31 October 2011
Stewart steals win, Edwards dodges disaster
Newman and Busch's woes were just a small part of the 18 cautions seen at Martinsvile on this sunny, cloudless but chilly autumn Sunday afternoon. The first hundred laps in particular were overloaded with incidents and cautions, and the final hundred laps almost as bad; thank goodness for the middle section of the race proceeding comparatively calmly or else the proceedings would never have been finished before the light started to fade.
The first crash happened as early as lap 8, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. bounced off the kerbing at turn 1 (coloured pink for breast cancer awareness month) and sent Kurt Busch spinning, which also collected Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Mike Skinner and Jeff Burton. Gordon had some major front-end damage, making his recovery to run with the lead pack for so much of the race all the more remarkable.
"I got caught up in that incident early on," said Gordon. "It looked like Dale Jr. got into the kerb a little bit getting into 1 and we just had nowhere to go ... and I centre-punched him. We're pretty lucky. That right-front brake duct was tore up pretty good and at this place, cooling those brakes is pretty important."
A second caution came out on lap 27 (which replaced a previously-scheduled competition caution) after Dave Blaney spun in turn 3 collecting Regan Smith, and Brian Vickers was also involved for a second time already in the afternoon. It was just the start of a torrid day for the Red Bull Racing driver, as Vickers was also the cause of the third caution on lap 46 when he spun while battling with Montoya, who also suffered some light damage from the accident.
It was David Reutimann's turn to spin in turn 2 on lap 65 for the fourth caution. He collected Martin Truex Jr., Reed Sorenson and Scott Speed. There was some consternation that Vickers had missed out this time, but not to worry, there were plenty more opportunities ahead - and sure enough, it was contact with Vickers that sent Jamie McMurray spinning on lap 85 in turn 3 for the fifth caution.
Caution six on lap 105 was between Marcos Ambrose and Montoya, Ambrose getting turned into the wall by contact and sustaining front-end damage to the #9. After this there was a reasonable 38-lap green flag stretch before Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a move on Joey Logano and sent the #20 into the wall on lap 149. Logano complained that he was heartily sick of this happening to him, but his frustration was given short shrift by veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who responded with words to the effect of "better grow some balls and take care of it."
"We did okay recovering from where we were," said a dejected Logano after the race. "I'm just not happy with the way we performed all day, myself included ... It's pretty disappointing."
Bobby Labonte and Hermie Sadler got together on lap 196 to bring out caution number eight. It was the second incident of the day for Labonte, who had also spun after being bumped by Dave Blaney on lap 98. No caution had come out on that occasion, to the surprise of many fans and media commentators watching the race, who speculated that NASCAR's concerns about getting the race in during daylight hours (Martinsville having no floodlights) might be encroaching into established safety protocols.
After action resumed on lap 203 the race finally enjoyed one of its longest green flag stints, running untroubled for 55 laps, during which Carl Edwards ended up a lap down after being passed by Jeff Gordon. Finally a spin by Mark Martin on the backstretch on lap 258 brought out the caution that handed Edwards his first free pass onto the lead lap.
The next green flag stint lasted almost a hundred laps - it was at this point that Edwards went well and truly off the lead lap - before the tenth caution of the afternoon that resulted from a spin by David Gilliland on lap 361, which put him into the wall at turn 1.
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