3 October 2011
Johnson's restart slips gift Kurt the win
AJ Allmendinger won the race off pit road after a mix of strategies, followed by Kevin Harvick, David Reutimann, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, but the restart on lap 180 was short-lived when Bobby Labonte immediately went for a slide. When they tried again, Harvick took over the lead ahead of Johnson, while Edwards found himself stuck in traffic back in ninth and complaining of being loose. But Harvick's two-tyre strategy left him vulnerable, and so Johnson took over and pulled out a big lead as the race passed the midway point, becoming 'legal' even if the rain did move in from this here on. Matt Kenseth was also having a good stint and duly moved up to second, he and Johnson separating themselves from Kurt Busch was who leading the chasing pack.
The next round of pit stops - under green once more - started from lap 243, and they were a welcome sight for several cars including Harvick, who had dropped out of the top ten on waning form, and Keselowski whose performance had dropped off a cliff after power steering problems that put him a lap down. It also seemed like good timing for Edwards, who despite running in fourth still wanted the #99 tightened up a little. But it would prove to be a costly pit stop indeed for Edwards, after he was handed a drive-thru for speeding in pit lane, putting him a lap down in 25th place.
Another caution for rain on lap 256 enabled a return visit to pit lane for some, and when racing resumed on lap 264 Jimmie Johnson led Kenseth and Kurt Busch to the green flag. Ten laps later Johnson had a 2.3s lead over Kenseth, despite the #48 crew chief Chad Knaus repeatedly asking Johnson to be mindful of fuel conservation.
Edwards quickly recovered to 22nd position - first car off the lead lap after his pit lane speeding penalty - and stayed there until a debris caution on lap 300 following JJ Yeley hitting the wall in turn 4, which gave him the free pass back onto the lead lap at long last.
"We were very, very fortunate," Edwards conceded later. "As frustrated as I am with myself for messing that up, I'm really, really grateful for the gift that was given to us with that caution and the ability to come back up there."
The ensuing pit stops did little to shake up the order, and on lap 306 Johnson was still in front for the restart ahead of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne. Johnson once again shot off into the distance, while Kenseth's challenge was fading and Kurt Busch took him for second place. There was little point in anyone trying to save fuel at this point - everyone would have to come in one more time, it was just a matter of picking the right moment or waiting for the right caution.
The ninth yellow duly arrived on lap 352 when Mike Bliss got loose in turn 2 and hit the wall. Everyone came in, with the top eight all opting for the two-tyre gambit, with Johnson still in front of Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
After having been perfect on the restarts all afternoon, suddenly Johnson's touch failed him and he handed the advantage to Kurt Busch, who jumped out in front, but the race was quickly back to yellow after Greg Biffle spun and hit the inside wall on lap 362.
There were 34 laps to go to the chequered when the race resumed, and everything depended on Johnson getting a good run on Kurt Busch to regain the lead and pull out a safe lead. But he didn't manage it: instead, the #48 spun its tyres and Busch was released to safety. Johnson managed to regain his momentum to hold off a hard-charging Carl Edwards who had arrived on his tail to challenge for the second spot, despite the #48 struggling in the closing laps when it strayed into the rubber build-up on track.
Everyone managed to hold station, and with the rain now a distant memory (there had even been some outbreaks of sunshine reported) and no more cautions, the chequered flag was soon out to welcome Busch, Johnson and Edwards home after 400 laps.
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