Posts Tagged ‘Brad Keselowski’

Stewart-Haas blows away recent frustrations with a triumphant team one-two led by Ryan Newman, amid problems for Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Coming into this weekend’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the word most commonly used by everyone to describe Tony Stewart was “frustrated.”

“Yes, he is frustrated,” agreed Stewart’s team mate Ryan Newman on Friday. “For that matter, I’m ahead of him in points and I’m frustrated, too.”

“I am frustrated because I keep having to answer the question,” said a frankly surly Stewart in the routine round of pre-race interviews on Friday. “‘Are you happy when things aren’t going the way you like it to go? Makes you frustrated, doesn’t it?’ So yes, we’re frustrated.”

The weekend’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at Loudon was widely described as make-or-break for Stewart-Haas’s season and for any hopes either driver might still have of making the Chase. Partly that’s because New Hampshire has always been a strong venue for Stewart, who has won on the low-banked one mile “true” oval twice and only missed out in last year’s autumn race because of a mis-call on the fuel pit strategy.

As team owner, Stewart recently took action about Stewart-Haas’ malaise by shaking up personnel, axing one of the team’s senior stalwarts in director of competition Bobby Hutchens at the start of June. But it hadn’t seemed to do anything to improve the situation, with Stewart even starting to talk about not wanting to make the cut for the Chase at all if the team wasn’t in a position to win races and be genuinely competitive in the Cup championship play-offs.

“Ultimately, we want to be first or second in either order, so yeah, I’m sure he’s frustrated,” Newman said. “This is crunch time and this has usually been his time, but it hasn’t been this year.”

Against that background, Stewart-Haas’ front row lock-out in qualifying at Loudon on Friday afternoon raised a few eyebrows and came as rather a surprise, as both Newman and Stewart broke the old track record for the circuit in the process. Of course, claiming first and second place on the starting grid is a long way from genuine race success, but it was a leap in performance that got people wondering.

As the Stewart-Haas cars led the field to the green flag in the gorgeous Sunday afternoon sunshine and pleasant 70 degree Fahrenheit summer temperatures, there was still a very long way (301 laps to be precise) between a fleeting qualifying success and lasting race triumph. And history was not on Stewart-Haas’ side, as it had been over five years since the last time the top two cars in qualifying had taken the chequered flag in the race in the same order (Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch at Pocono in June 2006, since you’re wondering.)

Kurt Busch made an early attempt to break up the Stewart-Haas front row, but Tony Stewart saw him off and then took the lead from Newman and who would lead from there until the first caution of the race on lap 29 for debris just as Stewart was starting to put straggling backmarkers like Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell a lap down.

Already we were seeing good progress for Jimmie Johnson (recovering from a poor qualifying position that saw him start from 28th), AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski who gained four spots in the ensuing pit stops under caution. Less happy were Juan Montoya and also Kevin Harvick, who seemed stuck going nowhere at the bottom of the top 20.

But without a doubt the man having the worst of things was Kyle Busch who had a scare with the wall and a narrow save on lap 9 and then took two visits in pit lane under the caution – once for major set-up changes, the second for four tyres – that put him to the back. “We made some big changes there on that pit stop,” he explained. “We came back and got four just to make sure we got all the changes we wanted to.”

Despite all that work he seemed no happier in the next green flag stint, and on lap 59 his right front tyre blew and the #18 slammed into the wall at turn 2 to bring out the second caution of the day. “Just blew a bead, I guess, transferring too much brake heat through the wheel,” he said, referring to the tyre edge.

He denied that the crash had been due to any contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “Nice try at making up a story,” Busch replied. “There’s contact with everybody out there. It had nothing to do with anybody else … Nothing else besides that.” The repairs to the car took some 76 laps and meant that Busch would finish in 36th place, dropping from the lead of the Cup points standings to fifth some 20pts off the new leader as a result.

In the meantime, Jamie McMurray had briefly led the race before being ousted by Newman, but it was really Kurt Busch who took charge between the two yellows. After Busch’s crash it was Mark Martin who led the restart on lap 65, but once again Newman was quick to take charge again with Tony Stewart once more slotting into second place through to the third caution (for debris) on lap 100.

Jimmie Johnson opted to stay out of pit lane for temporary track position while those that did come in opted mainly for two tyres, which did not seem to suit the Stewart-Haas duo nearly as well at this point and they slipped back, allowing Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Kasey Kahne to take up the top three positions as Johnson started to fade on worn rubber and eventually come in for an off-sync green flag stop on lap 135.

Gordon’s lead was all the more impressive given that his #24 was having battery problems and was definitely the fastest car on the track during this midrace stage. “We knew we were losing the power to the engine from an alternator standpoint,” he said. “These new gauges have warning lights on them that the whole gauge lights up.” The problems meant he had to shut down the cooling system, including the cooling to the brakes.

Surprisingly Gordon opted not to switch out the twin batteries at the next round of stops that took place after Brad Keselowski cut a tyre in turn 3 on lap 144, a particularly useful caution for Jimmie Johnson as it gave him a much-needed wave around. Gordon would rue the decision to risk the batteries when he lost all power shortly after the restart on lap 154 and dropped to the back of the lead lap; he was saved when a rapid fifth caution materialised for debris on lap 161 allowing him to come in for the battery exchange under yellow.

Kurt Busch had taken the lead during the previous round of pit stops and kept it despite a strong challenge at the restart on lap 169 from Brian Vickers, but the race was quickly back under yellow with the sixth caution of the day after Denny Hamlin got helped into a spin by AJ Allmendinger. Again, the main beneficiary of the caution was Jeff Gordon, who got the lucky dog back onto the lead lap after his lengthy battery exchange pit stop.

Busch was still leading at the restart on lap 174 and this time the green flag racing lasted only ten laps before Mark Martin spun out of 14th position with a cut tyre in turn 2. Kurt continued to lead at the restart on lap 189, but Tony Stewart was now awake again and charging, passing Carl Edwards for second on lap 191 and then taking the lead from Busch down the inside on lap 194, his team mate Ryan Newman not far behind in fourth.

At this point teams were looking ahead to the end game and feverishly calculating fuel loads and possible tyre strategies: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been religiously taking four new tyres at every pit stop so far while Juan Montoya’s #42 team were planning on two tyres only from here on, while Busch’s #22 team were planning fuel strategies to see off the #99 of Edwards, while Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were now running 6th and 7th after their earlier problems although somewhat off-sync in terms of stops. But Tony Stewart was looking particularly strong, having found the best compromise between handling through the corner apex (albeit describing the #14 as a little tight) versus getting out of the corner cleanly and allowing him to put the power down early giving him maximum speed and chances for overtaking traffic.

A debris caution on lap 214 allowed everyone the opportunity to pit under yellow, with a wide variety of strategies emerging including Joey Logano opting to stay out altogether and assume the lead and Clint Bowyer gaining ten spots with a fuel-only approach. Jimmie Johnson must have wished he could have gone fuel-only too when his own pit stop ended up with a missing lugnut, an irritatingly frequent recurring theme for the #48 over the past year which meant he had to return to pit lane and fall to the back of the lead lap.

At the restart, Marcos Ambrose surged past Logano to lead lap 222 with Montoya looking strong behind them, but Brian Vickers’ strong day was about to come to a premature end when he spun on the front straight and hit the wall on lap 225. Vickers headed to the garage for lengthy repairs, Logano finally headed in for fuel, Mark Martin got the free pass and Clint Bowyer assumed the lead followed by Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton.

Bowyer’s old tyres were no match for Newman’s fresh ones and the polesitter duly reassumed the lead, with Greg Biffle moving past Bowyer into second place. At this point the critical factor was emerging as fuel, with Biffle being told he was eight laps short of going full distance and Kurt Busch similarly advised he was five laps shy of making it to the chequered flag.

If it was a caution they needed then Jimmie Johnson duly obliged by hitting the wall on turn 2 on lap 240 after getting hit by Juan Montoya, bringing out the tenth (and ultimately final) yellow of the afternoon. “We had some issues on pit road,” said Johnson, “And then the #42 – I don’t think of the three times he’s wrecked me it’s been intentional, but he’s out of mulligans and I’ve had enough of, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, and you’re spun out.’ It’s happened way to often.”

Greg Biffle decided there was no chance of being able to make it all the way to the end without a further stop and duly came in, as did Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had been suffering a suspected tyre rub on his left front; unfortunately he then picked up a tyre violation that put him to the back of the leap lap in 33rd. Earnhardt had already been unhappy with the change of tyre compounds this weekend, which Tony Stewart had earlier praised as being “grippier” and the key to his team’s qualifying success but which met with less success on the #88.

“We struggled all weekend,” admitted Earnhardt. “In practice we just didn’t really have the speed we had last year. We’ve just got to figure out why. What’s the difference in this tyre and try to figure it out. I mean, every damn week they change the tyre … I guess [NASCAR] is getting on ’em about how they build them or something, and they had to bring a new one here. Some kind of new construction. I didn’t like it.”

Stewart-Haas had learned from last year’s autumn race at New Hampshire and knew that track position was crucial at this point of proceedings, so Newman stayed out in the lead ahead of Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin as the race resumed on lap 245 with 56 laps to go to the chequered. Busch was looking strong going into the corners, but critically Newman was faster out of them which allowed him to get the power down and pull away out of trouble to keep the lead.

The focus from this point was on the continuing surge of Jeff Gordon who was back up to fourth, and a strong recovery by Jimmie Johnson after the lugnut and spin problems. There was also the relentless rise of Tony Stewart, back into the top ten after the restart and passing Carl Edwards (who had dropped back to fifth) 20 laps later.

Most people however were having to run with one eye on the fuel gauge: a rare exception was Newman himself who didn’t seem to be sparing the horsepower as he pulled out a lead of nearly 2s over Kurt Busch before the #22 was forced to give up the chase and fell to fifth in extreme fuel conservation mode – he would eventually run dry on the last lap and finish in tenth. That allowed Tony Stewart up another place, then past Gordon on lap 286 and finally swooping on Denny Hamlin for second place on lap 294. In the remaining seven laps Stewart put his foot down and did everything he could to close on his team mate who was now encountering lapped traffic and worrying about his fuel load, which allowed the #14 to cut the lead back to under a second.

“I can promise you, I didn’t leave anything out there,” Stewart said. “That was as hard as I could run ’til the end. I couldn’t get the rest of the way. I couldn’t get any further than that.”

And indeed, Newman had just enough pace – and just enough fuel – to make it home in first place with Stewart in second, recreating that qualifying order performance and blasting Stewart-Haas to their first 1-2 finish in the team’s three season history.

“One hell of a day, boys. One hell of a day!” yelled a proud and no longer remotely frustrated team owner over the radio. Labelling it “a perfect weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing,” Stewart went on: “I’m so damn proud I can’t see straight. I’m proud of my buddy there standing on top of his car. He deserved it. He did an awesome job this weekend.”

“We backed up what everybody said we couldn’t back up, and that was our qualifying effort on Friday … We knew we were capable of it,” said an emotional Newman as he dedicated the win by the #39 – sponsored by the US Army – to military personnel and their friends and relatives. “We were so close so many times this year.”

Stewart wanted to give special thanks to his pit crew chief Darian Grubb who had been ailing this weekend. “They told him yesterday he’s got pneumonia,” Stewart said. “He’s battling through a weekend like this, never missed a beat on the box today.”

Denny Hamlin hung on to finish in third place, admitting that his own crew chief Mick Ford had been “screaming that we’ve got to back off. At that point, you have to think about the risk versus reward … As bad as I wanted to go up there and race those guys, I had to make the smart move and finish the race.”

Sadly there was one late-race casualty when Jeff Gordon’s fightback ended with a blown right front tyre on the final lap, which meant that he fell from fourth to 11th in the final seconds.

“What did not happen to us today?” said Gordon. “It was a pretty crazy day for us, but certainly a lot to smile about with how great our car was. My goodness, our car was so good … That long of a run on tyres, I should have been a little bit more conservative,” he suggested: “I saw Hamlin starting to check up trying to save fuel and we had a shot of getting to him, so I started charging the corner a little bit harder and we put too much temperature and that’s what blew the right front tyre.”

Gordon suggested that his earlier battery problems which had forced him to turn off the car’s cooling systems may well have played a part in the tyre failure at the end. “We had so many issues thrown at us today that I wasn’t really thinking a whole lot about what kind of temperature we were putting into the brakes when those blowers were off or when we had to turn them on and turn them off,” he said.

Instead, Joey Logano’s earlier off-sync pit strategy was rewarded with fourth place just ahead of the recovering Jimmie Johnson in the #48. “I’m arguing with myself whether I should be frustrated or proud,” said Johnson. “We finished awfully good with everything we went through today.”

Although he was understandably angry with Montoya – “It’s painful to get spun out on the race track” – Johnson’s main source of annoyance seemed to lie more with his team after yet another lugnut issue. “When it’s key times for stops, we have mistakes. I’ve been real patient all year trying to build. I’m running out of patience. I care for these guys deeply for going over the wall and I know they’re very talented guys, but we’re getting into my livelihood in a little bit when we get into this Chase and we’ve got to be right.”

Up front, Ryan Newman had richly deserved the win, leading the most laps of anyone – 119 of the race total of 301 compared with 66 for Kurt Busch and 48 for Tony Stewart. It’s his 15th Cup win in 351 starts, ending a 47-race winless streak, making him the 13th different winner in the 19 races so far in the 2011 season (there were only 13 different winners in the whole of 2010) and marks the first time that a team has claimed the top two spots in both qualifying and the race since Hendrick Motorsports managed it at the Daytona 500 all the way back in 1989 with Darrell Waltrip and Ken Schrader.

It’s not a magic wand for the team – as with Penske’s recent resurgence, the proof will only come if they can build on it and make this sort of strong showing a routine week-in, week-out occurrence on a range of circuits. Nor does it miraculously revive the Stewart and Newman’s Chase chances (Newman is provisionally in with eighth place and now has a win that may see him claim one of the wildcards if it comes to it, but Stewart is still on the outside looking in with 11th.)

But really, when it comes to sudden sightings of the light at the end of the tunnel, it doesn’t come any more blinding than this 1-2 for Tony Stewart and his race winning driver Ryan Newman. They’ll be hoping it gives them just the momentum they need going into one of the biggest Cup races of the year, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks time.

Race results

1. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 301 laps 03:06:08s (48/2 pts)
2. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 301 laps + 0.773s (43/1 pts)
3. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 301 laps + 3.488s (41/0 pts)
4. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 301 laps + 8.125s (41/1 pts)
5. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 301 laps + 8.481s (40/1 pts)
6. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota 301 laps + 8.504s (39/1 pts)
7. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota 301 laps + 12.211s (37/0 pts)
8. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 301 laps + 12.486s (36/0 pts)
9. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 301 laps + 12.731s (36/1 pts)
10. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge 301 laps + 13.082s (35/1 pts)
11. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 301 laps + 14.325s (34/1 pts)
12. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford 301 laps + 16.529s (32/0 pts)
13. #99 Carl Edwards Ford 301 laps + 16.844s (32/1 pts)
14. #6 David Ragan Ford 301 laps + 17.943s (30/0 pts)
15. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 301 laps + 18.960s (29/0 pts)
16. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 301 laps + 21.169s (28/0 pts)
17. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 301 laps + 21.572s (28/1 pts)
18. #16 Greg Biffle Ford 301 laps + 21.871s (27/1 pts)
19. #00 David Reutimann Toyota 301 laps + 22.044s (25/0 pts)
20. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford 301 laps + 22.302s (24/0 pts)
21. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 301 laps + 22.506s (23/0 pts)
22. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet 301 laps + 22.848s (23/1 pts)
23. #38 J.J. Yeley Ford 301 laps + 25.965s (21/0 pts)
24. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 301 laps + 26.420s (20/0 pts)
25. #34 David Gilliland Ford 301 laps + 26.916s (19/0 pts)
26. #51 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 300 laps + 1 Lap (0pts)
27. #7 Scott Wimmer Dodge 300 laps + 1 Lap (0pts)
28. #71 Andy Lally * Ford 300 laps + 1 Lap (17/1 pts)
29. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 300 laps + 1 Lap (15/0 pts)
30. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet 300 laps + 1 Lap (14/0 pts)
31. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 300 laps + 1 Lap (14/1 pts)
32. #32 Mike Bliss Ford 299 laps + 2 Laps (0pts)
33. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet 298 laps + 3 Laps (11/0 pts)
34. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota 283 laps + 18 Laps (10/0 pts)
35. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 257 laps + 44 Laps (9/0 pts)
36. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 224 laps + 77 Laps (8/0 pts)
37. #30 David Stremme Chevrolet 159 laps Engine (7/0 pts)
38. #13 Casey Mears Toyota 83 laps Brakes (6/0 pts)
39. #46 Erik Darnell Chevrolet 72 laps Brakes (5/0 pts)
40. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota 46 laps Brakes (4/0 pts)
41. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 37 laps Brakes (0pts)
42. #60 Mike Skinner Toyota 17 laps Electrical (0pts)
43. #55 Jeff Green Ford 11 laps Brakes (0pts)

* Denotes Rookie

Sprint Cup standings

PO CHG DRIVER                 PTS  GAP   ST  P  W  T5 T10
1  +1  Carl Edwards           652        19  2  1  10 13
2  +3  Jimmie Johnson         645  -7    19  0  1  7  12
3  +1  Kurt Busch             641  -11   19  3  1  4  11
4  -1  Kevin Harvick          637  -15   19  0  3  6  10
5  -4  Kyle Busch             632  -20   19  0  3  10 11
6  --  Matt Kenseth           626  -26   19  1  2  6  10
7  --  Jeff Gordon            587  -65   19  1  2  6  8
8  +1  Ryan Newman            586  -66   19  1  1  6  9
9  -1  Dale Earnhardt Jr.     577  -75   19  1  0  3  8
10 --  Denny Hamlin           570  -82   19  0  1  4  7
11 --  Tony Stewart           570  -82   19  0  0  2  7
12 --  Clint Bowyer           542  -110  19  0  0  3  8
13 +2  David Ragan            524  -128  19  1  1  3  6
14 +3  Kasey Kahne            523  -129  19  1  0  3  7
15 -1  Greg Biffle            523  -129  19  0  0  1  5
16 +2  A.J. Allmendinger      515  -137  19  0  0  1  4
17 -4  Juan Montoya           511  -141  19  2  0  2  6
18 +2  Joey Logano            510  -142  19  1  0  3  5
19 -3  Paul Menard            506  -146  19  0  0  3  5
20 -1  Mark Martin            500  -152  19  1  0  1  5
21 +1  Marcos Ambrose         495  -157  19  0  0  3  6
22 +1  Martin Truex Jr.       485  -167  19  0  0  0  6
23 -2  Brad Keselowski        475  -177  19  1  1  2  4
24 --  David Reutimann        448  -204  19  0  0  1  2
25 --  Jeff Burton            445  -207  19  0  0  0  0
26 --  Brian Vickers          415  -237  19  0  0  1  5
27 --  Regan Smith            410  -242  19  0  1  1  3
28 +1  Bobby Labonte          400  -252  19  0  0  1  2
29 -1  Jamie McMurray         400  -252  19  1  0  0  2
30 --  David Gilliland        347  -305  19  0  0  1  2
31 +1  Dave Blaney            275  -377  19  0  0  0  0
32 -1  Casey Mears            267  -385  18  0  0  0  0
33 --  Andy Lally*            215  -437  16  0  0  0  0
34 --  Robby Gordon           193  -459  14  0  0  0  0
35 --  Tony Raines            123  -529  11  0  0  0  0
36 --  Bill Elliott           100  -552  5   0  0  0  0
37 +3  J.J. Yeley             77   -575  16  0  0  0  0
38 -1  Ken Schrader           73   -579  5   0  0  0  0
39 -1  Terry Labonte          68   -584  4   0  0  0  0
40 -1  Michael McDowell       68   -584  17  0  0  0  0
41 --  David Stremme          34   -618  7   0  0  0  0
42 --  Michael Waltrip        20   -632  2   0  0  0  0
43 --  Andy Pilgrim           18   -634  1   0  0  0  0
44 --  Chris Cook             17   -635  1   0  0  0  0
45 --  Boris Said             16   -636  1   0  0  0  0
46 --  Brian Simo             11   -641  1   0  0  0  0
47 --  Geoffrey Bodine        6    -646  1   0  0  0  0
48 --  T.J. Bell*             5    -647  2   0  0  0  0
49 --  Erik Darnell           5    -647  1   0  0  0  0
50 -1  Brian Keselowski*      3    -649  1   0  0  0  0
51 -1  Steve Park             2    -650  1   0  0  0  0

You know that a race hasn’t been the most exciting of affairs when all the next-day headlines are about the traffic getting to Kentucky Speedway rather than the cars going 175 mph on it in the Quaker State 400 race itself.

It was the inaugural Cup race at the venue, and in order to win the contract to add a Cup race to its existing Truck and Nationwide Series line-up the facility had needed to expand from its previous 66,000 capacity to something more in the region of 107,000 – and it achieved this rather magnificently, it has to be said.

Unfortunately what no one seemed to have thought through was the impact on the surrounding infrastructure in the city of Sparta where the Speedway is located, and the traffic backlogs started hours before the Saturday night race was scheduled to start. Not only was a normal 30-60 minute drive taking the better part of five hours, some fans never made it at all – and many who did arrived too late for the start, only to be told there was no parking left anywhere in the area after the track organised some 33,000 parking spots that proved to be woefully inadequate. One of the fans who was caught out was the president of the state senate, who said afterwards that he would convene an official enquiry into what had happened; the fact that he’s rumoured to be lined up to run for state governor is surely purely coincidental.

The whole debacle was a serious embarrassment for all concerned, with both the track management and NASCAR itself moved to apologise to fans. “While NASCAR was thrilled by the incredible response to our inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Kentucky, we also are extremely disappointed by the traffic problems and inconveniences endured by fans who wanted to be part of our races,” said NASCAR chairman Brian France on Monday. “This situation cannot happen again.”

The controversy even caught up the Cup drivers themselves, with Ryan Newman hoping that fans would give them a chance to put things right next year and Denny Hamlin finding himself gridlocked on the way in with everyone else: “Bad news is I’m prolly not going to make the drivers meeting in 3 hours because I’m in this traffic with everyone else,” he tweeted from his stationary car. “Good news, I’m starting in the back anyway [because of an engine change.]”

The fact that the traffic situation hogged all the headlines after the race does rather confirm that the race itself was the closest thing you’ll see to a “routine dull day at the office” as you’ll get in motorsport. The drivers all worked hard, but there was little to show for it at the end of the night.

Going into the race all the talk had been about the track condition. The track management’s focus up till then had been on expanding capacity, but now raceday loomed it was clear that the Speedway surface itself was in a less than optimal situation with the drivers worried about all the bumps in the surface: Jeff Gordon spoke of tracks that “just absolutely have to be repaved – this one would be one of them. It is very rough here.” And sure enough, the track management have said that they will look into a complete repaving of the circuit in the next year or so.

Drivers didn’t think that the bumps would have a great effect for the Cup race itself, but were worried about the impact on qualifying – so it was rather ironic that the qualifying session was aborted midway through because of rain showers and we never got to see that play out, or else we might have got a more interesting mixed up grid for the Quaker State 400 than we did.

Kyle Busch inherited pole position as a result based on earlier practice session times. Busch had Nationwide and Truck experience at Kentucky and so wasn’t phased at all by the prospect of the first new Cup venue on the calendar in ten years, and indeed most of the big names like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson were similarly familiar with the Speedway in some car or other. Carl Edwards had even taken his first national-level carrer victory here in Trucks, while Joey Logano was particularly expected to build on recent momentum given that he had been the winner of the last three years of Nationwide races – although he could finish only tenth this year in a race won by Brad Keselowski.

In the Cup race, Kyle took the green flag in the late day sunshine alongside Juan Montoya, but it was his brother Kurt who got the best drive off the final corner to break through and run alongside the #18 , finally getting a nose in front to officially lead the first lap, the two running side-by-side and exchanging the lead through a lap for the next several minutes before Kurt finally got past and put some clean air in between him and Kyle, the two of them pulling out a comfortable lead over the rest of the field.

Because of the recent rain, NASCAR had already announced a competition caution for lap 30 for the teams to check over how the cars were faring, and Kasey Kahne led at the restart only to get trounced by Kyle Busch who was once again the king of the restarts, with Kurt soon up to second but over 2s behind Kyle as the field embarked on a green flag stint that would last 111 laps and which would see over half the 43-car field go a lap down.

There was little change in the top six which saw Kahne, Johnson, Edwards and Keselowski playing back up roles to the Busch brothers in the top six. Green flag pit stops started around lap 80 (save for Marcos Ambrose who needed to pit earlier after a miscommunication with his team in the earlier stop) and Kyle Busch cycled back to the front once they were complete. Brian Vickers got a speeding drive-thru penalty, Dave Penalty needed to come back in for a missing lugnut, Kahne was complaining of a mystery vibration that the team couldn’t trace and told him simply to deal with it, and Jimmie Johnson was back to his perennial chronic problem of slow stops.

With little to report on track other than David Reutimann cracking the top five and Denny Hamlin impressing by getting within sight of the top ten having started from the rear because of that overnight engine change, it was almost a relief when green flag pit stops loomed once more, starting on lap 120 with Kasey Kahne but not seeing leader Kyle Busch hit pit road for another nine laps, after which he resumed in the lead with nearly 9s lead over Carl Edwards now in second.

With the darkness now well set in and track conditions changing fast, the second yellow of the night – and the first “proper” caution – came out on lap 139 for debris. While most cars took the chance to come into pit lane, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart opted to stay out and assumed first and second position for the restart ahead of Kyle and Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne in fifth.

This green flag lasted only six laps before another caution, this time for oil on the track after David Ragan was seen skidding at a very wild angle and lucky to save the #6 from a wreck. A few cars opted to take the latest opportunity to pit, including Kahne who still needed that vibration taking care of, but the leaders as a whole stayed out on track and in the restart on lap 158 there was a three-wide battle between Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for the lead before Keselowski finally stamped his authority on the matter.

Not that it was all going so well for Keselowski: he was suffering from radio problems, receiving nothing from pit lanes and only intermittently able to talk with his spotter, forcing him to rely on using old school hand signals to relay information to his pit chief Paul Wolfe about whether the car needed adjustments for understeer of oversteer at the next pit stop. Keselowski was also forced to keep track of fuel mileage and make his own call on when he needed to come into the pits, and to his credit pulled this all off with aplomb.

Having gone off-sync in their previous pit stops, Stewart was in on lap 180 and Keselowski on lap 187, while Kyle Busch was able to stay out with the main field until lap 193. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin had just come into the pits – handing the lead temporarily to David Ragan – when Jamie McMurray’s #1 car suddenly suffered an engine failure on lap 200 and expired in a trail of smoke, triggering the fourth yellow of the evening which allowed Ragan to come in for a more leisurely yellow flag stop, rejoining in tenth place.

Keselowski resumed in the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart when the green flag came out again on lap 210, but all the leaders would have to pit for one last splash and dash before the end of the race.

Still off-sync, Stewart was the first of those to take to pit road under green on lap 233, surprising many by opting to elongate his stop by taking four tyres where others were set to gamble on taking only two. It was a callback to the traditional approach of using the fresh rubber to stream back up through the field to recover any places lost because of the longer stop, but the changes to cars and tyres this year have repeatedly demonstrated that this tactic no longer works on medium-length “cookie-cutter” ovals such as this and that track position is far more evaluable than fresh tyres – and it was no different here at Kentucky. Stewart would pay for that call by crew chief Darian Grubb and would finish in 12th place, although Stewart himself put the blame down to the #14’s pace at restarts: “We just couldn’t get going on the restarts,” he said. “Beyond frustrating.”

Keselowski was still in the lead by Kyle Busch was not slashing the gap between them and looked set to make a jump, when instead he dived for pit lane on lap 239 and the #18 crew put in their predictably phenomenal job in turning their man around and getting him back out on track. Keselowski came in next time around and had a less speedy stop, which – while by no means bad – meant that after coming in a second ahead of Busch, he returned to the track three seconds behind.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among the last of those to pit, and as he exited pit lane the left front tyre – which hadn’t been changed during the flying stop – suddenly exploded on him, taking an awful lot of bodywork with it as the rubber flailed around, depositing debris on the track that forced the fifth caution of the evening.

Earnhardt Jr. denied that it has been a case of worn tyres that they should have spotted and changed in the pit stop just seconds earlier. “No, I slid the left front tyre real bad coming on to pit road. It was all my fault.”

It hadn’t been the best of nights for the fan favourite in any case. “We didn’t ride the bumps good. The car didn’t cut the corner good. We could change the balance but it wouldn’t make us go faster; when we were too loose and we would tighten it up, we wouldn’t find any speed in that,” he said afterwards. “So we just didn’t have a good set-up in there for whatever reason. And we would have finished well if we could have gotten some track position … We were just so slow all night we could never take any chances on track position and stuff like that. We were just too slow.”

It’s the latest blow to Earnhardt’s Chase hopes. After a strong run of performances earlier in the season that saw him up to third place in the points standings, a recent string of poor finishes has wiped out all that good work and slumped him down to eighth and at risk of not making the cut; and without a race win this season (or indeed for an uncomfortably long time of over three years despite coming agonisingly close several times in 2011 only to be pipped at the post, twice by Kevin Harvick.)

David Reutimann had been in the lead when the caution came out, but he needed to hand that lead back to Kyle Busch in order to come into pit lane, returning to take the restart on lap 259 in third place behind Busch and Matt Kenseth and just ahead of Jimmie Johnson.

The green flag lasted only three laps before another caution: Clint Bowyer spun the #33 after losing a tyre, hitting the wall with his rear and then struggling to get the car pointing the right way and get going again on the steep Kentucky Speedway banking. It was surprisingly almost the only impact that any of the Richard Childress Racing drivers had made on the race all evening, RCR looking oddly anonymous here with even their standard bearer Kevin Harvick only managing a mediocre 16th.

That set up a two-lap shootout for the race win with Kyle Busch ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, David Reutimann and Brad Keselowski. Unusually for Kyle – who typically dominates restarts – this time he struggled with a touch of wheel spin and Johnson was able to stay right alongside him through the first turns and threatened to take the lead, which would have been the race decider.

“Did Jimmie and them come get tires on that one restart?” asked Kyle at the post-race press conference. “I knew he had fresher rubber than I did for a restart. I tried to do the best I could … but I overshot my acceleration just by a little bit and spun my tyres a fuzz. That allowed him to get a little bit of momentum on me. He got a good start. We had to race down into turn 1 side-by-side rather than me getting a jump on him.

“I was just hoping that the outside lane would prevail, I could get a run through there, carry my momentum and clear him down the backstretch, race him into turn three. It was certainly a tense moment there for a second. But after I took the white, I saw the #00 coming on the #48 and getting there to make a move on him. I was like, ‘C’mon, Reuty!'”

Once the #18 proved to have the edge and managed to pull ahead, Johnson faltered and fell back into the clutches of Reutimann who looked particularly strong in these final minutes. With the #48 and the #00 locked in battle for second place it gave Busch all the time he needed to pull out a safe gap at the front and cruise to a comfortable win in the end having led 125 of the 267 race laps.

“I was able to hang with the #18 inside of turns 1 and 2, and he just cleared me going down the back,” said Johnson said. “If I could have stayed inside of him, it would have been one heck of a finish at the end … but it didn’t happen that way, and then he cleared me and went on, and then I had my hands full with the #00. David was probably the best car at the end, and if he had cleared me sooner, I think he would have been up there with the #18 racing for the win.”

“It was hit or miss the first part of the race,” said Reutimann. “We would make it better, then make it worse. Every time we put four tires on, we couldn’t go anywhere, too tight.” But as the race had gone on, the set-up changes started to kick in and suit the cooling night time conditions: “We unfortunately have a bit of a history of being fast when it doesn’t really matter. Tonight worked out where we were fast at the end of the race, which is evidently what you got to do!”

Reutimann pipped Johnson for second while a late dive to the inside line rewarded Ryan Newman with fourth ahead of Edwards and Kenseth. Meanwhile, having led for 79 laps, Brad Keselowski couldn’t hide his frustration at finishing seventh which was poor reward for all that work. “Disappointed in the results. It’s just a product of double-file restarts,” he said. “At the end, the restarts are just a crapshoot … There’s a reason why the leader takes the high lane on the restart,” he went on. “If you get the bottom lane, you’re going backwards. I kept getting in an odd position and just kept getting on the bottom lane. Every restart just kept playing against us.”

No such problems for the only man to lead more laps than the rejuvenated #2 Penske, race winner Kyle Busch.

“It was certainly a fun night for us. Couldn’t be happier to be here in victory lane. This one ranks right up there with the best of them,” said Busch, who is not traditionally all that strong on the 1.5 mile ‘cookie cutter’ ovals and who is yet to win one of the ‘major’ NASCAR flagpole events despite all his series success. “I haven’t won any of the big races, unfortunately, yet. But, you know, it ranks right up there with Las Vegas being another of my prestigious wins that I feel like I’ve accomplished so far.”

Kyle gave a lot of the credit for the night’s win to his crew chief Dave Rogers, who has been uncomfortably in the spotlight himself recently with fines for a ride height violation and an unapproved oil pan on the #18 during a financially costly June.

“I was telling him the car is good, but he would still make a change knowing what the track is going to do,” said Kyle. “That’s just experience. Knowing this racetrack pretty well, for us it worked well. We kept up with it. We stayed up front all the night, made it seem easy, but certainly it wasn’t. There at the end there was a couple tense moments, but we prevailed.”

The victory put Kyle Busch in the record books, and it’s an entry that unlike all the other “greatest” and “fastest” stats in the record books will never be overturned – there will only be one first-ever winner of the Cup race at Kentucky, and for now and all time that will be Kyle Busch.

Not that Busch thinks in terms of records or making history, he’s too busy looking ahead to the next race – in this case, despite having driven three complete NASCAR races with all the attendant practice and qualifying sessions on top, he was off to compete in a fourth race of the weekend on Sunday night: the Miller Lite Nationals Super Late Model event on the 0.2 mile Slinger Super Speedway in Wisconsin. When asked what the most important aspect of Saturday’s win was, he replied without hesitation: “That I won on the way to Slinger … I’m going to stay here tonight, chill out and get a good night’s sleep, get out of here in the morning and head up there and, hopefully, win a Late Model race.”

Of course, Kyle being Kyle, he did indeed win when he passed Dave Feiler after a restart with 26 laps to go to take the win by 2.171s; Matt Kenseth’s son Ross Kenseth finished sixth, and Nationwide Series driver Kelly Bires was seventh.

And Kyle being Kyle, he was as thrilled by that minor league win as he had been about his 22nd career Sprint Cup win in 240 starts, his third of 2011 and his 99th national series career victory at Kentucky that had given him the lead of the Cup points standings.

Actually, come to think of it, that minor league win was probably a lot more fun to race in and to watch than the inaugural Quaker State 400 proved to be …

Race results

1. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 267 laps 2:56:30.000s (48/2 pts)
2. #00 David Reutimann Toyota 267 laps + 0.179s (43/1 pts)
3. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267 laps + 0.233s (41/0 pts)
4. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 267 laps + 0.887s (40/0 pts)
5. #99 Carl Edwards Ford 267 laps + 1.158s (39/0 pts)
6. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford 267 laps + 1.398s (38/0 pts)
7. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 267 laps + 1.506s (38/1 pts)
8. #6 David Ragan Ford 267 laps + 1.544s (37/1 pts)
9. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge 267 laps + 1.576s (36/1 pts)
10. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 laps + 1.971s (34/0 pts)
11. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 267 laps + 1.972s (34/1 pts)
12. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 267 laps + 2.270s (33/1 pts)
13. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota 267 laps + 2.374s (32/1 pts)
14. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 267 laps + 2.702s (30/0 pts)
15. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet 267 laps + 2.737s (29/0 pts)
16. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267 laps + 2.852s (28/0 pts)
17. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet 267 laps + 3.069s (27/0 pts)
18. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 267 laps + 3.380s (27/1 pts)
19. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 267 laps + 3.496s (25/0 pts)
20. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 267 laps + 3.544s (24/0 pts)
21. #16 Greg Biffle Ford 267 laps + 3.682s (23/0 pts)
22. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet 267 laps + 3.962s (22/0 pts)
23. #51 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 267 laps + 6.157s (0pts)
24. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (20/0 pts)
25. #13 Casey Mears Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (19/0 pts)
26. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (18/0 pts)
27. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota 265 laps + 2 laps (17/0 pts)
28. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford 265 laps + 2 laps (16/0 pts)
29. #38 Travis Kvapil Ford 265 laps + 2 laps (0pts)
30. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 265 laps + 2 laps (14/0 pts)
31. #34 David Gilliland Ford 264 laps + 3 laps (13/0 pts)
32. #71 Andy Lally * Ford 264 laps + 3 laps (12/0 pts)
33. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 264 laps + 3 laps (11/0 pts)
34. #32 Mike Bliss Ford 264 laps + 3 laps (0pts)
35. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 259 laps Accident (9/0 pts)
36. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 198 laps Engine (8/0 pts)
37. #7 Scott Wimmer Dodge 90 laps Electrical (0pts)
38. #37 Tony Raines Ford 38 laps Vibration (6/0 pts)
39. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 37 laps Brakes (0pts)
40. #46 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 35 laps Transmission (5/1 pts)
41. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota 32 laps Electrical (3/0 pts)
42. #181 Scott Riggs Chevrolet 28 laps Brakes (0pts)
43. #60 Mike Skinner Toyota 17 laps Electrical (0pts)

After failing to convert three consecutive pole positions to a race win, Kurt Busch finally dominates in his first Cup victory of 2011 on the unlikely road course setting of Infineon.

NASCAR cars are so precision-made for their natural oval habitat, that to see them on a road course instead is mildly disconcerting; it’s like the elephant in the room suddenly wearing ballerina’s slippers, it’s just not right watching the behemoth stock cars try to delicately tip-toe around the winding track at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point, near Sonoma in California.

Just as the cars aren’t really suited to the environment, so the same can be said for many of the drivers – many of whom, one feels, have arrived at NASCAR because they are feeling the invasion of road course events into other series such as IndyCar. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one such driver who can’t wait to be over and done with Sonoma, while even championship leader Carl Edwards came into this year’s race here with deep misgivings about the impact that a bad showing on the road course might have for his title aspirations, cancelling his planned run at Road America in the Nationwide Series in an attempt to focus on this Cup race instead.

Traditionally the same names come up when trying to pick a winner: the regular NASCAR line-up boasts Marcos Ambrose – probably the best of all the current field on road courses – and Juan Montoya, a former Champ Car and F1 racer with huge amounts of road course experience. Add to that the “ringers” like the talented road specialist some car owners bring in just for this race and its bookend at Watkin’s Glen and it’s no wonder that the hard core oval drivers would just as well sit this one out.

Kurt Busch is not one of those drivers who anyone would pick as a winner on a road course – after all, he’d never done it before – but the Penske driver’s run of three consecutive poles showed that he was in top form, and impressive showings in the three practice sessions (first, second and third respectively) showed that he was well up to the challenge. Unfortunately, on this of all courses – where track position is so vital – he made a couple of costly mistakes on his qualifying run and ended up starting from 11th, while the even-more unlikely Joey Logano emerged on top in pole position to lead the field to the green flag for the start of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 alongside Jamie McMurray, with Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin forming the second row just behind them.

McMurray went for a quick trip through the grass but maintained position on the very first lap which proved a little messy for many of the cars, all them finding the road surface slick in the opening laps. That helped some drivers, with Kurt Busch up five spots to sixth in the first four laps and then taking fifth place from AJ Allmendinger next lap around. Juan Montoya was also working his way up the field, while among the drivers going in the opposite direction was Brian Vickers who was down ten spots in six laps, having started tenth.

McMurray finally lost second place to Denny Hamlin on lap five, who went on to then take the lead from the #20 through turn 11 a couple of laps later; Logano was starting to struggle getting loose and carried on losing positions over the next few laps as he sank out of contention.

One of those to pass him was Kurt Busch, who slipped past Ryan Newman for third on lap 10 and was second the lap after that, 2.7s behind Hamlin. Two laps later and Kurt had wiped out that advantage and was right on the back of the #11’s bumper as they went into turn 4 – and the #22 quickly slipped past and exited the turn with the lead, a stunning 13 laps’ worth of driving.

By lap 20, Busch has pulled out a comfortable lead over Hamlin in second, with Newman, Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne making up the top six. Several of them were unhappy with their cars – Ambrose complaining that his was too tight, Johnson not happy with the #48 – and lined up the adjustments they wanted at the first round of green flag pit stops as they looked set for a three-stop race. However, Kurt Busch stretched his first stint out far longer than anyone else, ending up with a lead of over 20 seconds over his team mate Brad Keselowski who was also looking to make this into a two-stop race if he possibly could, watching and waiting while everyone else made the call into pit road over the ensuing laps.

Finally on lap 33 Busch’s hand was forced when he heard that Casey Mears was about to run out of gas; having the field pack up behind the safety car at this point before he could get into pit road for his own first stop would have been a disaster, so Kurt dived in just before the first caution of the day did indeed come out. It was a very good call, and Busch emerged from pit lane right behind Denny Hamlin – but effectively a stop up on the #11 – as other cars took the opportunity for a second stop.

The race went green again on lap 37 but almost immediately there was a multiple-car accident as drivers tried to make the most of the overtaking opportunities the bunched-up field presented. Brian Vickers got a sustained hard shove from behind by Tony Stewart into turn 11 which propelled him down the track on locked-up tyres for a skid of some 20 feet, collecting other cars along the way – including inflicting serious damage onto the side of the #88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. which holed his radiator and led to the engine blowing.

“I’m not a big fan of the place, but maybe one of these days,” Earnhardt said, who lost three hard-won places in the Sprint Cup standings as a result of his early retirement from the race.

Stewart was unapologetic about the crash and didn’t deny that it had been intentional. “I’ve been complaining about the way guys have been racing all year,” Stewart said. “I like Brian. I’m not holding it against him at all. I don’t care if it was Ryan Newman; I would have dumped him, too. If they want to block, that’s what is going to happen to them every time for the rest of my career.”

Vickers, however, refuted the accusation that he had been blocking and instead pointed to an accident that was unfolding ahead of him, in which Kyle Busch’s attempt to overtake Juan Montoya had ended up with the #18 in the grass and spraying up the dirt.

“I wasn’t blocking him. That may have been his perception from where he was sitting, but the #18 went off the race track in front of me,” Vickers said. “He was going off in the dirt and then coming back in front of me on the race track, and I was trying to avoid him. The cars in front of me were slow. I was inside of the guy in front of me … I think when [Stewart] sees the replay and he realises why I went low – if he looks at it out of my front windshield – he’ll realise it had nothing to do with him. It had to do with the #18 almost wrecking me, and a couple of other guys running slow up top.”

Both cars were able to continue, although with some degree of bodywork damage – Vickers’s #83 looking particularly shopworn.

The brief green flag running had been long enough to allow Kurt Busch to pass Denny Hamlin for the lead, so it was the #22 who led the field round for the next restart on lap 42, followed by Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and David Gilliland – who was quickly passed for position by Allmendinger, who then went three-wide through turn 11 for second place with Hamlin and Truex. It couldn’t end well, and it didn’t: Truex was sent spinning and Hamlin, while Allmendinger slipped through fo the position and Hamlin himself found his #11 damaged by Allmendinger’s play. There was no immediate caution for the contact, but one followed on lap 46 for debris in that same area.

Kurt Busch led the field back to racing on lap 51, only to lose the lead when Clint Bowyer made a nice dive in front out of turn 2. Behind them, Tony Stewart got past Jimmie Johnson for third with Brad Keselowski behind them in fifth.

Despite Robby Gordon making contact with the barrier after contact with Joey Logano – who just seemed to lose patience with the #7 – there was no new immediate yellow flag, and next time around Kurt Busch was able to pass Bowyer to reclaim the lead at turn 11; over the ensuing laps, Tony Stewart was able to pass Bowyer to take up the chase and he was starting to close in when the fourth caution of the afternoon came out for Bobby Labonte hitting the wall with a little assist from Michael McDowell and leaving fluid on the front stretch of the track that took a lengthy five lap caution to properly clear up before racing could resume.

That allowed a number of cars to come into the pits, including Denny Hamlin whose car was still struggling with damage from that earlier contact with Truex and Allmendinger. Jamie McMurray had already been into the pits just before the caution came out because of a flat tyre, and while he reported that the car was “really good right now”, it had blown the team’s two-stop strategy that the leader Kurt Busch was still on line to achieve especially after this length mid-race caution.

The green came out on lap 65 with Busch leading Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson – but Kurt’s brother Kyle was swiftly up into fourth place, Further back there was contact between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano that left Kenseth pointing in the wrong direction and having to wait for everyone to stream past him before he could resume in last place on the lead lap, which meant there was no return to caution.

By lap 72, the window for the final pit stop to get to the chequered flag opened, and sure enough Kurt Busch was into pit lane ceding the lead to Tony Stewart. Kurt was still confident, but reporting that the car was generally a little loose but at the same time too tight in turn 1. He returned to the field in 12th place and was soon moving up the positions, but differing pit stop strategies meant that he would not see the lead again for another 16 laps, as the position was assumed in turn by Stewart, Juan Montoya, David Gilliland, Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith until their own final pit stops cycled through.

After his earlier conflagration with Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers had impressively worked his way back up into the top five during this stage; then on lap 87 he seemed to falter and drop back, which put him right on track behind Stewart again. It wasn’t a coincidence.

“He made his bed at that moment [on lap 39], and he had to sleep in it,” Vickers said bluntly, not concealing the payback nature: “He wrecked me, and I dealt with it.”

He ploughed into the back of Stewart’s #14 into turn 11 – fittingly, the same place as the earlier incident – and sent Stewart backwards so that it ran into and onto the tyre barrier, coming to rest with the crumpled back of the #14 propped up at a thirty degree angle. It took a lengthy time for the safety workers to get the #14 down from its precarious perch, and the car beyond repair while Vickers was able to continue albeit with a lot of wrecked bodywork stripped off.

Stewart less less angry than resigned about the payback – and resolute. “I dumped him earlier for blocking and he got me back later on,” Stewart said. “If they block, they are going to get dumped. It is real simple. I mean, I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him for dumping us back.

“I don’t race guys that way. I never have. If guys want to block. then they are going to wrecked every time. Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it. He did what he had to do and I don’t blame him. There is nothing wrong with it.”

Vickers also felt that there was nothing personal about it and it was just on-track business that wouldn’t have any lasting after-taste: “We were joking and laughing last week and had a great race,” he said, recalling that their last serious spat had been right here at Sonoma in that same turn 11. “I’m not angry. I’d rather have been racing for the win and worrying about something like that.”

Several cars now pitted, but Kurt Busch wasn’t about to give up on his two-stop goal even with the allure of a fresh set of tyres for the final 18 laps or the safety blanket of a little extra fuel, and so he stayed out and assumed the lead again at last for the restart on lap 92. Behind him for the green flag was Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski – a particularly good showing for Edwards who had started off on Friday in shocking form until he’d decided to eliminate his Nationwide distraction. At the green flag, Edwards was quickly up into second and Keselowski into third place.

Further back, Juan Montoya had been one of those cars to pit for fresh rubber for the final stint and was now doing battle for sixth with Jeff Gordon. Winning that one, Montoya then went after Kasey Kahne – and proceeded to send the Red Bull onto the grass as the Colombian turned up the aggression factor to 11, and paid for it by losing a couple of positions. Not discouraged, Montoya’s next target was David Gilliland, and hard as Gilliland tried to hold him off – including some light contact – there was no stopping Montoya’s single-minded charge and he was through back to sixth place again.

With ten laps to go, the order at the top was Kurt Busch followed by Edwards and Keselowski, then Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex, Montoya, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose, who a few laps earlier had spun Dave Blaney around through turn 7 as he tried to assert his own road racing credentials.

All those cars that had stopped right at the start of the fuel window – Busch and Edwards in particular – were good for 110 laps but not for any more should a green-white-chequered situation arise, so everyone was on tenterhooks to see whether there would be any late cautions extending the race distance.

If there was going to be a caution then the most likely caused looked to be Montoya, who was doing raging against anyone in his way. On lap 102 it was a fierce battle with Truex who refused to give way, and on lap 104 Montoya was up against Brad Keselowski: Montoya tried to force him onto the grass in order to take the position, but Keselowski turned the tables and dumped Montoya on the approach into turn 4, dropping the #42 all the way down to 12th – but he then fell back to 22nd place by the end of the race because of the state of his tyres: “I just killed the tyres when I spun,” he explained afterwards.

“We got through the corner, and I just got on his bumper a little bit and moved him a little,” Montoya said of the incident with Keselowski. “Got a good run, and I guess he didn’t like it … he just plain and simple wrecked us.” The incident also caught up Kyle Busch who spun as well and would finish just outside the top ten in 11th right behind Keselowski.

For his part, Keselowski was unrepentant: “I don’t take any pride in all that stuff, but at some point, you’ve got to run your own deal,” he said. “It was pretty obvious that it was eat or be eaten, and I wasn’t going to be eaten.”

That seemed to take the fight out of the race at the front, and despite running on the same set of tyres for the final 38 laps Kurt Busch continued with a commanding lead all the way to the chequered flag; behind him, a nice calm surge from Jeff Gordon put the #24 into second place after he won a final lap battle with Carl Edwards, with Clint Bowyer taking fourth ahead of another good road performance from the specialist Marcos Ambrose.

It had proved an amazingly dominant win for Kurt Busch, despite being his first victory on a road course and his first Cup win in 2011, the 23rd in his series career. Busch credited it to the strategy that he and crew chief Steve Addington had devised and followed immaculately despite the distractions going on around them.

“We stuck to it. We had a game plan,” Addington said. “Kurt said he was going to try to get a couple of positions there at the start, gain a couple positions. I was thinking, okay, if we start 11th, we’ll get to seventh or eighth. Drove by, took the lead. That made it easier on me and my guys to make a decision!”

“We developed the strategy from practice,” Busch said. “It gave us the calculations we needed, and it showed that we could make it on two stops [even though] a lot of guys said that they couldn’t make it on two stops.

“It was an unbelievable set-up,” he continued.”Once we got into the groove with this car, it seemed to get better after lap five or six. Our cars have never done that before.”

Second-placed Jeff Gordon was all praise for the elder Busch, who in recent seasons has been somewhat eclipsed by his younger brother Kyle – unfairly, Gordon clearly feels. “A guy, really, who is as talented as he is, every guy that competes in this series who has won on ovals wants to win on a road course to kind of prove something to themselves and the rest of the competitors,” Gordon said after the race. “When you do that the first time, I know how much it means. I know it meant a lot to him.”

With an impressive third place, Carl Edwards increased his lead in the Sprint Cup points standings, validating his decision to pull out of the Nationwide race at Road America to concentrate on Infineon.

“It was tough to watch the race [at Road America]. But I think staying was the right decision,” Edwards said Sunday. “It paid off. It was a good call. We could have finished poorly here, ended up on the fence over there like Tony did or something. Anything can happen. It turned out to be the right call and it paid off, so it was a great move.”

Whether there will be a new outbreak of driver feuds and hostilities as a result of some of the wrecks seen during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 remains to be seen: Stewart and Vickers certainly seemed to be trying to calm down the situation between them without backtracking on their respective positions, but Montoya certainly seemed to have stirred fights with Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne while Joey Logano was just as unhappy with Robby Gordon for their own mid-race encounter.

But that’s road course racing for you, and especially when you try and do road course racing with oval-racing cars and oval-racing drivers. As Jeff Gordon summed it up best: “Man, it was nuts out there.”

Yes, it was. But also a hugely entertaining change from the norm.

Race results

1. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge 110 laps Leader (48/2 pts)
2. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 110 laps + 2.685s (42/0 pts)
3. #99 Carl Edwards Ford 110 laps + 3.851s (41/0 pts)
4. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 110 laps + 10.188s (41/1 pts)
5. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 110 laps + 11.462s (39/0 pts)
6. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 110 laps + 11.901s (39/1 pts)
7. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 110 laps + 12.744s (37/0 pts)
8. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 110 laps + 14.826s (36/0 pts)
9. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 110 laps + 19.994s (36/1 pts)
10. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 110 laps + 20.748s (34/0 pts)
11. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 110 laps + 21.751s (33/0 pts)
12. #34 David Gilliland Ford 110 laps + 24.449s (33/1 pts)
13. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford 110 laps + 24.863s (31/0 pts)
14. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford 110 laps + 30.580s (30/0 pts)
15. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 110 laps + 32.003s (29/0 pts)
16. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet 110 laps + 32.511s (29/1 pts)
17. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 110 laps + 33.286s (27/0 pts)
18. #7 Robby Gordon Dodge 110 laps + 34.662s (26/0 pts)
19. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet 110 laps + 35.042s (25/0 pts)
20. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota 110 laps + 35.969s (24/0 pts)
21. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 110 laps + 37.962s (23/0 pts)
22. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet 110 laps + 40.640s (23/1 pts)
23. #16 Greg Biffle Ford 110 laps + 42.686s (21/0 pts)
24. #00 David Reutimann Toyota 110 laps + 46.806s (20/0 pts)
25. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 110 laps + 47.082s (19/0 pts)
26. #46 Andy Pilgrim Chevrolet 110 laps + 47.887s (18/0 pts)
27. #37 Chris Cook Ford 110 laps + 48.192s (17/0 pts)
28. #51 Boris Said Chevrolet 110 laps + 49.637s (16/0 pts)
29. #6 David Ragan Ford 110 laps + 51.915s (15/0 pts)
30. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota 110 laps + 52.518s (14/0 pts)
31. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 110 laps + 54.194s (13/0 pts)
32. #32 Terry Labonte Ford 110 laps + 55.053s (12/0 pts)
33. #181 Brian Simo Ford 109 laps + 1 Lap (11/0 pts)
34. #13 Casey Mears Toyota 108 laps + 2 Laps (10/0 pts)
35. #71 Andy Lally * Ford 104 laps + 6 Laps (9/0 pts)
36. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota 103 laps + 7 Laps (8/0 pts)
37. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 99 laps + 11 Laps (8/1 pts)
38. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota 91 laps + 19 Laps (6/0 pts)
39. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 88 laps In Pit (6/1 pts)
40. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 66 laps In Pit (0pts)
41. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 45 laps In Pit (3/0 pts)
42. #60 Mike Skinner Toyota 10 laps In Pit (0pts)
43. #177 P.J. Jones Dodge 5 laps In Pit (1/0 pts)

* Denotes Rookie

Penske took pole, most laps led and ultimately the win at Kansas Speedway’s inaugural summertime race: but sadly for Kurt Busch, he wasn’t the Penske driver to find victory lane.

Kansas Speedway is hardly a new venue for the NASCAR touring show, but the timing of the STP 400 here certainly is: it’s Kansas’ first time as a summertime event instead of just an autumnal spot in the chase, and as a result the first time Kansas has two spots on NASCAR calendar.

That led to a few questions coming in: how would the track be? It’s pretty slick even in the autumn, but in the stifling heat of the afternoon Kansas summer sun putting air temperatures into the 90s it could be even worse. And how would the attendance hold up with two calls on the region’s fanbase?

The heat did deter a few ticketholders from showing up, but a crowd of 80,000 (in a facility with capacity for 83,000 including 10,000 in the infield area) was still an impressive start. “It was a little warmer than we would have liked for the fans,” track president Pat Warren said. “At any given point in the race, when I was in the grandstands, there were several thousand people trying to get out of the heat under the grandstands. That’s not ideal.”

They were there to watch Kurt Busch lead the field to the green flag at 1.18pm on Sunday afternoon, and if the heat on the grandstand was a problem then spare a thought for the drivers, who were seeing in-car temperatures in the 140s during the day and comparing the situation to sitting in a sauna in a full firesuit for three hours. Just as well Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t about for this one; even hardened southerner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was heard to radio to his pit crew “I’ll be surprised if this heat don’t get me. It’s pretty damn hot,” during the afternoon’s proceedings.

While Busch led the field past the green flag, it was Juan Montoya who claimed the lead at the end of the first lap when Kurt ran up too high, then Kyle Busch took over before Montoya claimed it back again. It wasn’t until lap 18 that Kurt finally got to lead a race lap, having been complaining that the #22 was super-tight at the start. Advised to take to the lower groove by his spotter who had seen it work for Montoya, Kurt did just that and instantly was feeling much the better for it, although he still wanted loosening up at the first opportunity.

Once installed into the lead, Kurt kept it until lap 44 which is the point when he came in for the first green flag pit stop of the day. Behind him, Montoya and Carl Edwards were battling over second place, while further back the big movers were Jimmie Johnson (up to 16th by lap 38 after starting 31st), Jeff Gordon (up to 10th by lap 22 from 22nd) and Brad Keselowski (up to 17th by lap 27 from 25th on the grid); those dropping back included Brian Vickers, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seemingly resolutely stuck in around 25th place.

Kyle Busch’s attempts to put the off-track distractions of Richard Childress behind him weren’t really coming together; he got into wall after the first round of pit stop and pronounced over the team radio that he had “killed” the car. He’d keep going, but a win was perhaps now too much to realistically hope for.

The first caution came on lap 68 for debris, and the top five at the restart consisted of Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Juan Montoya; but the Colombian was off the pace at the restart and quickly fell back to the bottom of the top ten, while the double-file restart saw Kyle join his brother Kurt in leading the race in a Busch 1-2 for a time until Carl Edwards decided he wanted past both of them and duly took the lead on lap 84.

Edwards was still leading when the second caution of the day came out on lap 110 for a carelessly discarded water bottle, and the field came in for some pit stops under the caution: Kyle Busch emerged first from pit road, but soon dropped back at the restart as first Denny Hamlin and then Tony Stewart got past him.

But the track was quickly back under caution on lap 119 when Landon Cassill swiped the wall hard, causing a lot of right-side damage to the #51 that would see him stuck in the garage for over 70 laps. He’d been assisted into the wall by contact from behind by Marcos Ambrose, who sustained only minor front damage from the incident.

None of the leaders needed to return to pit road at this point, so when the green flag came out it was Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards in the lead as they neared half-distance for the afternoon. And further back down the field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had managed to quietly improve to 14th place.

This was not to be a good stint for Montoya, who got up into the wall without causing a caution; or for Kyle Busch who was sliding back down the running order and looking as though he was going to drop out of the top ten entirely, momentarily battling for position alongside Kevin Harvick – but fortunately without incident between them: Rowdy just didn’t need that sort of extra headache today.

Stewart had passed Hamlin for the lead and started to stretch his legs out in front when the fourth caution of the afternoon came out on lap 152: it was for Earnhardt Jr., who had got loose and spun sideways but fortunately managed to keep it off the wall.

“I spun out there that one time trying to find some speed,” he said later. “Just trying to get a little too much there and lost track position.” He blamed the #88 team’s inability to qualify well for putting them under too much pressure to make up places: “We shouldn’t have run second again. We’ve got to fix some things. We’ve got fast cars so we can be fast,” he said. “Just started way back there in the back, man. We ain’t qualified no better than 22nd besides Daytona and Talladega. We need to fix that somehow.” In the meantime he was lucky to still be in one piece and in the race, even if that spin had sent him to the back of the lead lap and given up all those hard-earned places.

Hamlin came out top in the pit lane, and Kyle Busch’s phenomenal #18 crew once again boosted their man’s position on track as they have so many times before: come the restart on lap 157 it was Hamlin, Stewart, Kurt and Kyle and then Jeff Gordon in fifth place.

The green lasted only four laps but it was enough for Kurt and Jeff to make a power play for 1-2 that came off beautifully before a fifth caution on lap 161 for debris in turn 3. It seemed that Hamlin had suffered some rear bumper damage in that brief tussle and he was alone in taking to pit road to have the bodywork sorted out, dropping to 21st as a result before the track went green again on lap 165.

Despite there being just over 100 laps left in the race, it turned out that this had been the last caution of the afternoon and that the race would run green all the way to the chequered flag from here on: that would put pressure on pit crews under the remaining pit stops, while crew chiefs would get caught out by the lack of yellows when it came to plotting fuel strategies.

Once again it was a less than stellar stint for Kyle Busch, who dropped back again, lost another brief battle to Kevin Harvick, and then got demoted to ninth when he was overtaken by Brad Keselowski on lap 194. Keselowski’s Penske team mate Kurt Busch had run away in front, but by the time a round of pit stops beckoned Kurt was being reeled in by Jeff Gordon.

Those first to pit were in on lap 201, and it seemed impossible that they could make their fuel last to the end so a second splash-and-dash was inevitable. Kurt Busch surrendered the lead to Tony Stewart on lap 205 and still seemed too far off the fuel window; Brad Keselowski had an outside chance of making it by pitting on lap 210 while Tony Stewart pitting a lap later clearly had every intention of giving it a go.

But suddenly it was Denny Hamlin looking very much as though he’d lucked into a potentially race-winning situation thanks to that late return to pit lane with rear bodywork damage under the last caution. It meant he was the last to pit on lap 215 along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman and that meant that they should have enough gas to make it the final 52 laps. Just.

The pit stops having finished cycling through, Kurt Busch was back in the lead well ahead of Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth – and Tony Stewart now in sixth place, arguably the top-placed driver with an outside chance of making it to the finish, although really he needed a yellow or two to make the fuel stretch.

And there was no yellow. The laps continued ticking down, but the fuel situation was now slowly tipping over from “borderline” to “critical” to “no chance”. Even Brad Keselowski, who had pitted later than most and was now up to seventh place despite running in fuel conservation mode, was being told over his radio that he was about three-quarters of a lap short on gas.

Meanwhile Denny Hamlin might not have any fuel headaches, but his handling was shot and he was trundling around in a disappointing 13th position hoping that the strategy situation would swing it for him in the end after all. Earnhardt Jr, who had pitted with him, was tracking him back in 16th – hoping to stalk him all the way to the finish and hopefully ambush him before the chequered flag when everyone else had fallen away into pit road.

Various pit strategies played out as we hit the final 25 laps of the race. Kevin Harvick was one of the first to come in on lap 242 for fuel and two tyres; Greg Biffle took four, both of them hoping that the fresh rubber would help them mack up positions while everyone else ran to the very edge of their fuel window in the hope of a late caution. Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton came in on lap 245; David Ragan and Carl Edwards pitted on lap 247.

By lap 250 there were only six cars left on the lead lap: Kurt Busch in the lead followed by Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hamlin and Earnhardt had enough fuel to make it to the end; Kurt certainly didn’t; Stewart was being told he was a lap short on fuel. That left Keselowski very much on the bubble as well, as the car that had come in a lap earlier than the #14. Could Brad win it for Penske or would the cars behind be able to catch and pass him with their fuel being less marginal?

Vickers came in with 15 laps to go, and Stewart opted to pit early on lap 255, then on lap 258 it was Kurt Busch’s turn to come into the pits for fuel; he’d led 152 laps out of the 267 lap race distance, but he was going to be denied the win at the last gasp. Worse, when the #22 returned to the track it turned out that it had been pushed too far on that last tank of gas: the carburettor had run dry just as Busch was dropped off the jack, causing the engine to stutter and sputter around the track apron for the better part of a whole lap before the fuel line refilled with adequate pressure. Kurt finally got up to speed, but he would drop to ninth place by the end of the race, which was an undeserved bitter end to a fabulous race from Kurt.

“I’m proud of the way that this team has run,” Busch insisted after the race. “To have a car to lead laps today and be very competitive, I was all smiles … It was great. There was always something in the back of my mind today that we weren’t going to win.” He added: “It’s just one of those days where you’re on the right side, sometimes you’re not. For all my guys, we’ll take this one and the points. I’m not discouraged at all.”

Kurt had been a massive 20s ahead of his fuel-critical Penske team mate Brad Keselowski when he came in, with ten laps left to run. Earnhardt Jr had pulled off his plan of ambushing Hamlin for second place and was now giving chase to the #2 car, cutting almost a second a lap off Keselowski’s lead so that by the time the two hit the white flag Brad’s lead was just 3.5s.

How Dale – and the whole of Junior Nation – must have been hoping that it was karma payback time. After losing out last week to Kevin Harvick after he himself had run out of gas, surely it was Earnhardt’s turn to be on the fortunate receiving end: he was hoping with all his might that Keselowski would run dry or have to drop so far off the pace that Earnhardt himself could then pull off a Harvick-esque “steal” off the last corner.

The last corner came, went – and Keselowski still had enough gas to keep going, and sufficient pace to take the chequered flag 2.813s ahead of Earnhardt. Once again, the #88 would be the bridesmaid but not the bride, as Dale’s winless streak upped to 106 Cup races.

“It all worked out at the end, and they talk about you when you’re in Victory Lane,” Keselowski said, celebrating his second Cup win in 66 starts. “That’s all that matters.” It’s Penske’s 67th series victory but their first in what had been an underwhelming 2011 season so far – but Kansas definitely shows signs of perking up for both their drivers.

“I didn’t know I was leading until two laps to go,” Keselowski added. “Kind of stretched my neck out, barely caught the scoring pylon to see I was leading. I was instantly mad at my guys for not telling me, but you get over that pretty quick when you cross the start/finish line first!”

Keselowski even had the fuel in reserve to run a victory lap and do a burnout, while Earnhardt and Hamlin confessed that the fuel handling had been tough for them, too, despite their having pitted later.

“I give him a lot [of credit],” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know what his situation was, I don’t know if it was the same as ours, but he obviously had to save a little more than we did, I think. But anytime you win a fuel mileage race you’ve done something as a driver.”

“I think those guys had extremely good fuel mileage,” agreed Hamlin. “They obviously worked on it. He did a great job to save.”

Hamlin held onto third, just a tenth of a second ahead of Jeff Gordon who was the highest finisher of that leading pack that had tried to stay out as long as possible. “We were just trying to maintain second and see what the pit strategy was going to be,” said Gordon. “We played it to the best that we possibly could. If I hadn’t been quite so free, I might have been able to get to third. But all in all, a great top-five [and] a great day in the points for us.”

The win puts Keselowski in with a chance of getting into the Chase on the “wild car” introduced this season – but to be eligible for that, he’ll need to be in the top 20. Even after this week’s victory, he’s still outside that in 21st position, 7pts behind Paul Menard. It means there’s work to do to keep the Chase dream alive, but for the first time for Keselowski this year there’s light at the end of the tunnel to guide his way.

Race results

1. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 267 laps 2:55:10.000s (47/1 pts)
2. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 267 laps + 2.813s (42/0 pts)
3. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 267 laps + 6.340s (42/1 pts)
4. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 laps + 6.483s (40/0 pts)
5. #99 Carl Edwards Ford 267 laps + 7.997s (40/1 pts)
6. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford 267 laps + 12.081s (38/0 pts)
7. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267 laps + 12.326s (37/0 pts)
8. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 267 laps + 12.451s (37/1 pts)
9. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge 267 laps + 14.716s (37/2 pts)
10. #16 Greg Biffle Ford 267 laps + 17.769s (34/0 pts)
11. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267 laps + 19.757s (33/0 pts)
12. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 267 laps + 20.639s (33/1 pts)
13. #6 David Ragan Ford 267 laps + 21.475s (31/0 pts)
14. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota 267 laps + 29.681s (30/0 pts)
15. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 267 laps + 30.113s (29/0 pts)
16. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota 267 laps + 30.953s (28/0 pts)
17. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (28/1 pts)
18. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (26/0 pts)
19. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (25/0 pts)
20. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (24/0 pts)
21. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (23/0 pts)
22. #00 David Reutimann Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (22/0 pts)
23. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (21/0 pts)
24. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (20/0 pts)
25. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (19/0 pts)
26. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 266 laps + 1 lap (18/0 pts)
27. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford 266 laps + 1 lap (17/0 pts)
28. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota 266 laps + 1 lap (16/0 pts)
29. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 266 laps + 1 lap (15/0 pts)
30. #32 Patrick Carpentier Ford 265 laps + 2 laps (0pts)
31. #71 Andy Lally * Ford 265 laps + 2 laps (13/0 pts)
32. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 264 laps + 3 laps (12/0 pts)
33. #34 David Gilliland Ford 263 laps + 4 laps (11/0 pts)
34. #38 Travis Kvapil Ford 243 laps + 24 laps (0pts)
35. #51 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 190 laps + 77 laps (0pts)
36. #7 Johnny Sauter Dodge 101 laps Brakes (0pts)
37. #13 Casey Mears Toyota 100 laps Ignition (8/1 pts)
38. #46 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 38 laps Brakes (6/0 pts)
39. #30 David Stremme Chevrolet 37 laps Brakes (5/0 pts)
40. #60 Mike Skinner Toyota 34 laps Ignition (0pts)
41. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota 33 laps Electrical (3/0 pts)
42. #181 Scott Riggs Chevrolet 20 laps Rear Gear (0pts)
43. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 19 laps Rear Gear (0pts)

Despite some excellent qualifying performances, Regan Smith came to Darlington with the unenviable record of 105 starts without a Sprint Cup win: but he finally put that to rights on Saturday night.

Regan Smith has had an excellent run of qualifying for Sprint Cup races in 2011, but when it comes to the race it’s all fallen apart. The nearest he’s ever come to victory lane was in 2008 at Talladega, when he took the chequered flag only to be penalised for dropping below the double yellow line. It’s taken three years to finally address that knock back: “This is the Southern 500—we’re not supposed to win this thing!” said Smith over the radio to his crew as he headed for victory lane.

“This is no knock against Talladega at all, but I would trade in a lot of Talladega wins for one win in the Southern 500!” he added at the conclusion of the Saturday night floodlit race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

Smith owed much to Brad Keselowski who pushed him clear of Carl Edwards on the final restart. He becomes the eighth different winner in ten races in 2011, showing how varied the season has been so far. It also shows how many new faces are coming through, with Smith joining Trevor Bayne as the second first-time Sprint Cup winner of the year.

The race saw a costly solo spin for Jimmie Johnson on lap 220, and a late spat between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch that saw Harvick get spun, and also caught up Clint Bowyer in a damaging wreck just 7 laps before the end which meant race finished under green-white-chequered conditions and the #33 tumbled to 31st place in the final results.

Race results

1. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet 370 laps 3h53m51.000s (47/1 pts)
2. #99 Carl Edwards Ford 370 laps + 0.196s (43/1 pts)
3. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge 370 laps + 0.861s (41/0 pts)
4. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota 370 laps + 1.100s (42/2 pts)
5. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 370 laps + 1.406s (40/1 pts)
6. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 370 laps + 1.682s (38/0 pts)
7. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 370 laps + 1.796s (38/1 pts)
8. #16 Greg Biffle Ford 370 laps + 2.594s (36/0 pts)
9. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 370 laps + 2.635s (36/1 pts)
10. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 370 laps + 2.827s (35/1 pts)
11. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 370 laps + 3.419s (34/1 pts)
12. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 370 laps + 3.682s (32/0 pts)
13. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford 370 laps + 4.392s (31/0 pts)
14. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 370 laps + 4.430s (30/0 pts)
15. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 370 laps + 4.874s (29/0 pts)
16. #00 David Reutimann Toyota 370 laps + 8.646s (28/0 pts)
17. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 370 laps + 9.729s (28/1 pts)
18. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota 370 laps + 27.111s (27/1 pts)
19. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet 370 laps + 1 lap (25/0 pts)
20. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford 370 laps + 1 lap (24/0 pts)
21. #6 David Ragan Ford 370 laps + 1 lap (23/0 pts)
22. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 370 laps + 1 lap (22/0 pts)
23. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet 368 laps + 2 laps (21/0 pts)
24. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet 367 laps + 3 laps (20/0 pts)
25. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford 366 laps + 4 laps (19/0 pts)
26. #38 Travis Kvapil Ford 365 laps + 5 laps (0pts)
27. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge 364 laps + 6 laps (17/0 pts)
28. #32 Ken Schrader Ford 364 laps + 6 laps (17/1 pts)
29. #09 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 364 laps + 6 laps (0pts)
30. #13 Casey Mears Toyota 364 laps + 6 laps (15/1 pts)
31. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 363 laps + 7 laps (13/0 pts)
32. #34 David Gilliland Ford 362 laps + 8 laps (12/0 pts)
33. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet 358 laps In Pit (11/0 pts)
34. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota 332 laps Running (10/0 pts)
35. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 318 laps Running (9/0 pts)
36. #37 Tony Raines Ford 172 laps In Pit (8/0 pts)
37. #7 Robby Gordon Dodge 87 laps In Pit (7/0 pts)
38. #150 T.J. Bell Toyota 67 laps In Pit (0pts)
39. #46 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 34 laps Out of Race (5/0 pts)
40. #60 Mike Skinner Toyota 29 laps In Pit (0pts)
41. #30 David Stremme Chevrolet 27 laps Out of Race (3/0 pts)
42. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 22 laps Out of Race (0pts)
43. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota 7 laps In Pit (1/0 pts)

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

Talladega is one of NASCAR’s most famous venues: it’s the longest (2.66 miles), steepest banking (33 degrees) and overall the fastest oval on the calendar, where the cars pack together for draft racing – and where it can all go wrong in an instant.

It is, in other words, the track where The Big One isn’t a possibility – it’s just a matter of when. And in 2009, it came really early – and was quite literally just the start.

It happened on lap 7, when Matt Kenseth moved up the road and caught Jeff Gordon, tipping him into a slide. After that it was mayhem as cars piled into each other, too close to react or avoid the pile-up happening in front of them. It was, in effect, a great advert for how not to drive on a freeway.

Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, David Gilliland, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, David Gilliland, Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne were all wrecked by the fallout, and the track resembled a junk yard as the dust and smoke cleared. Some of the cars could be worked on and put back out for a few laps at least, but none of them were really going very far.

Up till then, Juan Montoya had led the first few laps before Dale Earnhardt Jr powered his way past to the huge cheers of the assembled crowd. David Ragan briefly took the lead as the wreck developed, and then after the pit stops under caution it was rookie Joey Logano who took the field to the restart where he was promptly usurped by Martin Truex Jr courtesy of a huge push to the front from Earnhardt. Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton also had brief stints in the lead, and Kurt Busch was out front when the second caution flew for debris on the track (some tape from the emergency repairs on Regan Smith’s car) on lap 28.

Kyle Busch took the lead on lap 31 after making a tactical decision to change only two tyres in the pit stops. He had been running toward the back initially, apparently trying to stay out of trouble that way, but running through the aftermath of the Big One was enough to make him reconsider that plan and decide that the front was altogether safer. He was joined at the front by Scott Speed, who had gone a lap down at the start of the race because of the need for some pit work even before the green flag, but he’d benefited from the free pass after the big wreck on lap 8 and now ran strongly at the front of the field.

The third caution came out on lap 42, when Michael Waltrip came down the track too quickly after passing Marcos Ambrose and hit his rear on the front of the 47, tipping himself into a wild slide across the infield section and only keeping it off the inner pit walls with a spectacular piece of recovery driving.

Things were moving fast. Dale Earnhardt Jr blasted back to the front, replacing Matt Kenseth who slumped almost immediately back to 10th after losing the draft. Former leader Kyle Busch had slumped almost out of the top 20, but then worked his way back in the right lane to climb back into the top 10 and toward the front only to get shuffled out of the draft and abruptly fall all the way back to 24th after the next restart – and promptly started to climb back again, essentially doing research for how far he could fall back and how long it would take to recover when it was really important.

Some of the cars were walking wounded: Kurt Busch was missing the entire rear bumper assembly of his car, while Jimmie Johnson was radioing in fearing a loose wheel on lap 58 and facing the prospect of an emergency green flag pit stop. Fortunately for Jimmie, the fourth caution came out almost immediately – ironically thanks to Kurt Busch, who got loose sending the number 2 careering onto the grass in a replay of Waltrip’s early spectacular slide. Like Waltrip, he saved the car from hitting the infield wall.

So at lap 73, Denny Hamlin led Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya, Martin Truex Jr, Elliot Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the top 6 of an ever-changing roll call of cars. Montoya was turbo-boosted to the front by Jimmie Johnson one minute, only to then be dropped from the draft like a hot potato the next and plummet out of the top 20 in a matter of seconds – it was that type of day.

Sam Hornish Jr had just taken the lead (despite his earlier feeling ill with the flu – amazing what an adrenalin shot of 200mph racing can do for you) when lap 85 saw the fifth caution, again for debris this time on the backstretch.

Paul Menard stayed out while others pitted to assume the lead but was quickly overtaken by Denny Hamlin at the restart; they were just ahead of Joey Logano, who was under strict instructions not to take the lead – he’d get hung out to dry by the Talladega veterans and left for dead, so he tried to just sit there learning and lapping it up. Unfortunately he was then isolated on the outside line, denied the draft – and promptly fell back out of the top ten. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch fell to 32nd and the back of the lead lap by having to pit twice to get some bodywork damage fixed, but a few laps later he had bounced back to 18th and climbing.

At half distance, it was Denny Hamlin leading David Reutimann, David Stremme, Brian Vickers, Reen Sorenson and Martin Truex Jr. but it didn’t stay that way and on lap 111 Earnhardt and the lapped Jeff Burton power-drafted their way into the lead and blasted away from the pack, opening up a huge lead in short order.

Paul Menard suffered for his strategy of not pitting under the previous caution by having to make a green flag stop on lap 112, going a lap down and leaving him hoping that no other caution came out before the rest of the field had to pit too. His heart must have leapt when Reed Sorenson had a tyre go down on the very next lap, but Sorenson kept it out of the wall and was able to come into the pits without causing a caution. Elliot Sadler scraped the wall a couple of laps later but managed to keep it going forward, and similarly avoided bringing out the yellows.

Earnhardt’s lead evaporated as quickly as it had appeared, and Martin Truex Jr was back in charge as Earnhardt slipped to eighth as a result of his audacity. But Jeff Burton was still at the head of the field and had effectively unlapped himself, and all he needed was a caution so that he would be able to drive round to the back of the lead pack and complete his recovery from being three laps down with electrical problems earlier in the day.

The caution came out on lap 124, for debris once again, and even Paul Menard was okay because of receiving the free pass to make up for his earlier green flag pit stop out of synch. Kyle Busch managed to beat Jimmie Johnson out of the pits, followed by Truex Jr, Earnhardt Jr, Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin.

As the race headed into the last 50 laps, the order and the lead were changing like a cheap Vegas slot machine. Even Jeff Burton returned to the front on lap 143, so soon after recovering from three laps down; and then he was bested by Kurt Busch, despite the number 2 missing the entire rear bumper. It was clearly anyone’s race and all that mattered till the final laps was that you were still running going into the last 4-5 laps.

The shade assembly from one of the sets of caution laps fell onto the track and brought out the seventh caution on lap 147. That left just over 40 laps to go to the end, and so everyone could pit and comfortably make it to the chequered. Soon after the restart, Kyle Busch was blasted to the front on lap 154 by the unlikeliest of collaborators, Dale Earnhardt Jr – historically there’s no love lost between them, but apparently all hatchets are buried when someone can be useful at Talladega!

As the race entered the last 35 laps, everyone was running in single file behind Kyle Busch: things were getting serious and the time for hijinks was over. Kyle was determined that no one should pass him, and blocked ruthlessly – but in the end, a hit from the number 31 of Jeff Burton sent the 18 wobbling all over the place. Busch wrestled with it to keep it under control but simply couldn’t, the car spinning to a halt in the infield after somehow managing to miss everyone else in the process – remarkable driving by all concerned.

Busch’s car wouldn’t fire up and required a starter truck, putting him a lap down with only 15 to go – effectively done for the day. Kenseth now had the lead at the restart, ahead of Earnhardt Jr, Burton and Kurt Busch, but then Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin power-drafted past to take the lead on lap 177, only for Hamlin to suddenly sink like a stone and leave Newman all on his own at the front.

Then Hamlin got into the back of Montoya, turned him around and the 42 collected Bobby Labonte – and all hell broke loose in what ended up being The Big One Part 2. Cars shot off in all directions at high speed, the most dangerous one being Robby Gordon who was sent headlong into the safer barrier in the infield, demolishing the front end of the car but mercifully not harming the driver. Jeremy Mayfield, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip, David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. all got involved to greater and lesser extent, 14 cars in total getting caught up. “Man it sucks racing around here”, said Jimmie Johnson bitterly.

So with two to go, Newman led Earnhardt Jr, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton and Joey Logano; and then from nowhere (or to be more precise, 8th place) Carl Edwards was suddenly blasted to the front with an assist from Brad Keselowski as they went into the final lap. Edwards had been hanging back in the midfield for most of the race, staying out of trouble and flying under the radar, but now it was time to pounce and he felt that he had found the help that he needed to pull it off.

Except that that ‘help’ had idea of its own. Keselowski was looking for the slightest opportunity to take the lead from Edwards, and when the number 99 sensed a move from Keselowski and went up the track slightly to block, Keselowski kept on the inside and stuck his nose in the spot Edwards had just vacated. Edwards came down the track, hit the number 9, and – then it all went to hell.

Edwards’ car was turned sideways, and then the aerodynamics lifted the car up off the track – and right into Ryan Newman. The 99 collected the hood and windscreen of Newman’s car, a nasty moment in itself, but the second impact hoisted Edwards even higher into the air. When he hit the wall, it was above the safety barrier altogether and into the fence – which, thankfully, did its job as well as it possibly could and protected the crowd just feet away from all but the most minor debris flying off. Edwards’ car was wrecked and injury to the driver looking all too possible – but then Edwards struggled out of the wreckage, and went for a short jog to cross the finish line just a few meters away. He wanted to finish, car or no car. To his credit, Edwards was sanguine about Keselowski, saying he’d just been doing his job.

But in the meantime, Keselowski had taken the chequered flag followed by Earnhardt (and even the remains of Ryan Newman’s car sliding across in third.) Keselowski was busy celebrating with Earnhardt when Kyle Busch came up unnoticed from behind, and Keselowski got a harmless post-race spin before celebrating properly with some donuts.

It was a breathless end to an eventful race. But then, Talladega wouldn’t be Talladega without thrills, spills and accidents. And another first time winner, Brad Keselowski, celebrating in victory lane.

Race result

1   9   09  Brad Keselowski    Chevrolet  190/5   188  
2   11  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet  175/5   188  
3   25  39  Ryan Newman        Chevrolet  170/5   188  
4   34  47  Marcos Ambrose     Toyota     160/0   188  
5   8   82  Scott Speed *      Toyota     160/5   188  
6   28  2   Kurt Busch         Dodge      155/5   188  
7   2   16  Greg Biffle        Ford       151/5   188  
8   30  83  Brian Vickers      Toyota     147/5   188  
9   22  20  Joey Logano *      Toyota     143/5   188  
10  20  31  Jeff Burton        Chevrolet  139/5   188  
11  41  43  Reed Sorenson      Dodge      130/0   188  
12  10  6   David Ragan        Ford       132/5   188  
13  17  187 Joe Nemechek       Toyota     129/5   188  
14  24  98  Paul Menard        Ford       126/5   188  
15  6   78  Regan Smith        Chevrolet  118/0   188  
16  15  07  Casey Mears        Chevrolet  120/5   188  
17  13  17  Matt Kenseth       Ford       117/5   188  
18  43  113 Max Papis *        Toyota     109/0   188  
19  39  19  Elliott Sadler     Dodge      111/5   188  
20  1   42  Juan Montoya       Chevrolet  108/5   188  
21  18  11  Denny Hamlin       Toyota     105/5   188  
22  31  55  Michael Waltrip    Toyota     102/5   188  
23  29  14  Tony Stewart       Chevrolet  94/0    188  
24  16  99  Carl Edwards       Ford       96/5    188  
25  23  18  Kyle Busch         Toyota     98/10   188  
26  33  00  David Reutimann    Toyota     85/0    188  
27  40  34  John Andretti      Chevrolet  87/5    188  
28  12  96  Bobby Labonte      Ford       79/0    179  
29  42  7   Robby Gordon       Toyota     76/0    179  
30  36  48  Jimmie Johnson     Chevrolet  78/5    179  
31  37  12  David Stremme      Dodge      70/0    179  
32  27  41  Jeremy Mayfield    Toyota     72/5    179  
33  3   1   Martin Truex Jr.   Chevrolet  69/5    179  
34  4   77  Sam Hornish Jr.    Dodge      66/5    179  
35  38  44  A.J. Allmendinger  Dodge      58/0    164  
36  35  9   Kasey Kahne        Dodge      55/0    133  
37  14  24  Jeff Gordon        Chevrolet  52/0    128  
38  19  29  Kevin Harvick      Chevrolet  49/0    127  
39  5   33  Clint Bowyer       Chevrolet  46/0      8  
40  26  171 David Gilliland    Chevrolet  43/0      6  
41  21  36  Scott Riggs        Toyota     40/0      6  
42  32  26  Jamie McMurray     Ford       37/0      6  
43  7   5   Mark Martin        Chevrolet  34/0      6  

Sprint Cup standings

The early exit of Jeff Gordon from the race means that he loses the lead of the Sprint Cup standings:

RANK    +/-     DRIVER      POINTS  BEHIND  ST  P   W   T5  T10
1   +2  Kurt Busch          1299            9   0   1   3   6
2   -1  Jeff Gordon         1294    -5      9   0   1   5   6
3   -1  Jimmie Johnson      1235    -64     9   0   1   4   6
4   --  Tony Stewart        1232    -67     9   0   0   3   6
5   --  Denny Hamlin        1193    -106    9   0   0   2   4
6   +1  Kyle Busch          1124    -175    9   1   2   3   3
7   +1  Carl Edwards        1119    -180    9   0   0   1   4
8   -2  Clint Bowyer        1098    -201    9   0   0   3   4
9   +2  Jeff Burton         1092    -207    9   0   0   1   4
10  +4  Greg Biffle         1081    -218    9   0   0   3   5
11  -2  David Reutimann     1077    -222    9   1   0   1   2
12  --  Matt Kenseth        1063    -236    9   0   2   3   3
13  +4  Ryan Newman         1033    -266    9   0   0   1   3
14  -4  Kasey Kahne         1030    -269    9   0   0   1   2
15  +4  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  1018    -281    9   0   0   1   3
16  -1  Juan Montoya        1018    -281    9   1   0   0   2
17  +1  Brian Vickers        995    -304    9   1   0   1   4
18  -5  Mark Martin          971    -328    9   3   1   1   4
19  +7  Marcos Ambrose       937    -362    9   0   0   1   2
20  -4  Kevin Harvick        918    -381    9   0   0   2   2
21  +1  Casey Mears          911    -388    9   0   0   0   0
22  -2  David Stremme        899    -400    9   0   0   0   0
23  -2  Martin Truex Jr.     887    -412    9   1   0   0   2
24  +3  Reed Sorenson        881    -418    9   0   0   0   1
25  --  Michael Waltrip      880    -419    9   0   0   0   1
26  +4  David Ragan          855    -444    9   0   0   0   1
27  -4  A.J. Allmendinger    847    -452    9   0   0   1   2
28  +1  Elliott Sadler       845    -454    9   0   0   1   1
29  -5  Jamie McMurray       825    -474    9   0   0   0   2
30  -2  Bobby Labonte        823    -476    9   0   0   1   1
31  --  Sam Hornish Jr.      775    -524    9   0   0   0   1
32  --  Paul Menard          763    -536    9   0   0   0   0
33  --  Joey Logano*         753    -546    9   0   0   0   1
34  --  John Andretti        676    -623    9   0   0   0   0
35  --  Robby Gordon         653    -646    9   0   0   0   0
36  +2  Scott Speed*         607    -692    8   0   0   1   1
37  -1  David Gilliland      569    -730    8   0   0   0   0
38  +1  Regan Smith          473    -826    5   0   0   0   0
39  -2  Aric Almirola        451    -848    7   0   0   0   0
40  +2  Joe Nemechek         374    -925    7   0   0   0   0
41  +5  Brad Keselowski      333    -966    3   0   1   1   1
42  -1  Scott Riggs          311    -988    5   0   0   0   0
43  -3  Travis Kvapil        292   -1007    4   0   0   0   0
44  +1  Jeremy Mayfield      230   -1069    4   0   0   0   0
45  -2  Bill Elliott         228   -1071    3   0   0   0   0


It emerged that seven spectators were injured from the incident where Carl Edwards’ car crashed into the catch fence at the end of the race.

Track officials confirmed that seven people were treated as a consequence of being hit by debris from the violent impact that Edwards’ car made with the fence a few metres short of crossing the finish line.

“After the incident that occurred on the last lap, we are treating approximately eight patients from injuries received from flying debris; the injuries appear to be minor and non life-threatening,” said the track’s medical director Dr Bobby Lewis.

“One female patient is being transported by air, because of traffic, for further evaluation and treatment.”

Later, the track officials stated that six patients had been released but that two would need further treatment with their own doctors for possible minor fractures in extremities, while the seveneth who was airlifted to hospital was said to have suffered facial injuries.

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