5 May 2012
Nationwide: Logano steals 'Dega from Busch
Once again, green flag pit stops were looming - the last of the race - when the fourth caution came out on lap 82, this time for Josh Richards spinning after having a tyre fail on him. It came too late to save Kurt Busch's race, however, after the #1 had to head for pit road a few laps earlier with a massively overheated engine that had all-but steamed off its water reservoir in the process. And it was also too late to stop Timmy Hill from having to call it a day altogether in the #41, after a bout of intestinal flu combined with the soaring Alabama afternoon temperatures had left him dehydrated and too dizzy to be able to continue to drive safely at these speeds any longer. Blake Koch stepped into the car for the remaining 33 laps of the race.
The race resumed on lap 87 following pit stops under yellow; Kevin Harvick led at the green but the battle for the lead was soon three- and even four-wide until finally Logano (pushed by Sadler again) eased ahead of Kyle Busch. However, Sadler soon had major overheating problems and dropped well back down the running order, leaving Busch at the head of a single-file line of traffic that included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joe Nemechek and Austin Dillon, all of whom seemed content to allow Busch to take the strain as the stalking horse out in front.
The procession was briefly interrupted by the Dodge duo of Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. making a drafting play for the lead and blasting ahead, only to immediately break formation and hence drafting momentum the moment they got in front. Kyle Busch led the single file right through the middle of them, the leaders' car body language oozing disdain for such juvenile antics by the Dodge brothers.
Sadler was still running way back down the running order and attempting to draft with Mike Bliss, but that came to and end on lap 107 with ten to go when Bliss was suddenly hooked into a spin that brought out the fifth caution of the afternoon. Few of the cars made a dive for pit road with the race so near the climax: track position rather than fresh rubber was the order of the day. In the meantime the radio airwaves were buzzing with negotiations for drafting partners for one last dance with four laps to go at the restart, with Danica Patrick notably less than keen to be partnered with Sam Hornish Jr.
The restart came on lap 113 with four to go, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s play for the lead with Austin Dillon backfired with both of them losing ground, gifting a solid lead to Kyle Busch. But the yellow was out almost at once in any case, as a small moment for Jeffrey Earnhardt in the mid-pack caused ripples of reaction that ended up with Danny Efland and Mike Wallace spinning in turn 4 and miraculously not taking out anyone else in the process. Had Talladega avoided "the big one" for once? After all, all they had to do now was run a successful green-white-chequered (GWC) finish and the afternoon was done.
For the GWC restart, Kyle Busch exercised his option as race leader to take the outside line for the restart, which surprised many as the inside line was clearly the faster place to be. However, for Busch it came with a major setback: Kevin Harvick would have been right behind him, and Busch clearly didn't fancy being pushed anywhere by his old nemesis and instead switched so that he'd be backed up by Brad Keselowski instead, leaving Nemechek to deal with Harvick.
But that also evened out the speeds of the two lanes: Busch/Keselowski simply couldn't overcome the inside advantage that Nemechek/Harvick now had and the four cars were running just inches apart, no one able to make a decisive move and instead there was a blockage at the front. Michael Annett got a push and tried to take advantage down the middle of the four-pack, but this was a bad mistake: all he did was succeed in turning both Harvick and Keselowski inwards into one another, igniting a major accident that few behind them could manage to miss. Danica Patrick, Robert Richardson Jr., Blake Koch, Taylor Malsam and Jeffrey Earnhardt were among those to wreck: Patrick escaped with flat-spotted tyres and some fender damage, but several other cars were badly torn up.
"We were sitting there in fifth on that final restart and got a really good push from the #18 and we shot the middle," explained Annett. "Everyone is doing what they have to do at these races.
"The #33 came over to try to block us and we had such a run going that if I slammed on the brakes it was going to turn me so I just stayed in the gas and tried to shoot the whole," he continued. "When it closed it was too late to do anything. Unfortunately we tore up a bunch of race cars. Everybody is trying to get everything they can on those last two laps. It is just the way this racing is."
Worst affected of all was Eric McClure, who had been knocked through the infield and flown at high speed into a massive head-first impact against the inside wall. It looked bad, and it was: the car was mess, and there was oil and debris everywhere. Even if that hadn't triggered the red flag, then concerns for McClure's well-being most certainly would. Although described as awake and talking to safety crews, there was the worrying spectacle of the car's roof being peeled away safety workers to allow emergency access to the driver safety cell, and when he was extracted McClure was taken away on a stretcher to the ambulance and transferred via helicopter to the nearby UAB Medical Center. No further medical details were immediately available as to his condition.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sam Hornish Jr.
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