NASCAR » 11 July 2011
Off-track traffic overshadows Busch victory
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!'"
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