29 April 2012
Late caution propels Busch back onto victory lane
"I thought I was getting the best start I could get, it looked like Tony waited or spun his tyres," continued Edwards. "So they black flagged me. I still don't understand why they black flagged me. They said we were the leader and I restarted the best I could.
"I don't think it is right and I don't agree with it," finished Edwards, still unclear at the time exactly what the reason for the black flag had been for. "Before I say something stupid because I am real frustrated I would like to go talk to them."
"We were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board," insisted Stewart for his part. "I don't know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader. If that was the case then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It's a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers," he added.
That dropped Edwards down to 15th place although he stayed on the lead lap at least, while Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger led the race up front. With 50 laps to go it was emerging as a two-man race, with Stewart in control but Busch riding those fresher tyres for all they were worth so that both men were pulling away from Earnhardt behind them.
Edwards' fury was complete on lap 373 when Tony Stewart put him a lap down; Stewart now had a 1.8s lead over Busch and was starting to look a dead cert for the win, while further back Jimmie Johnson had clawed his way from that tyre violation drive-thru to get back up to sixth place behind Hendrick Motorsport team mate Kasey Kahne, while Allmendinger's pace had dropped off a cliff after light contact with Juan Montoya and he fell out of the top ten altogether.
With just 15 laps to go, it seemed that Stewart had broken Busch's resolve and was now three seconds ahead; but a lap later, a stray waterbottle in turn 2 was enough to trigger a debris caution and suddenly all bets were off for the restart.
All the leaders came in for a fuel top-up and more over a full set of new tyres - even Busch, who had sneaked in that 'free' stop during the previous caution. He couldn't afford to be caught out on older rubber than the others for the last ten-lap shoot-out or else he would be swamped, but he did at least get the best pit stop of those who came in and popped to the front for the restart, while Tony Stewart's stop was slightly sluggish and he had to settle for second on the more difficult, dirtier line.
Busch got a great restart; but Stewart - as had been his frustrating habit all evening - spun his wheels. Not only wasn't he able to stick with the #18, but he was also passed for second place by Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was determined to stick as close to Busch as he possibly could.
Earnhardt's challenge for the victory was thwarted by a last-minute brake issue, and while he had just enough to stay in front of Stewart there was nothing he could do about the race winner.
"We had some brake problems all race long," explained Earnhardt later. "I had a great re-start and I ran really great for one lap and the pedal went back to the floor. I just had to pump it up all the way down the straightaway and I didn't have any front brakes getting into the corner so I couldn't get in real hard. It would just get loose locking the rears up."
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