The Kobalt Tools 500 had eleven cautions during its eventual 330-lap duration, but none was more bizarre than that thrown to cover the actions of Jimmy Watts, gas man on the #47 Toyota driven by Marcos Ambrose.

When a tyre escaped the #47 crew during a routine stop on lap 67, Watts chose to chase the errant part, even after it had taken to the grassy swathe separating the track from pit road - with the rest of the field still circulating at racing speeds.

The caution flag flew immediately, catching several cars out as they were still on pit-road, immediately putting them a lap or more down. Indeed, such was the point in the race, only nine cars were left on the lead lap following the incident, which broke the field up unnecessarily early.

"I'll look at the tape - I'm not sure [what happened],'' Ambrose, who later retired with engine failure, admitted, ''We don't want to ruin anybody's race - especially NASCAR's. We want to play by the rules and do everything right. If we did something wrong, then we need to look at it and not do it again."

Early season points leader Matt Kenseth didn't see Watts chase the tire onto the grass, but that didn't prevent him from questioning the gas man's judgment.

"Maybe he's new," he said, having finished twelfth, "Maybe he hasn't seen us drive, but we tend to wreck a lot. I wouldn't want to be out in the middle of that grass.

"I didn't see it but, if there's a tyre in the infield, they're probably gonna throw the caution eventually, and probably let everybody cycle through. It got us a lap down, but it probably helped us because we ran terrible and finished twelfth. We ran a lot worse than that and it only put us one lap down because we short-pitted. A lot of cars that would have beaten us were two laps down so, in a way, it probably helped us more than it hurt us."

Having come in one place ahead of Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr agreed with assessment that a caution probably would have appeared regardless of Watts' actions.

''It is a dangerous situation, and NASCAR probably did what they thought was the right thing, so I can't argue with it,'' he noted, ''I mean, it is unsafe. I wouldn't want to see anybody get hurt.''

Casey Mears was among those caught out by Watts' actions, falling a second lap behind the leaders having already lost ground when an early two-tyre gamble did not pay off.

''We had a really good car,'' he sighed, having finished 16th, ''We were just loose there at the beginning and came in and took two tyres to get track position, but we were just too loose for it there at the time. Then we went to a long green flag run and we were sideways and got a lap down. We pitted a little bit earlier than our window, then the caution came out because the guy ran across the grass and it just put us two down. It just kind of takes you out of the race. We had a top five car - it's too bad.''

Ryan Newman was another to go two laps down as a result of the unexpected caution, but suffered other problems on his way to 22nd.

Watts was suspended from competition for the remainder of the afternoon for 'putting himself in harm's way', according to NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp. The teams adversely affected by the incident simply were left to deal with the unexpected setback as best they could.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

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