1 May 2011
Busch continues a winning birthday tradition
Montoya needed multiple stops under the caution to allow his pit crew time to repair the bodywork, which meant he dropped to 22nd but stayed on the lead lap. The caution also allowed other cars to come in and do some much-needed fine-tuning: Jimmie Johnson needed the #48 tightening up, Bowyer needed an air adjustment - but the JGR duo were completely happy and just took four tyres and gas and were good to go again.
When the caution came out there had been 20 cars on the lead lap, with Brad Keselowski the first car a lap down and duly in line to receive the free pass before the green flag came out, just thwarting Tony Stewart who had been next in line before Keselowski was passed by Busch. Bobby Labonte, Travis Kvapil and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also got back on the lead lap by opting to stay out and take the wave-around rather than pit.
Racing resumed on lap 115 and after a three-wide restart, Kyle Busch once again leapt away in the lead with Denny Hamlin while Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer tussled over third. Busch didn't have the same edge during this part of the race, however, and confirmed it with a radio message to his pit crew: "We're a little bit tight on this set of tyres in the centre. A little loose off."
Another 70-lap green flag stint ensued. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson made contact early on but without any major consequences, although Johnson was off the lead lap and down into 30th; Montoya (the "wounded #42" as Kyle's spotter dubbed him) was soon a lap down too, and so were Paul Menard, Bobby Labonte, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several others. On the plus side, several drivers were quietly plugging away and putting together some very solid performances, such as Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann and Greg Biffle (running around 12th-14th positions).
The next yellow came out on lap 185 for debris coming off the #22 of Kurt Busch that had got up into the wall on the previous lap. Earnhardt Jr was the recipient of the free pass this time around as the leaders hit pit road, and now everyone was having to dial in adjustments to compensate for the cooling evening conditions: Gordon asked for a track bar adjustment, Hamlin a right-rear tweak, and Busch acting on that earlier observation about being tight with an air pressure adjustment.
Kyle certainly looked instantly better for it and leapt away in the lead at the double file restart; Jeff Gordon used the opportunity to follow him through on the inside to get past Denny Hamlin for second, and a few laps later found he had the track position and raw speed to force his way past the #18 as well to take the lead, although Busch fought back and the position see-sawed between the two over the next few laps.
But there was trouble brewing elsewhere on track. Ryan Newman had survived his earlier collision with Juan Montoya with no ill effects and was running a strong eighth position, but he was coming up on the back of Montoya who was two laps down. And Montoya was looking for some payback: sure enough on lap 236 he was able to send the #39 spinning around and into the wall, where he promptly collected a hapless Kurt Busch as well and brought out the third caution of the evening.
"He finished our day off later in the race, on purpose," said Newman. "I'd say right now it probably isn't a good time for either of us to talk."
Denny Hamlin spoke up instead with his view of the situation: "Every time Montoya has damage, you see who did it, they usually end up getting wrecked. You usually know that's coming, " he said. "Montoya, I like him, I think he's a hell of a driver, but you can't wreck everyone every time you get in an accident. Accidents happen. Guys make mistakes. Why hold grudges? Makes it tough to get in the Chase, too."
More pit stops, more changes: Jeff Gordon was twiddling with his track bar again, Kyle Busch was making multiple adjustments, but Hamlin only required minor attention and duly got the better pit stop and emerged in front to lead at the restart, followed by Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer. Further back, the restart ironically lined up Montoya and Newman side-by-side, but NASCAR made their annoyance with the simmering grudge match known and told Montoya to run clean for the rest of the night or he would be disqualified altogether.
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