3 October 2011
Johnson's restart slips gift Kurt the win
Given the recent animosity between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, it was sweet indeed for Kurt to beat the #48 at Dover after uncharacteristic restart slips by the five-time champ.
A week is a long time in Chase politics: this time last week it seemed that Tony Stewart was running away with the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship; Kurt Busch was only just in the running, and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson's hopes of a sixth title were being written off.
Not so this week, after Busch and Johnson raced hard to the chequered flag ahead of Carl Edwards, but Tony Stewart's two-win Chase bubble finally burst with a 25th place finish.
The AAA 400 was run under permanent threat of rain, with slow-moving showers in the area showing up on the radar causing two of the race's ten cautions during the afternoon. But the rain never settled in for a stay and the action was quickly resumed, with the full 400 one-mile-lap distance completed over the next three and a half hours.
Martin Truex Jr. led the field to the green flag, but Kurt Busch - starting alongside him on the front row - took over on lap 3 just before AJ Allmendinger got spun into a sideways slide by Denny Hamlin, miraculously managing to save the #43 from a huge wreck but bringing out the first caution of the day. Even as the track went back to green there were "sprinkles" reported over Dover International Speedway, and sure enough on lap 19 the yellows came out for rain.
It was a short delay and racing resumed four laps later with Busch out in front of Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a lap down, however, having had his right-front sway bar break making the car unmanageable, but at least the caution laps had allowed him to have the problem fixed and it wasn't long before he won one of the free passes to get back onto the lead lap again, so it was a narrow escape and a nice piece of damage control from the Hendrick team.
A scheduled competition caution on lap 40 finally allowed everyone to come in for a proper stop and for fuel, and then there followed over 90 laps of green flag running without interruptions. Busch started this phase in the lead, but on lap 52 Carl Edwards finally pressed his claim and went out in front of the Busch Brothers, with Brad Keselowski having made up ground in the pit stops to run near the front with Jimmie Johnson. Greg Biffle joined in the fun, at least until he got a drive-thru penalty during the first round of green flag pit stops.
Just as he had done in the preceding day's Nationwide Series race, Edwards was putting on a masterclass and pulling out an ever more formidable lead. After the pit stops cycled through, he had a 5s lead over Kurt on lap 123 and looked unbeatable with only the traffic causing him any headaches: by lap 135 he had left just 18 cars on the lead lap.
Despite some mist and light rain during this period the track remained green until finally on lap 137 the yellows were out again, after Mike Bliss touched the wall while trying to avoid a slow Casey Mears. The leaders opted for a quick return to pit lane, while others a lap down used the opportunity to get the wave-around back onto the lead lap. When the track went green again, Edwards quickly took back the lead from Jeff Burton and once again started to disappear off into the distance ahead of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Kurt Busch had dropped back to sixth place after taking a chassis adjustment to cope with the track "rubbering up", and despite saying that the car was handling better he only narrowly saved the #22 from disaster on lap 173 when he got sideways off of turn 3, just before a caution came out for debris.
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