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Busch continues a winning birthday tradition

Kyle jumped the restart and had to slow up, which presented Martin Truex Jr. with the opportunity to get past and surge from fourth place into the lead for the first time in the race. But the race was about to turn rather scrappy, with first a collision between Landon Cassill and Marcos Ambrose that Ambrose was lucky to save, and then a clash between Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano that Logano wasn't able to save, the #20 sent spinning into contact with the wall that brought out the fourth yellow on lap 255. At least it finally gave Tony Stewart the opportunity he needed to claim the lucky dog and get back on the lead lap at long last.

Matt Kenseth and David Reutimann opted not to take to pit road and duly led the field at the restart, but the race almost immediately went back to yellow after Casey Mears spun in turn 1. The next restart attempt still had Kenseth in the top spot, followed by Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. with Reutimann down to fifth this time and clearly struggling with the older tyres.

The green lasted only nine laps this time before Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill got together in turn 2. Keselowski was turned around but kept it off the wall, but the sixth caution had already been declared. A number of cars including Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart opted to pit at this point, leaving Hamlin at the head of the field leading Truex Jr., Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne to the restart.

Despite being very friendly as team mates, there was no love lost between Hamlin and Busch as they bumped and tussled side-by-side over the lead until Kyle finally got his way and reclaimed the top spot, and any response from Hamlin was postponed by the seventh caution which was for another spin and a stall by Keselowski; a couple of laps previously there had also been a multi-car clash between David Reutimann, Kurt Busch and Marcos Ambrose that had left Kurt with a nasty tyre rub that needed attention.

The leaders hit pit road leaving Carl Edwards minding the store at the front ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, David Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger. But it proved to be a messy restart, the front getting bunched up and breaking out four-wide and inevitably the confusion had a knock-on effect through the field: with everyone running so close, a multi-car accident was just begging to happen and on lap 300 it duly occurred.

Jeff Gordon was the biggest loser in the ensuing wreck: he got spun and hit the wall hard after Clint Bowyer got into Matt Kenseth's right rear, which sent Kenseth loose and into Gordon. Menard, Reutimann, Martin, Bobby Labonte and Jamie McMurray all sustained varying levels of damage from the accident; Gordon's only comment over the radio was "Oh ****, that hurt," adding later: "It definitely got my attention. That is for sure. It rang my bell.

"It knocked the wind out of me," added Gordon, ruing the fact that he'd found one of the rare points of the track lacking a SAFER barrier to cushion the blow. "I just saw the corner through my mirror, a car come into my left rear, and around I went in a hurry. I was hoping that I spun quick enough that I wasn't going to spin to the inside wall. And then I hit really, really hard."

Gordon was out of the race, while the others involved all limped to pit road for running repairs. Jeff Burton stayed out and led Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin away at the restart on lap 313. The drivers would have been forgiven for expecting at least one further caution on the horizon after such a stop-start period in the race, but in fact they had seen their last yellow flag of the evening and the race now ran uninterrupted to the chequered flag. That wasn't entirely great news, because it meant almost everyone was very marginal on fuel, or just plain short.

Earnhardt Jr. squandered the restart opportunity by spinning his tyres, giving Kyle a free pass into second and from there able to go to the outside to best Jeff Burton as well and reclaim the lead. Burton was no match for Hamlin or Truex Jr. either and promptly dropped back to fourth. Everything now was coming down to fuel: Greg Biffle climbed up to third but would have to make another visit to pit lane as would Burton and Earnhardt Jr., while Kyle Busch was said to be "iffy". The best-placed drivers seemed to be Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne who were said to be good to reach lap 399-400 - and just hoped there wouldn't be any problems in the final laps extending the race distance through green/white checkered conditions.

Martin Truex Jr. was still in with a chance of making it all the way to the end, but then it all went pear-shaped for the #56 when he found he had a tyre going down on lap 371 and had to come into pit lane anyway; worse, he exited with a missing lugnut and got black flagged to come back in, which ended up with him three laps off the lead and his race irretrievably wrecked.




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Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Jimmy John`s Freaky Fast 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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