NASCAR » 29 April 2012
Late caution propels Busch back onto victory lane
Edwards got a great restart ahead of Jimmie Johnson (who absolutely did not!), Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, already back to fifth place. Edwards was threatening to pull away into the distance, but Stewart hung on and over the next dozen laps challenged hard for the lead - and finally won it down the inside of turn 2 on lap 250, after which Edwards fell back to fourth as a result of losing the clean air that had suited the #99 so well up till then.
Stewart on the other hand almost had the reverse problem: after the #14 had been mighty at navigating traffic to get to the front, now it was there it seemed pegged by the challenge of Busch's #18 and Johnson's #48. The two of them finally made their move past the current Cup champion on lap 286, leaving Stewart speculating that he had a tyre going down on him although not sure enough of the problem to take to pit road ahead of the next round of pit stops.
A few cars that had stayed out during the last caution to get a lap back through the wave-around had to pit first, among them Joey Logano, Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose - the Australian having made the start despite suffering from back-spasms before the start that had led Richard Petty Motorsports to line up Trevor Bayne as a possible mid-race replacement for Ambrose should he be unable to see out the full 400 laps.
Kyle Busch was among those sounding the official starting gun on lap 307 for what was looking like being just a bit too early to the final round of pit stops of the night. Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were also in over successive laps, but Carl Edwards missed his entry at just the moment when Jeff Burton managed to find the wall in turn 4 and give it a sharp hit.
With NASCAR trying not to affect the race with a caution in the middle of a round of pit stops, officials tried not to immediately bring out the caution for Burton's hit but then found that the impact had left debris on the track that could not be ignored, and that there was no option but to throw the yellow.
Edwards had been the only driver not to have pitted before the caution, but with only four cars classed on the lead lap it didn't seem like much of a big deal for him to come in under the caution. Certainly not as bad as the turn that Jimmie Johnson's race had just taken: a penalty imposed after one of his crewmen rolled a tyre unattended toward the pit wall put him at the back of the field for the restart.
"I think a wheel got away or something on the pit stops," Johnson confirmed. "Equipment leaving the pit box required us to go to the tail end of the lead lap. We had a couple of little mistakes like that today unfortunately. We had a really fast race car."
In the meantime, Kyle Busch was able to pull off a cunning move: although off Edwards' lead lap when the caution initially came out, he was classified in the lucky dog position and promoted back up - allowing him to then follow Edwards onto pit lane for a second 'free' pit stop for fuel and new tyres, while still lining up for the restart in third place. behind Edwards and Stewart.
Or was it Stewart and Edwards? This was no minor query of style or etiquette: in fact, it was about to decide the race. Edwards was told that he was on pole for the restart and despite his own private doubts he acted accordingly as the green flag came out; but NASCAR had a different view of the situation. They had Stewart listed as the leader, and that meant Edwards had technically jumped the start.
"Right before that start, my spotter Jason Hedleskey was told by NASCAR officials that the #99 was the leader," he said later. "Jason told me and I had a split second to decide what I was going to do. I thought, okay, NASCAR made a mistake and they lined us up wrong.
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