7 May 2012
Keselowski shakes off Busch at 'Dega
"Just something underneath the hood," said Newman when asked what had gone wrong. "I smelled oil off of 2 and felt the motor tightening-up. I lost oil pressure and gained a bunch of water pressure. I just pulled it out of gear."
"A problem lost oil pressure there," said Johnson when it came to his turn to crawl into the garage area. "We don't really know why just yet. Unfortunately, the #39 is sitting in here with a similar issue. I'm hoping that our team mates, the other Hendrick engines out there don't have the same issue with this oil pump. Or oil pressure situation we don't know exactly what it is yet."
The caution caused by Smith's early blow-up broke Stewart's cosy, consistent lead of the race and returned proceedings to the typical surge-and-fall-back rhythm typical of Talladega's two-car tandem and pack-racing characteristics together with a round of green-flag pit stops. Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr., all had turns in front, as did Jimmie Johnson before his premature exit. Kasey Kahne also had a good spell up front, trading the lead several times with Juan Montoya as the race passed the halfway point and ticked over the 100-lap landmark. But by this point, Tony Stewart had pushed his fuel just a little too far and duly ran out of gas before his next green flag pit stop, causing him to lose a lot of time as he rolled into pit lane.
Championship points leader Greg Biffle hooked up with Matt Kenseth to lead laps during the next stage of the race, and Kurt Busch was also looking strong in his Talladega Nights-themed car livery and firesuit which had seen him and his pit crew exchanging film quotes all afternoon, the light-hearted banter in sharp contrast to the frequently incendiary exchanges between driver and crew for Kurt Busch in 2011.
With over 110 laps in the books since the race's one-and-only caution of the afternoon so far, drivers were starting to think about the dash for the finish line to come and as a result the intensity of the competition picked up a notch, with drivers less willing to follow obediently around in what had become increasingly single-file traffic. Instead they were breaking out into separate lines and surging back and forth again as they had in the early laps: some 14 cars were running within a lap of the leader at the front but they still managed not to trip up over each other. On lap 135, Biffle slipped up the track while fighting for the lead with Busch and ended up making slight contact with the #51 fortunately without serious consequences.
Everyone knew that the probably-final round of pit stops were approaching and it seemed as though these would again be under green flag conditions. Drivers were pushing their fuel as far as possible in order to make sure they got to the end even under green-white-chequered extended conditions, but abruptly from lap 138 it was clear that many had pushed their tanks of gas too far: Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were among those to suddenly run dry.
The abrupt slowing of so many cars on so many parts of the race track all at once was an invitation for an accident, and on lap 141 it happened: Aric Almirola and Dave Blaney got together and after that a chain reaction drew in just about everyone in the vicinity. Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya and Terry Labonte were all caught out, while polesitter Jeff Gordon got taken out of the race by Martin Truex Jr.
"It was like a wreck at a stop light ... Everybody started checking up and hitting each other," said Edwards. "It looked like guys were running out of fuel and going down in there in turn three the guys in front of me stopped and it was just over. We got wrecked. This is Talladega," he shrugged.
With NASCAR having introduced Electronic Fuel Injection systems to Cup racing at the start of 2012 and a number of cars having had fuel pick-up issues already this season, Edwards was asked whether that could have been a factor in so many cars suddenly running dry and triggering the wreck.
"The cars were running out of fuel and with the new fuel system I am sure everyone will look at it," agreed Edwards. "I don't think they expected to run out of fuel. It is just frustrating. Our Fastenal Fusion was good. The Fords were really good and I wish we had a chance to be out there racing for the win.”
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