1 July 2012
Keselowski turns up the heat with third win
It remained Busch/Keselowski/Johnson ahead of Denny Hamlin even after the next round of green flag pit stops just before the 100 lap mark, but then Keselowski turned up the heat on Busch and on lap 119 Busch slapped the wall out of turn 2. He was able to keep going, and a debris caution a few minutes later meant that Keselowski wasn't quite able to press home his advantage just yet.
Denny Hamlin - who just prior to the race had tweeted that he had successfully sealed a contract extension deal at Joe Gibbs Racing, which hadn't been up until the end of 2013 in any case - was able to get the jump over his team mate Kyle Busch for the lead. Buch battled for second place with Johnson for a few laps but was clearly not as strong as he had been and had to settle for third ahead of Keselowski.
A blown engine for Dave Blaney on lap 150 brought out the third caution of the evening and triggered more pit stops, after which the race resumed with the top four unchanged and Martin Truex Jr. having passed Clint Bowyer for fifth just before the yellow flags. Bowyer had fallen to tenth for the restart and then been the innocent bystander when Joey Logano and Ryan Newman had made contact, which had left Bowyer on the receiving end and having to pit the #15 on lap 170 for new tyres and repairs that put him two laps down.
"Just got hit from behind and knocked in my quarter panel and made me really, really loose for a few laps," said Logano.
"He lost control in the middle of three and four," insisted Newman of the incident from his vantage point. "I got into the back of him on accident, but I mean that is part of it. He lost control in the first place, I went to go drive around the outside of him and I don't know if he was half ways blocked me or what. It just about spun him around into the #15 and I guess if the #15 wasn't there it would have."
At the front, Hamlin was still firmly in charge but as the laps remaining ticked below one hundred to go he was getting messages from pit lane to start thinking about fuel saving strategies. He was not alone. A new round of green flag pit stops commenced soon after lap 200, but then the game plan changed when Ryan Newman blew his engine and spun on lap 210, hitting the wall in turns 1 and 2.
"Just something blew up, that was the bottom end of the motor," shrugged Newman. "It was going to be a decent night, maybe not a great night points wise. Points wise maybe a good night, but not a great night for a top five. Something on the bottom end of the motor of the Tornados Chevrolet."
Regan Smith was also in the wrong place at the wrong time, hitting the oil slick laid down from the blown Chevrolet.
"I was right there with him," said Smith. "I saw it, but there is not much you can do. I went sideways as soon as I hit the oil. It was unfortunate because we had a good car. In fact, we were getting better on every run and I truly felt we had a good shot at a top ten."
Ironically, Newman's wreck proved good news for former Cup points leader Greg Biffle: having already got one of his laps back during the green flag pit stop cycle, Biffle had been the highest-placed car off the lead lap when Newman hit the wall and duly got the wave-around, enabling him to get back on the lead lap, although he would drop off again before the end and would finish in a damage limitation 21st.
Two of the former race leaders now hit problems: even before the caution, Kyle Busch had been very slow on the race track and reported that something had broken on the #18, possibly a shock absorber as a result of that earlier hit with the wall.
"We salvaged a heck of a finish for what all we had to go through," reported Busch after the race. "Definitely not any fun to drive, but had to do what we could on three pogo sticks."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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