31 October 2011
Stewart steals win, Edwards dodges disaster
The next caution on lap 398 was the first clash between Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, with Jeff Burton the bystander who ended up punted into the wall by Busch as a result. It was good news for the field who were able to either take enough gas to put fuel conservation strategies to one side for the day, or else take the wave-around if they needed to recover a lost lap. A 12th caution followed soon after the restart, when Regan Smith got into Mark Martin who then made contact with Hermie Sadler who was sent spinning in turn, and it was this caution that finally handed Edwards a second free pass of the day back onto the lead lap.
The race had barely restarted before the 13th caution - Greg Biffle slamming the wall in turn 2 after contact with Ryan Newman - and the next restart only lasted six laps before Paul Menard and Kurt Busch fell over each other on lap 427; Busch spun and Menard suffered a lot of damage in the aftermath.
Remarkably, despite all the chaos, as the race entered its final 50 laps all 12 Chase runners were on the lead lap and running 17th or better. Even Brian Vickers was still hanging on in there - but on lap 457 it seemed that his luck was finally out and he hit the wall in turn 3 after getting a helping hand from Matt Kenseth. It would not, however, be quite the last we saw of the battle-scarred #83 for the afternoon ...
"Brian just kept hitting me in the door," explained Kenseth of what had led up to the accident. "He just kept driving in harder and harder and he slammed me in the door at least five times and just ran me up in the marbles and I was just tired of it, so I spun him out." He continued, I don't know how you can't pass somebody here without running into him every single time when he gives you the bottom and the fastest lane, but obviously he couldn't!"
The ensuing short-lived restart was the moment that Kenseth locked his tyres and took out Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya et al on lap 464, and the 17th caution was the rematch between Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman that sent the #39 spinning on lap 475. The restart with 22 laps to go to the finish was the moment that Johnson shot away into a big lead and it looked like he might actually pull off a win despite not having taken up fresh tyres.
Johnson's hopes evaporated with the 18th and final caution (three shy of the track record for yellow flags) of the afternoon on lap 492 - and Brian Vickers was once again the star turn. He had returned to the track to hand out some payback to Matt Kenseth for their earlier encounter, but instead he just ended up spinning himself in the attempt and destroying the #83 for good this time.
In itself this was just a little sideshow, but in bringing out the caution and closing up the field when it did, it had a massive effect on the eventual winner - because with three laps to go, Tony Stewart got past Jimmie Johnson at the restart and went on to claim the win. Stewart had better make sure Vickers is on his Christmas card list this year, since he's already been handed a massive present from the Red Bull stable.
"He was a part of every caution," complained Johnson, who was less impressed. "I wish he could have just driven around the racetrack, and we could have won this thing, but, whatever, we'll move on."
Johnson was particularly unhappy with how he had lost the race because of Vicker's attempt at payback on Matt Kenseth. "When you're on the racetrack and someone wrongs you, you have some decisions to make in how you want to handle that," he said. "After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you're the problem ... Something is going on. You're having a bad day. You need to stop crashing, for whatever reason."
Vickers himself left the track without speaking to the media.
Stewart agreed that there were some drivers who needed teaching a lesson out there today - and not just Vickers. "You let a guy get his butt kicked once or twice, he'll quit doing stupid stuff like that. I saw a bunch of it today out there. Luckily we weren't one of the guys that were in the middle of it a lot. I think they ought to get a portable boxing ring. As soon as they get done with the victory celebration, set the boxing ring on the front stretch, give the fans a real show they paid for!"
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