NASCAR: Round 30 – Pepsi 500, Auto Club Speedway Fontana – October 11

The California sun was notably absent for the start of the fourth Sprint Cup Chase race, but it came out midrace in time to shine on the winner – who was never really in doubt, barring accidents.

Denny Hamlin led the field at the start, with Jimmie Johnson quickly slotting into second and looking strong from the start ahead of Greg Biffle and Juan Montoya. Sure enough, ten laps later Johnson powered past Hamlin for the lead, with Montoya following through to take up second place about a second behind. As the stint wore on, however, Montoya seemed to get the edge, cut the gap and finally took the lead for himself on lap 25 by dropping down to the inside line into turn 1.

No cautions arose before the field came in for green flag pit stops around lap 40 which returned Johnson to the front once more, but Montoya didn’t take so long to get past him this time and on lap 45 he eased past Johnson after some side-by-side running to resume the lead.

The first caution of the afternoon came on lap 60 when Jamie McMurray scraped the wall. That meant the first yellow flag pit stops, and at this point Kyle Busch exited the race – hauled from the cockpit of the number 18, dehydrated and clearly ill with the after effects of strep throat, bronchitis and influenza: “I’m going to go lay down for a little bit and see if I can’t get some fluids or something in me at the infield care center,” Busch said. ” I’m sorry I had to get out. I’m not feeling well. I was coughing read bad out there. Maybe now I’ll go lay down and get some fluids or something and try to get better. We’ve been fighting it for several days.” David Gilliland was installed in his place, having parked up his own car as long ago as lap 15 in preparation or the switch, and managed to just sneak out on track by the narrowest of margins before the pace car came round and put him a lap down.

At the restart, Juan Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon topped the leaderboard, with Jimmie Johnson having slipped six positions after his pit crew fumbled the front right lug nuts. Montoya struggled with the green flag, outrun by Hamlin and Harvick before Harvick started to fall back and Montoya was then passed by a storming Mark Martin who muscled past Hamlin for the lead itself on lap 69 after a lap running side-by-side. But Montoya’s troubles were fleeting, and on lap 74 he was back in command and cruising back into the front, demoting Martin back to second spot.

The second yellow came out at the same time as the sunshine, on lap 81 after Ryan Newman blew his right front tyre. Everyone duly came in for their next pit stop, but Martin Truex Jr. threw the dice and took only two tyres, a gambit that saw him out in front for the restart. Johnson again had a sluggish stop, this time struggling with wheel spin exiting the pit box. But up front, Montoya was quick to power straight past Hamlin for the lead at the restart and a couple of laps later the top four had a familiar feel, with Montoya, Hamlin, Martin and Johnson all now ahead of Truex who held 5th.

As this stint wore on and the cars neared a possible green flag round of pit stops, Montoya started to flag and Johnson passed him for the lead on lap 115; a couple of laps later and the yellow came out for debris in a very nicely timed opportunity for pit stops. This time it was Denny Hamlin who made the best of the pit stops and emerged in front, ahead of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson; Gordon made a determined bid on the low side for the lead at the restart, but wasn’t able to pull it off past the next start/finish line; Johnson however had better luck a couple of laps later when he took the lead from Hamlin on lap 125, the midpoint of the race.

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Juan Montoya and Mark Martin now continued to make up the top five as the race entered a remarkably settled period. Johnson quickly stretched out a 7s lead, and Montoya moved up into second spot by the time they reached green flag pit stops on lap 160 that did little to upset the lead running order, but was a costly stop for Tony Stewart who received a drive-thru for speeding on the exit.

The race continued under green until lap 185 (another caution for debris) and things were starting to get a little more edgy and combative as the end of the race started to loom into view. Johnson again lost positions on pit road, ceding the lead to Hamlin and Montoya. Johnson slotted into third ahead of Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick.

But the restart proved a disaster for Hamlin, who tried to veer down the track and cut off Montoya but ended up getting clipped on the left rear by the 42 who had no where to go. That sent him spinning across the infield grass, and he just heavily clipped the very end of the pit lane wall – the damage was enough to force him to check straight into the garage for repairs, his race day ruined after such a strong showing for three quarters of the afternoon. He would return to the track on lap 214, listed in 36th place but soon deemed too slow to continue and recalled to the garage by order of NASCAR. “Rookie mistake” conceded Hamlin, blaming himself.

Seemingly undamaged, Montoya led the field at the next restart on lap 195, but Johnson swooped past him on the outside right up against the wall within a lap to take up the lead once again, a lead he held convincingly through to the last round of pit stops around lap 225 held under green flag conditions. Pit stops had mainly finished by lap 235 when the sixth caution came out, once again for debris, but Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were able to come in for additional top-up pit stops before the track went green again on lap 239, with the field headed up by Johnson and Gordon with just 11 laps to go.

The restart didn’t last long – not even a lap – before Kurt Busch got loose scraped the wall. He ended up coming down the track into Kasey Kahne who in turn pulled down into Biffle; Busch carried on unaffected, but Kahne and Biffle went skidding across the infield grass, Kane in particular beaten up on both the left and right bodywork but able to continue.

The brief stint of green flag racing had allowed Gordon to sneak the lead from Johnson, but the 48 quickly rectified the situation at the restart on lap 244; however this green flag period scarcely lasted any longer before disaster struck the field outside the top ten. Seemingly triggered by Elliot Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. making contact and spinning, collecting others in the process, the wreck involved all four Richard Petty Motorports runners (Kahne again, Sadler, Reed Sorenson and AJ Allmendinger) as well as Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose among others. The number of cars involved and ensuing wreckage forced NASCAR to throw a red flag to allow the clean-up.

That left just two laps for a green-and-white-chequered shootout upon resumption; Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Juan Montoya and David Ragan lead the field to green. Montoya beat out Martin for 3rd but wasn’t able to best Gordon before the finish line came into sight, while Ragan was rushed by both Stewart and Edwards who ejected him from the top six.

But really, it was all too easy for Johnson, who won by 1.6s and never looked like he didn’t have this race for the taking. Not the most thrilling of races as a result of Johnson’s dominance, but a key moment in the Chase as for the first time Martin is deposed at the top of the points standings.

Can anyone stop Johnson now, or is the writing already on the wall – and the engraving on the trophy?

Race result

FIN ST  CAR DRIVER             MAKE       PTS/BNS  LAPS  STATUS
1   3   48  Jimmie Johnson     Chevrolet  195/10   250   Running
2   10  24  Jeff Gordon        Chevrolet  175/5    250   Running
3   4   42  Juan Montoya       Chevrolet  170/5    250   Running
4   9   5   Mark Martin        Chevrolet  165/5    250   Running
5   20  14  Tony Stewart       Chevrolet  160/5    250   Running
6   11  99  Carl Edwards       Ford       150/0    250   Running
7   31  6   David Ragan        Ford       146/0    250   Running
8   24  2   Kurt Busch         Dodge      147/5    250   Running
9   8   33  Clint Bowyer       Chevrolet  138/0    250   Running
10  7   29  Kevin Harvick      Chevrolet  134/0    250   Running
11  16  07  Casey Mears        Chevrolet  130/0    250   Running
12  22  77  Sam Hornish Jr.    Dodge      127/0    250   Running
13  17  17  Matt Kenseth       Ford       124/0    250   Running
14  6   20  Joey Logano *      Toyota     121/0    250   Running
15  36  39  Ryan Newman        Chevrolet  118/0    250   Running
16  14  12  David Stremme      Dodge      115/0    250   Running
17  34  55  Michael Waltrip    Toyota     112/0    250   Running
18  42  00  David Reutimann    Toyota     109/0    250   Running
19  40  34  John Andretti      Chevrolet  111/5    250   Running
20  2   16  Greg Biffle        Ford       103/0    250   Running
21  21  82  Scott Speed *      Toyota     100/0    250   Running
22  5   1   Martin Truex Jr.   Chevrolet  102/5    250   Running
23  27  47  Marcos Ambrose     Toyota     94/0     250   Running
24  19  18  Kyle Busch         Toyota     91/0     248   Running
25  37  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet  88/0     248   Running
26  35  96  Bobby Labonte      Ford       85/0     247   Running
27  41  98  Paul Menard        Ford       82/0     247   Running
28  26  78  Regan Smith        Chevrolet  79/0     247   Running
29  32  83  Brian Vickers      Toyota     76/0     246   Running
30  18  31  Jeff Burton        Chevrolet  73/0     245   Running
31  28  43  Reed Sorenson      Dodge      70/0     244   Running
32  39  19  Elliott Sadler     Dodge      67/0     244   In Pit
33  12  44  A.J. Allmendinger  Dodge      64/0     244   Running
34  25  9   Kasey Kahne        Dodge      61/0     244   In Pit
35  15  113 Max Papis *        Toyota     58/0     244   Running
36  29  26  Jamie McMurray     Ford       55/0     209   Running
37  1   11  Denny Hamlin       Toyota     57/5     195   In Pit
38  38  7   Robby Gordon       Toyota     49/0     121   In Pit
39  13  187 Joe Nemechek       Toyota     46/0     29    Out
40  43  36  Michael McDowell   Toyota     43/0     25    In Pit
41  33  66  Dave Blaney        Toyota     40/0     22    In Pit
42  30  171 David Gilliland    Chevrolet  37/0     13    In Pit
43  23  09  Mike Bliss         Dodge      34/0     11    Out 

Sprint Cup Standings

Jimmie Johnson now leads the standings (by 12 points) from Mark Martin and is beginning to gather that all-too-familiar momentum that’s taken him to his titles in years past. The 48 is definitely the car to beat, and strong as Montoya and Martin are they just can’t seem to match Johnson for consistency and form on a day like this.

    +/- DRIVER              PTS     BEHIND  ST  P   W   T5  T10
1   +1  Jimmie Johnson      5728    Leader  30  2   5   12  19
2   -1  Mark Martin         5716     -12    30  7   5   12  18
3   --  Juan Montoya        5670     -58    30  2   0   6   16
4   --  Tony Stewart        5644     -84    30  0   4   15  21
5   +2  Jeff Gordon         5623    -105    30  0   1   14  21
6   -1  Kurt Busch          5607    -121    30  0   1   8   17
7   +1  Greg Biffle         5540    -188    30  0   0   9   14
8   +2  Carl Edwards        5536    -192    30  0   0   7   13
9   -3  Denny Hamlin        5509    -219    30  1   2   11  16
10  -1  Ryan Newman         5505    -223    30  1   0   5   14
11  --  Kasey Kahne         5422    -306    30  0   2   5   12
12  --  Brian Vickers       5377    -351    30  6   1   4   13
======= CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS ========
13  --  Kyle Busch          3613    -2115   30  1   4   8   10
14  --  Matt Kenseth        3599    -2129   30  1   2   5   10
15  +1  Clint Bowyer        3549    -2179   30  0   0   4   13
16  -1  David Reutimann     3526    -2202   30  2   1   5   9
17  --  Marcos Ambrose      3274    -2454   30  0   0   4   7
18  --  Jeff Burton         3135    -2593   30  0   0   2   6
19  --  Casey Mears         3123    -2605   30  0   0   0   3
20  --  Joey Logano*        3042    -2686   30  0   1   1   5
21  --  Kevin Harvick       3032    -2696   30  0   0   3   6
22  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  2937    -2791   30  0   0   2   5
23  --  Jamie McMurray      2877    -2851   30  0   0   0   3
24  --  A.J. Allmendinger   2865    -2863   30  0   0   1   4
25  --  Martin Truex Jr.    2847    -2881   30  2   0   0   3
26  +1  Sam Hornish Jr.     2807    -2921   30  0   0   2   7
27  -1  Elliott Sadler      2806    -2922   30  0   0   1   4
28  +3  David Ragan         2673    -3055   30  0   0   0   2
29  -1  Reed Sorenson       2658    -3070   30  0   0   0   1
30  -1  David Stremme       2647    -3081   30  0   0   0   0
31  -1  Bobby Labonte       2614    -3114   30  0   0   1   1
32  --  Paul Menard         2529    -3199   30  0   0   0   0
33  +1  Michael Waltrip     2316    -3412   28  0   0   0   1
34  -1  Robby Gordon        2277    -3451   29  0   0   1   1
35  --  Scott Speed*        2204    -3524   29  0   0   1   1
36  --  John Andretti       2137    -3591   28  0   0   0   0
37  --  David Gilliland     1561    -4167   26  0   0   0   0
38  --  Regan Smith         1260    -4468   15  0   0   0   0
39  --  Joe Nemechek        1145    -4583   25  0   0   0   0
40  +1  Dave Blaney         1084    -4644   27  0   0   0   0
41  -1  Brad Keselowski     1056    -4672   10  0   1   1   3
Advertisements



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: