13 May 2012
Johnson claims Hendrick's 200th win
It was Denny Hamlin who had stayed out of pit lane under the caution to duly led the field to the green flag at the restart on lap 199, but it was Kasey Kahne who was quickest with new right side tyres who quickly took the front spot. Hamlin was holding on in second place but he was in a vulnerable position having not pitted under that previous caution, so he was the most relieved man on the track when the yellows came out in the nick of time on lap 231 for the third debris caution of he evening.
After the caution had fallen so well for him, Hamlin made the most of the pit stops and just edged Greg Biffle out of pit road for the lead at the restart. Biffle's car was loose during this stint and he fell away, leaving the pursuit of Hamlin to Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin looked quite comfortable in charge for nearly 50 laps, but found himself jumped in pit lane by Truex Jr. during a round of green flag stops that included Darlington rookie Danica Patrick getting a drive-thru penalty for hitting the commitment cone on the way in. Shortly after this the track went yellow for a spin by Bobby Labonte and everyone had a chance for a more considered pit stop, allowing them to make set-up adjustments in readiness for the final 70 lap run to the chequered flag.
Truex Jr. kept the lead after opting for two new tyres; Kyle Busch was second followed by Jimmie Johnson, who had requested the #48 get tightened up as he too took two tyres, while Joey Logano was now in front of Hamlin who had opted for a full four-tyre change. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounded out the top ten for the restart on lap 303.
Busch uncharacteristically struggled at the restart,providing Jimmie Johnson with the opportunity to steal into second place for a rapid return to yellow flag conditions for a spin by Regan Smith in turn 4. A few of the leaders including Truex, Newman, Kahne and Earrnhardt Jr. took this as a sign to come back to pit lane for new tyres or fuel top-offs, but Jimmie Johnson was thinking along different lines and was already in fuel conservation mode, cutting the engine on and off as he waited to lead the field to the next restart.
When it came, Kyle Busch made up for his previous sluggish start and claimed the lead, thwarting Johnson's counterstrike. However it was a short lived green and Jamie McMurray found the wall out of turn 4 with the involvement of AJ Allmendinger to put the race under its sixth yellow of the night.
Johnson was still being told by his crew chief Chad Knaus to stay off pit road, and he duly obeyed orders despite qualms about his fuel load. He followed Kyle Busch to the green flag and then took over the lead from the #18 on lap 324 with just over 40 laps to run. Could he make it all the way, or would Hendrick miss out on his 200th win yet again?
Johnson was helped in his fuel worries by a new caution on lap 330 for a spin by Reed Sorenson. At the restart, a new threat emerged for Johnson when Tony Stewart slid past a fading Kyle Busch to take up the second position, seemingly set on stalking the #48 ahead and wait and see how the fuel conservation plan played out.
Johnson wasn't sparing the horses in his concerns over fuel and was pulling out around a mile a hour over the current Cup champion as the race settled into a 27-lap groove that finally came to an end on lap 361 with Kurt Busch getting into the wall and spinning, coaxing Ryan Newman into a spin as well to invoke the eighth caution of the night.
"Busch spun in front of me coming around turn four, and when I checked up Almirola just got into the back of me," explained Newman after the race. "It's unfortunate the night had to end that way."
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