28 February 2011
Gordon back in victory lane at long last
Jeff Gordon was celebrating his first win in 66 races - almost two years - after managing to hold off Kyle Busch in Phoenix.
Carl Edwards might have been on pole position, but everyone knew that the man to beat at Phoenix in the second round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series was Kyle Busch, who had already claimed wins in both the Truck and Nationwide events that weekend and now had his sights on a clean sweep.
Kyle rapidly moved into the lead of the race on lap 6 and held it to the first caution of the day on lap 20 for debris. Several drivers opted to pit but others chose to stay out, aware that a scheduled 'competition caution' was due on lap 40; in fact, that turned out to be sooner than expected after Robby Gordon spun on lap 34 and NASCAR decided that would do as the competition yellow after all.
That left Carl Edwards in the lead ahead of Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch; Kyle, meanwhile, was making a bit of a dog's dinner of the early stages of the race and fell back through the field after a touch from Kevin Harvick sent him up the banking and scraping along the wall on lap 39, although it did not appear to do any lasting damage.
It was not a good day for the younger stars, with Joey Logano off the pace thanks to a valve spring or rocker arm gone bad on the #20 that the team could do nothing about; and on lap 50, Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne got a slight connect with Travis Kvapil that caused him to spin, sending him rear-first into the wall and causing extensive damage to the back of the #21.
Kurt Busch stayed out during the ensuing pit stops and duly inherited the lead, while Carl Edwards took two tyres and emerged in the midfield in 15th, soon finding himself in a cluster of cars that included Kyle Busch still in recover mode from his earlier brush. As Edwards passed on the inside, Busch suddenly moved down the track and side-slammed the #99 in what spectators immediately took to be a deliberate move: Edwards was sent on to the infield grass and then slide up the race track, trapping Jeff Gordon against the wall at slow speed in the process while behind other cars had to make evasive action - resulting in Kevin Harvick sliding through an impressive amount of tyre smoke but fortunately avoiding any significant damage.
It looked set to trigger off a new NASCAR feud between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards: "My first impression was that Kyle was just frustrated that Ryan [Newman] got by me and he turned down [on me on purpose]," Edwards said later. "But I looked at that and it looked like he might have just gotten loose."
Edwards' second impression proved correct and Kyle - unusually - was immediately apologetic toward Edwards after the race. "The car got out from underneath me right around the backstretch and I made a mistake and got into Carl Edwards there and completely destroyed his day," Busch said. "I made a mistake today. I've admitted that, I don't know how many times."
Any chance that this was going to be the big event of the afternoon was quickly dashed at the restart, which saw Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth make contact that resulted in Vickers blowing a tyre out of turn 2 and spinning round against the wall: with the field still closed up from the restart, there was mayhem behind as cars dived for cover and made a serious hash of it, tearing up several cars including those of Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton. In all, at least 14 cars were involved in some sort of collision during the next few seconds: others caught up included Clint Bowyer, Robby Gordon, Andy Lally, David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil.
"We used to not start double-file," Vickers pointed out, suggesting that starting side-by-side on a tight one mile oval like Phoenix was going to result in problems. "I think they make it exciting for the fans. But, you know, yeah, you're going to create other situations because of it."
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