25 June 2012
Bowyer sparkles in Sonoma wine country
A second caution was to factor into the outcome: on lap 106, Kyle Busch got unstable under braking and tyre-hopped his way into the back of Paul Menard's car at turn 7, spinning them both to bring out the yellow flags. That meant a double-file green-white-chequered (GWC) restart on lap 111, and at Sonoma it's always the restarts that are the most 'interesting' and eventful moments.
When it came to the lead, Bowyer was determined to make the restart as dull as he could be driving away from the field before anyone had a chance to attack him or catch him up in an accident. Kurt Busch had his hands full with Tony Stewart but managed to pull in front in second place in the first corner; further back there had been a messy compression that had seen multiple cars tap and bump each other into spins off onto the dirt, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. restarting in 13th the most high profile casualty as he was slammed into by the unsighted cars following him up to the top of the hill.
"We were all restarting there and we went through turn 3 and we came over 3A and I just got hit in the back and spun around," he said. "I'm sure there's a bunch of people running into each other there to have made that happen. I don't think it was anything intentional; it was just the way green-white-chequers are here. We see it every year. We see it every year."
Regan Smith was another driver left with a torn-up race car as a result. "There was a cluster of cars spinning in front of me and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, adding that it had been a frustrating end to a frustrating weekend.
"The car was loose and and it lacked grip, which made it difficult to manoeuvre around this demanding road course," he revealed. "Though things weren't going our way, we fought hard and I hated to lose those five positions at the end."
Despite that multi-car incident, everyone was able to limp away and that meant a new caution wasn't needed - the race would finish under this first GWC attempt after all. There was no doubt that Bowyer now had the win, the only question now was who would take second.
Stewart had sized up the damage to Busch's car and knew he had a chance to outbrake the #51 on the final lap; there was nothing that Busch could do but watch the #14 dive past.
"He had something break in the rear end which made it really difficult for him," said Stewart. "Every time he would go in the corner, the rear end would shift, and it was running him to the outside of the track on entry and it was screwing his corner up. So you know, kind of got it by default there to a certain degree. Once we got by there, we just were not close enough in that last lap to get to Clint."
After the race, Stewart was unexpectedly praising of Busch's efforts to hold onto second in those final laps: "I was watching him, and it was honestly, I don't know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car. I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had."
For Busch it had clearly been an emotional race, as he sought to defend his 2011 race win at Sonoma but at a new team on a fraction of the budget of the Penske operation with whom he had made it to pit lane last time around.
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