30 May 2011
Harvick steals Coca-Cola 600 from Junior
The restart on lap 301 was no more successful: David Gilliland got loose and made contact with Mark martin, the two of them then collecting Ryan Newman in the ensuing wreck. This gave the leaders a chance for a stop under caution giving them a chance of making it home with only one more stop.
Jeff Gordon led the restart and got a good jump away from Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt. Jr. at the green flag. Now, with the skies pitch black, everyone was finding it difficult to keep up the adjustments with the changing track conditions, and we saw in quick succession Joey Logano brush the wall and then Stenhouse Jr. hitting the wall next time around - not for the first time tonight.
But it was Kyle Busch going for a spin all by himself on lap 318 that brought out the 12th caution of the evening, the #18 taking to the grass and for once not following the Edwards/Cassill line of finding a car-wrecking undulation along the way.
There was an interesting mix of pit stop strategies on display with Gordon among those to come in for tyres and fuel, but Kasey Kahne taking point as one of those to risk staying out. Kevin Harvick was running second, while Greg Biffle - despite all those overheating problems early on in the day - was now battling with Earnhardt Jr. over third place.
By lap 343 Kahne was being warned that his pit stop was imminent after having opted to stay out previously, and a green flag stint would hurt him if everyone else get a caution later on. But the Gods were smiling on him, if not on Kyle Busch: for the second time in less than thirty laps, Kyle went for a spin after hitting the outside wall. The #18 crawled to the garage, a bad night for Kyle, but great timing indeed for Kasey who simply couldn't have asked for better.
After the pit stops (which saw Jimmie Johnson penalised and sent to the back of the lead lap after taking off with an adjustment wrench still fitted to the top of the #48) the race went green with 51 laps to the finish - very much touch and go for anyone trying to make it all the way on a single tank of gas.
Gordon was in front, with Biffle, Ragan, Keselowski and Kahne - and they were quickly joined by Earnhardt Jr., who was long over his mid-race wobble and back to a very strong, solid performance. Biffle soon proved the cream of this crop and took over the lead, and he would be immovable from the lead for the next 49 laps. You'll notice - 49 laps, when the race distance is 51 ...
The one common theme on team radios now was instruction to "Save fuel at all costs!" Even so, they would need caution laps and absolutely no overtime if they were going to make this work, it was clear. But as the lap counter clicked remorselessly upwards, a caution stubbornly refused to appear. The way it was going, the entire field could end up running dry before the chequered flag and no one at all would win this thing.
Seven laps shy of full race distance, Matt Kenseth had to concede defeat and made a dive for pit lane and some fuel; Jeff Gordon followed his lead two laps later after his pace started to drop from fuel starvation. And then, finally, the fourteenth caution of the evening came out.
It was not good news for Jimmie Johnson in the #48, because it was his engine that had blown up on him just four laps - six miles - shy of the 600 mile race distance: how galling to fall so close through mechanical failure. The frustration and pent-up stress was clear form Johnson's pit crew chief who was caught by surprise and exclaimed "F***ing kidding me!" over the team radio, which unfortunately was being broadcast live on the telecast at the time. Cue one very quick apology from the race commentators.
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