0    264 Running
35  29  55  Michael Waltrip   Toyota        63/5    264 Running
36  20  147 Marcos Ambrose    Ford          55/0    264 Running
37  39  7   Robby Gordon      Dodge         52/0    264 Running
38  43  78  Joe Nemechek      Chevrolet     49/0    263 Running
39  28  96  Joey Logano       Toyota        46/0    263 Running
40  41  20  Tony Stewart      Toyota        43/0    260 Running
41  22  45  Kyle Petty        Dodge         40/0    257 Running
42  21  66  Scott Riggs       Chevrolet     37/0    235 Running
43  5   1   Martin Truex Jr   Chevrolet     39/5    229 Transmission

The Chase Contenders:

1   +1  Jimmie Johnson      5575    Leader  29      5     5     12    17
2   -1  Carl Edwards        5565     -10    29      1     6     14    22
3   --  Greg Biffle         5545     -30    29      2     2     11    14
4   --  Jeff Burton         5454    -121    29      0     1     5     15
5   --  Kevin Harvick       5439    -136    29      0     0     6     15
6   +2  Jeff Gordon         5432    -143    29      3     0     10    14
7   -1  Clint Bowyer        5411    -164    29      0     1     4     13
8   +1  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  5385    -190    29      1     1     9     14
9   +1  Matt Kenseth        5383    -192    29      0     0     8     17
10  +1  Denny Hamlin        5332    -243    29      1     1     9     15
11  -4  Tony Stewart        5320    -255    29      0     0     9     14
12  --  Kyle Busch          5264    -311    29      2     8     15    17

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