Round 3 – Shelby 427, Las Vegas – 1 March

Despite being the first race of the 2009 Sprint Cup season not to run under any threat of rain, the Shelby 427 proved a rather protracted affair, with plenty of relatively minor incidents bringing out a record number of yellows, all sorts of pit stop strategies – and engine failures being very much the talking point of the day.

Initially it looked to be Jimmie Johnson’s to win, with the reigning champion taking ideal advantage of the pole position he had inherited when fastest qualifier Kyle Busch got sent to the back for an engine change. But the tables would be turned in the final laps, with Johnson spinning out of contention – and the Vegas favourite “Wild Thing” driving a confident, composed race to score his first home win.

Johnson quickly opened out an impressive lead over Kurt Busch and the rest of the pack, while Carl Edwards cut a path up from 16th place at the start to take up 3rd place by lap 40 and then overtaking Kurt for 2nd on lap 42, while Ryan Newman was plummeting his way in the reverse direction down the field. Further back, Kyle Busch was recovering from his engine penalty to sit on the verge of the top 20 by lap 50 despite claiming the car was too free and needing a track bar adjustment.

The first major round of pit stops started under green on lap 51; and once again pit lane speeding penalties played a big part, with Casey Mears, Regan Smith and Dale Earnhardt Jr among the first to get a drive-thru. During the pit stop shuffle, Kyle Busch led a couple of laps, as did Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards – and rookie Joey Logano, his first points for leading any lap in the Sprint Cup.

The yellow came out for debris almost immediately after the field completed their pit stops, and Kyle Busch – one of the last to pit – returned with a few others, still having problems with loose handling. Emerging in 22nd – about where he was before the pit stops – it didn’t seem to have done him much harm.

Radically different pit stop strategies became the order of the day. At the next pit stops on lap 76, Kevin Harvick took the lead after taking only two tyres; Jimmie Johnson took four and ended up down in 10th pace as a result. But Harvick’s lead was brief, with Greg Biffle (another two-tyre stop) assuming the lead on lap 85. Jeff Gordon (fuel-only stop) got past Harvick for second three laps later, but his Vegas gamble faded as the race past the 100th lap with Gordon falling back and Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson getting past him for second and third on lap 103. But Kurt Busch’s strong run was at a high price, the local racer calling in a lap later to report that they that had pushed the engine too hard and he was in trouble. He started falling back just as Jeff Gordon got his second wind and returned to 2nd ahead of Johnson.

After the next pit stops, the top three inverted – Johnson returned to the lead, Gordon retained second and Biffle fell to third ahead of McMurray, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Harvick and Kyle Busch in 8th. Stewart and Busch had great restarts, getting up to 4th and 5th respectively by the time the next yellow came out. Further back, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr were running 12th and 13th after both being a lap down at one point and needing a free pass to get back into contention.

During the next 15-lap stint of green flag racing, it was Gordon’s turn among the leading trio to take the lead position, but the next round of pit stops shook the field up with differing pit stop strategies and it was Jeff Burton who popped up to the front, followed by Bobby Labonte and Brian Vickers. Biffle was back in 5th followed by Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch.

Despite only taking two tyres, Burton was able to keep the lead for an extended period. Meanwhile some of the previous contenders were starting to fall away: Biffle developed an engine problem despite changing ignition boxes, Stewart started to suffer a severe vibration, Jimmie Johnson over ran his pit box and ended up a lap down, and Jeff Gordon botched his pit lane entry, overshot, went into a slide and burst his front tyre causing extensive bodywork damage and bringing out a caution.

At the restart on lap, Burton was still in the lead with Labonte 2nd and Kyle Busch 3rd. It only took a lap for Busch to surge past both of them to take the lead. Burton fell back rapidly complaining that his car simply wouldn’t turn since the latest pit stops, promptly overtaken by Brian Vickers and a strong David Reutimann over the next half dozen laps. Now it was a question of fuel strategy, and whether anyone could make it to the chequered flag without one final pit stop. The calculations said no, but we’ve seen drivers win a race by pulling off the impossible before.

A late yellow for debris answered the question, with almost all the leaders coming in – Clint Bowyer stayed out and assumed the lead, while Jeffs Burton and Gordon opted for fuel only and beat Kyle Busch, David Reutimann and Carl Edwards back out on track. Kyle had the visibly faster car but Burton put up a tough battle before he was passed; Bowyer was a much easier affair with 16 to go.

There was an extended yellow of eight laps while oil was cleaned up, but when they restarted it was Kyle Busch who shot out of the canon. There was another yellow just two las later, the 14th of the day, as Jimmie Johnson spun his car into the wall, and then Busch had to repeat his flying start all over again. Could he do it?

Of course he could, no problem. He left team mates Burton and Bowyer squabbling over 2nd place and it was finally won by Bowyer, with the chequered flag coming out just as (in a final dash of drama) Carl Edward’s engine blew up on the final lap dropping him from 4th to 17th in the final results.

In other incidents, Brad Keselowski brought out the first yellow when he hit the wall exiting turn 4 on lap 2 and spun; and on lap 7, Todd Bodine spun after contact from Denny Hamlin, and Elliott Sadler and Marcos Ambrose then made contact as they drove into the smoke of Bodine’s spin. Any prospect of a third straight consecutive victory for Matt Kenseth was quickly killed off when his engine was struggling – and finally blew up for good on lap 7; his Roush team mate David Ragan had an engine blow-out on lap 74, meaning that – after all the Toyota dramas in the last few days – it was proving to be a bad race day for Ford instead.

Martin Truex had pitted on lap 9 with a serious problem with his rear axle. Jamie McMurray staged a brilliant save on lap 66, tapped into a side-long slide for a huge distance but managing to keep it out of the wall, not collide with anyone – and get it running in the right direction again. David Stremme was less fortune when he got nudged into a full spin by Carl Edwards on lap 95 . At the restart, Clint Bowyer squeezed Juan Montoya into the wall causing some serious tyre rub issues for the number 42 requiring pit lane attention, but not bringing out a new yellow.

Mark Martin’s car popped of gear on lap 122, causing his Chevrolet engine to blow; and Reed Sorenson lost his number 43 on lap 138 to spin on the apron and career up into the wall, bringing out the seventh caution of the afternoon, and Aric Almirola was next to spin and put it into the wall just two laps after the restart. Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann spun their car when they swerved to avoid Almirola’s crawling car. The next spinner was Michael Waltrip on lap 163, with Elliot Sadler having to cut the infield grass to avoid a collision; and then it was Denny Hamlin’s turn to get loose on lap 171 into turn 4.

Paul Menard brought out the penultimate, 13th caution of the night when he tangled with Marcus Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano and lost out, getting sent hard into the wall.

Driver Standings: Shelby 427

FIN ST  CAR  DRIVER             MAKE       PTS/BNS  LAPS  STATUS
1   1   18   Kyle Busch         Toyota     190/5    285   Running
2   2   33   Clint Bowyer       Chevrolet  175/5    285   Running
3   3   31   Jeff Burton        Chevrolet  170/5    285   Running
4   4   00   David Reutimann    Toyota     160/0    285   Running
5   5   96   Bobby Labonte      Ford       155/0    285   Running
6   6   24   Jeff Gordon        Chevrolet  155/5    285   Running
7   7   16   Greg Biffle        Ford       151/5    285   Running
8   8   83   Brian Vickers      Toyota     142/0    285   Running
9   9   26   Jamie McMurray     Ford       138/0    285   Running
10  10  88   Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet  134/0    285   Running
11  11  9    Kasey Kahne        Dodge      135/5    285   Running
12  12  29   Kevin Harvick      Chevrolet  132/5    285   Running
13  13  20   Joey Logano *      Toyota     129/5    285   Running
14  14  171  David Gilliland    Chevrolet  121/0    285   Running
15  15  7    Robby Gordon       Toyota     123/5    285   Running
16  16  77   Sam Hornish Jr.    Dodge      115/0    285   Running
17  17  99   Carl Edwards       Ford       117/5    285   Running
18  18  12   David Stremme      Dodge      109/0    285   Running
19  19  78   Regan Smith        Chevrolet  106/0    285   Running
20  20  47   Marcos Ambrose     Toyota     103/0    285   Running
21  21  82   Scott Speed *      Toyota     100/0    285   Running
22  22  11   Denny Hamlin       Toyota     97/0     285   Running
23  23  2    Kurt Busch         Dodge      99/5     285   Running
24  24  48   Jimmie Johnson     Chevrolet  101/10   285   Running
25  25  39   Ryan Newman        Chevrolet  88/0     283   Running
26  26  14   Tony Stewart       Chevrolet  85/0     283   Running
27  27  55   Michael Waltrip    Toyota     82/0     283   Running
28  28  34   John Andretti      Chevrolet  79/0     283   Running
29  29  19   Elliott Sadler     Dodge      76/0     283   Running
30  30  07   Casey Mears        Chevrolet  73/0     282   Running
31  31  42   Juan Montoya       Chevrolet  70/0     281   Running
32  32  1    Martin Truex Jr.   Chevrolet  67/0     281   Running
33  33  44   A.J. Allmendinger  Dodge      64/0     281   Running
34  34  43   Reed Sorenson      Dodge      61/0     278   Running
35  35  98   Paul Menard        Ford       58/0     269   Running
36  36  113  Max Papis          Toyota     55/0     258   Running
37  37  64   Todd Bodine        Toyota     52/0     227   Out of Race
38  38  25   Brad Keselowski    Chevrolet  49/0     221   Running
39  39  8    Aric Almirola      Chevrolet  46/0     143   In Pit
40  40  5    Mark Martin        Chevrolet  43/0     121   Out of Race
41  41  187  Joe Nemechek       Toyota     40/0     102   In Pit
42  42  6    David Ragan        Ford       37/0     72    Out of Race
43  43  17   Matt Kenseth       Ford       34/0     6     Out of Race
* Denotes Rookie

Sprint Cup Championship

RANK +/-  DRIVER              POINTS BEHIND STARTS POLES WINS TOP 5 TOP 10
1    +1   Jeff Gordon         459    Leader 3      0     0    1     2
2    +4   Clint Bowyer        441    -18    3      0     0    2     2
3    -2   Matt Kenseth        419    -40    3      0     2    2     2
4    +1   Greg Biffle         419    -40    3      0     0    1     2
5    +7   David Reutimann     408    -51    3      0     0    1     1
6    +12  Kyle Busch          405    -54    3      1     1    2     2
7    -4   Kurt Busch          393    -66    3      0     0    1     2
8    -4   Tony Stewart        379    -80    3      0     0    0     2
9    --   Carl Edwards        377    -82    3      0     0    0     1
10   +12  Bobby Labonte       360    -99    3      0     0    1     1
11   +5   Kevin Harvick       351    -108   3      0     0    1     1
12   -5   Michael Waltrip     346    -113   3      0     0    0     1
13   +10  Kasey Kahne         338    -121   3      0     0    0     0
14   +1   Denny Hamlin        332    -127   3      0     0    0     1
15   -5   Juan Montoya        326    -133   3      0     0    0     0
16   -5   Elliott Sadler      324    -135   3      0     0    1     1
17   +9   Brian Vickers       322    -137   3      1     0    0     2
18   +13  Jeff Burton         316    -143   3      0     0    1     1
19   --   Jimmie Johnson      314    -145   3      0     0    0     1
20   +1   Marcos Ambrose      312    -147   3      0     0    0     0
21   -8   A.J. Allmendinger   305    -154   3      0     0    1     1
22   +6   Jamie McMurray      305    -154   3      0     0    0     1
23   +1   David Stremme       302    -157   3      0     0    0     0
24   -16  David Ragan         299    -160   3      0     0    0     1
25   -11  Reed Sorenson       299    -160   3      0     0    0     1
26   -9   Martin Truex Jr.    284    -175   3      1     0    0     0
27   -7   Casey Mears         282    -177   3      0     0    0     0
28   +1   Sam Hornish Jr.     276    -183   3      0     0    0     0
29   +6   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  267    -192   3      0     0    0     1
30   -5   John Andretti       260    -199   3      0     0    0     0
31   +3   Robby Gordon        257    -202   3      0     0    0     0
32   +5   Joey Logano*        248    -211   3      0     0    0     0
33   --   Ryan Newman         222    -237   3      0     0    0     0
34   -7   Mark Martin         211    -248   3      0     0    0     0
35   +5   Regan Smith         206    -253   2      0     0    0     0
36   +5   Scott Speed*        198    -261   3      0     0    0     0
37   +7   David Gilliland     185    -274   2      0     0    0     0
38   -2   Aric Almirola       177    -282   3      0     0    0     0
39   --   Paul Menard         159    -300   3      0     0    0     0
40   -10  Travis Kvapil       146    -313   2      0     0    0     0
41   -9   Scott Riggs         143    -316   2      0     0    0     0
42   -4   Jeremy Mayfield     104    -355   2      0     0    0     0
43   -1   Bill Elliott         94    -365   1      0     0    0     0
44   -1   Terry Labonte        91    -368   1      0     0    0     0
45   +1   Joe Nemechek         74    -385   2      0     0    0     0
46   --   Max Papis            55    -404   1      0     0    0     0
47   --   Todd Bodine          52    -407   1      0     0    0     0
48   +2   Brad Keselowski      49    -410   1      0     0    0     0
49   -4   Dave Blaney          37    -422   1      0     0    0     0
50   -1   Boris Said            0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
51   -3   Tony Raines           0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
52   -1   David Starr           0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
53   -1   Mike Garvey           0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
54   -1   Kirk Shelmerdine      0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
55   -1   Mike Wallace          0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
56   -1   Sterling Marlin       0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
57   -1   Derrike Cope          0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
58   -1   Mike Skinner          0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
59   -1   Kelly Bires           0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
60   -1   Carl Long             0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
61   -1   Geoffrey Bodine       0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
62   -1   Norm Benning          0    -459   0      0     0    0     0
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