NASCAR: Round 4 – Kobalt Tools 500, Atlanta – 7 March

Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch dominated the Kobalt Tools 500 at the weekend, until Kahne proved no match for Busch in the final 34 laps of the race allowing the blue deuce to claim the chequered flag.

Kyle Busch had taken the early lead, but the yellow flag came out as early as lap 4 after Robby Gordon had a tyre disintegrate from him and send him hard into the wall on turn 2.

Kahne first took the lead on lap 14, with Juan Montoya – strong throughout the afternoon – quickly following him past Kyle Busch to take up second spot.

The second yellow was on lap 34 for David Ragan having a tyre go down on him following collision with the wall a couple of laps previously. The restart on lap 39 quickly went back to yellow when Brad Keselowski tapped Carl Edwards, sending the 99 up the track collecting Joey Logano in the process. Keselowski was undamaged, but both Edwards and Logano required pit stops that put them well down the running order – in Edwards’ case, almost 170 laps off the lead. He was not to forgive and forget this insult to his race day …

Kahne was quickly back in the lead and held it till the fourth yellow on lap 78 for debris in turn 2; after the pit stops, it was Kurt Busch’s first chance to lead the race at the restart, which he held through lap 114 when the yellows came out again this time for Mark Martin haveing tyre problems, spinning on the front stretch. Kurt regained the lead after the pit stops and led till lap 148 when Deny Hamlin finally pulled off a pass to take the top spot.

Joey Logano was the cause of the sixth yellow on lap 158, again initiated by tyre problems which then tore up his car. At the restart, Hamlin led Busch, Montoya, Matt Kenseth and Kahne to the green on lap 164. Montoya briefly took the lead on lap 172 but Kahne grabbed it back three laps later, leading till lap 212 when he pitted under green. once those filtered through he was back in the lead just as the seventh yellow came out on lap 224 for debris on the frontstretch.

Kahne led the restart on lap 229 but was then challenged by Kurt Busch, who took the lead for several laps before Kahne stamped his authority on the race again from lap 244 and through the next round of green flag pit-stops around lap 277.

Denny Hamlin’s strong afternoon got brought down to earth on lap 288 when he blew a tyre and brought out the eighth caution, and the subsequent restart lasted barely a lap before Max Papis and Elliott Sadler got into the wall and each other on lap 293.

By this point, Kahne no longer looked to be able to hold off Busch who was seeming very comfortable in the lead, and he led the following 25 laps on what looked to be a caution-free finish to the race.

But that reckoned without Carl Edwards, now back on track and fuming at Brad Keselowski for their earlier clash. On lap 323, Edwards calmly and deliberatly got behind Keselowski and turned him into a spin. As soon as Keselowski was turned 180 degrees, the inevitability of aerodynamics came into play and he was flipped into the air, finally coming down on his side and against the fence posts which crunched the roof of the car into twisted sheet metal.

It was the end of the day for a furious Keselowski who had been running in the top ten all afternoon; Edwards admitted it had been intentional and was parked up, with the threat of more punitive action being handed down later in the week.

The cars streamed in for one last pit stop and Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard took the front row at the restart courtesy of two tyre strategies, while Kurt Busch opted for a full set of four. Sure enough, at the restart the two front runners were sluggish and held up the field, allowing Busch to nip right through the middle to take the lead, closely followed through by Montoya.

Unfortunately Bowyer’s sluggish start had repercussions as he fell back down the running order: Bowyer got loose trying to brake, hit Bowyer, and the ensuing chaos collected Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.

The race finally finished at the second attempt at a green-white-checkered, Kurt making no mistakes at the restart and pulling out a safe distance, leaving Montoya and Kenseth scrapping for the second spot – which Kenseth finally clinched.

Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a miserable race, complaining of tyre issues almost from the outset and failing to lead a single lap of the race before fighting back in the closing laps to finish 15th, better than he’d been running most of the race, following a shakeup to the running order from late-race incidents. Jimmie Johnson also had a subdued day, complaining of vibration and getting blocked in the pits on his way to 12th.

Race result

Pos  Driver              Car        Laps
 1.  Kurt Busch          Dodge      341
 2.  Matt Kenseth        Ford       341
 3.  Juan Pablo Montoya  Chevrolet  341
 4.  Kasey Kahne         Ford       341
 5.  Paul Menard         Ford       341
 6.  AJ Allmendinger     Ford       341
 7.  Brian Vickers       Toyota     341
 8.  Greg Biffle         Ford       341
 9.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  341
10.  Scott Speed         Toyota     341
11.  Marcos Ambrose      Toyota     341
12.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  341
13.  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet  341
14.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet  341
15.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet  341
16.  Bill Elliott        Ford       341
17.  Ryan Newman         Chevrolet  341
18.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  341
19.  Elliott Sadler      Ford       341
20.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  341
21.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota     341
22.  Bobby Labonte       Chevrolet  341
23.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  341
24.  Mike Bliss          Chevrolet  341
25.  Kyle Busch          Toyota     341
26.  David Gilliland     Ford       341
27.  Martin Truex Jr     Toyota     341
28.  Sam Hornish Jr      Dodge      340
29.  Jamie McMurray      Chevrolet  340
30.  Travis Kvapil       Ford       339
31.  Kevin Conway        Ford       334
32.  Boris Said          Ford       333
33.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet  331
34.  Max Papis           Toyota     329
35.  Joey Logano         Toyota     323
36.  Brad Keselowski     Dodge      322
37.  David Ragan         Ford       211
38.  Joe Nemechek        Toyota     175
39.  Carl Edwards        Ford       170
40.  David Reutimann     Toyota     167
41.  Dave Blaney         Toyota      48
42.  Michael McDowell    Toyota      37
43.  Robby Gordon        Toyota       3

Sprint Cup standings

Pos Driver              Points
1   Kevin Harvick       644
2   Matt Kenseth        618
3   Greg Biffle         585
4   Jimmie Johnson      570
5   Clint Bowyer        558
6   Jeff Burton         538
7   Mark Martin         521
8   Tony Stewart        510
9   Paul Menard         505
10  Kurt Busch          502
11  Jeff Gordon         482
12  Scott Speed         482
13  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  475
14  Joey Logano         471
15  Kyle Busch          468
16  Brian Vickers       466
17  Kasey Kahne         447
18  David Reutimann     440
19  Jamie McMurray      439
20  Carl Edwards        435
21  Juan Pablo Montoya  418
22  Denny Hamlin        409
23  A.J. Allmendinger   398
24  Martin Truex Jr.    386
25  Elliott Sadler      380
26  Regan Smith         373
27  David Ragan         360
28  Marcos Ambrose      349
29  Ryan Newman         337
30  Bobby Labonte       328
31  Sam Hornish Jr.     325
32  Travis Kvapil       318
33  Brad Keselowski     295
34  Mike Bliss          276
35  Boris Said          252
36  Robby Gordon        249
37  David Gilliland     248
38  Massimiliano Papis  247
39  Bill Elliott        202
40  Kevin Conway        195
41  Michael McDowell    175
42  Joe Nemechek        171
43  Dave Blaney         161
44  Michael Waltrip     109
45  Robert Richardson    70
46  Aric Almirola        68
47  John Andretti        49
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