31 October 2011
Stewart steals win, Edwards dodges disaster
"I don't know what happened with the #18," said Kenseth. "I felt like I left him some room on the outside, but everybody was kind of slow and checked up. I had a run under him and was almost to his door, and all of a sudden we just got together ... I honestly don't know if it was my fault, if I squeezed him or if he came down, because there were some slow cars on the straightaway. But I almost think he must have come down because we hit really hard, and then I must have had a flat tyre and didn't know it. I went into 3 and couldn't steer or couldn't stop it and wrecked all those guys."
It was a disaster for Kenseth's title hopes, after he had come into Martinsville as the main threat to Carl Edwards. While he would get back out on track after repairs, he was 23 laps down and ended up classified in 31st place by the chequered flag which caused him to slump in the championship standings to a near-irretrievable 36pts off Edwards.
Kyle Busch had already been all-but-done with title hopes, and his own trip to pit road would prove even more costly when he exited with only three wheels on his wagon, the end result of which was to leave him seven laps down and in 27th position by the end of the race. "The #17 got into us coming off turn 2, I don't know if he cut his right front [tyre] or not," said Kyle's crew chief Dave Rogers later. "Then he got into turn 3 and the #17 had his tyres locked up and drove into our left-rear quarter.
"It caught Kyle by surprise, and he didn't know he was going to take a shot in the left rear and he did," added Rogers. "We're a victim of circumstance at a short track."
Kenseth's misfortune left Tony Stewart as the nearest challenger to Edwards in the Chase, but Smoke badly needed to take advantage of the situation to close up the gap between him and Edwards in the points if he was to keep the championship battle interesting. Sure enough, he recovered from early poor pace and an unplanned pit stop for a suspected flat tyre to catch up with the leaders during a rush of late-race cautions and put himself up into second position, ready to make a strike for the lead at the end if the opportunity presented itself.
By this point, Jimmie Johnson had taken over in the lead following a caution on lap 457, but it was the result of what looked to be a massive strategic error: the #48 had assumed that everyone would stay out, but instead almost everyone came in for fresh tyres. Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus immediately realised the situation and wailed that this was another win that they had just screwed up (or words to that effect) - unless Johnson could pull off a miracle and hold back the cars running on fresh rubber.
After two misfire restart attempts (which included the Kenseth/Busch wreck) Johnson finally got his chance to blast away from the field - and he pulled out a huge lead of more than a second in short order that seemed set to take him all the way to victory lane. Unfortunately a final caution on lap 492 for a spinning Brian Vickers (more of whom later) meant that the field was closed up again for one last restart, and it was now that Stewart was in a position to make his own play for the lead, being one of those on newer tyres. He duly took the lead around the outside - "I don't think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside!" - and when the track stayed green all the way to the end despite a spin for Brad Keselowski at the restart, Stewart was able to claim the chequered flag while Johnson held on to second ahead of Jeff Gordon.
Kevin Harvick finished in fourth place, having bounced around the top ten for much of the afternoon and leading for 35 laps, having recovered from early frustrations with his car. In particular he was cursing the new-specification tyres that Goodyear had supplied, which he accused of giving him little chance of running a second, higher groove until well into the race when more rubber had been laid down on the speedway that had been thoroughly soaked in the preceding two days. He was angered by his Richard Childress Racing team mates who wouldn't let him drop back into the lower groove after restarts. And later he would also mutter vengeful thoughts toward AJ Allmendinger, whom he felt had bumped him unnecessarily - twice! - while passing. He vowed to do the same when he had the opportunity.
Ryan Newman had also led for 28 laps during the day, but two separate contacts with Kurt Busch - on lap 398 and another that led to a more serious spin on lap 475 - as well as contact with Greg Biffle on lap 414 meant that he dropped to the back of the top ten by the chequered flag.
"We got spun there," Newman's crew chief Tony Gibson said of the second Busch incident. "We had fresh tyres and got spun out there and had to go to the back and drove back up to the top ten. I don't know what else you can do. We led laps. It's just frustrating. I am proud we came back and finished tenth, but it isn't what we wanted. We'll just take it and go on."
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