It was a lovely evening at Charlotte, North Caroline as Jeff Gordon led the field to the start of NASCAR's last night time race of the 2010 season.
It was an eventful start to proceedings, with a rapid yellow on lap 2 for Ryan Newman who got loose and up into the wall in turn 3, imparting enough damage on his car to put him in the garage for an extended period of repairs. It also caught up his team mate and boss Tony Stewart, and repairs saw him on pit road under the caution and down to 41st for the restart; and Chase contender Denny Hamlin flat-spotted his tyres as he avoided the wreck and was lucky not to do anything more serious.
Carl Edwards was quickly past Gordon for the lead as the green flag came out, but then was quickly overtaken himself by Kyle Busch who, having started in sixth, was looking on strong form already. And Paul Menard was also looking good at the start, taking over second position despite reporting a tight car.
He was able to attend to that during the first widespread round of pit stops under the second caution, which came on lap 24 when Kurt Busch got loose and spun; Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart came close to hitting each other as they came into their pit boxes. Almost everyone opted for two tyres at this stage, and Jeff Gordon pipped Kyle Busch at pit exit to lead at the restart – not that Kyle let him have it that way for very long, back in charge two laps later.
And almost straight away, another yellow – Jimmie Johnson had got loose and spun in the middle of a crowded field. Somehow he kept it off the wall and the rest of the cars avoided hitting him, and he was able to continue after getting new tyres to his immense relief – a retirement this early on would have had disastrous effects on his Sprint Cup chances.
Kyle Busch led the restart but had a three-wide battle to fend off Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano, before the race finally settled into an extended period of calm running. Busch was very happy with the way things were going, carrying a comfortable 2s lead over Gordon; further back, Denny Hamlin had moved up into the top 10 after starting 23rd, and Jef Burton was up to seventh after starting 18th, Juan Montoya, on the other hand, was reporting his engine temperatures because of trash blocking the front grill – he was looking forward to the next round of pit stops to get sorted out; and Kasey Kahne was reporting a worrying vibration.
The pit stops were kicked off by Tony Stewart on lap 75 who was struggling with a loose car at this point; Kyle Busch reclaimed the lead once the stops had cycled through, and the main incident of this sequence of stops was a small fuel fire in Carl Edwards' pit area that was quickly attended to.
But Kyle was no longer as happy as he had been: he reported that his throttle was sticking and that he was having to use the cut-off switch in order to get around the problem. Kyle was furious with the threat to his potential race win and suspected that some pieces of rubber had got stuck in the mechanism, but the throttle improved over subsequent laps and eventually – after 50 laps – all was well again.
The fourth yellow came out on lap 108 for debris, allowing some of these issues to be taken care of under relatively calm conditions, although Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer still manage to make contact down pit road in the process. At the restart, Kyle was still in charge ahead of Gordon, Montoya, Biffle and Logano, and it was Biffle who was immediately on the pace at the restart and threatened to wrest the lead away from the #18 but Gordon soon rallied and retook second place.