30 July 2012
Fourth Indianapolis win for Johnson
The off-sync Keselowski was into the pits by this time, some ten laps ahead of the leaders Once the rest of the field did come in, Keselowski was back in front ahead of Johnson, Gordon and Biffle, with the only significant problem of that round going to Kurt Busch whose crew missed a lugnut. Busch was as calm, laid back and understanding about this mishap as you'd expect him to be (or to put it another way: the team comms got an instant adult rating for strong language.)
Little had changed as the race passed the halfway point, perhaps the biggest surprise being that Johnson's seemingly irresistible surge back to the front past Keselowski has seemingly stalled for the time being. Johnson had to wait until Keselowski came in for his next stop, still ten laps out of step with the rest of the field, on lap 91.
A caution came out just minutes later: Casey Mears had hit the wall in turn 2. That essentially put an end to Keselowski's off-sync strategy as everyone else now pitted, but it had worked out well for the #2 car as he stayed out for the lead, finding himself joined on the front row for the restart by Regan Smith who was working a fuel-only gambit.
It was not a good start for Keselowski, who nearly spun while battling Smith for the lead. He did well to save it, but he tumbled down the running order to seventh place. Smith briefly took the lead, but Johnson was on hand to pounce and take charge again, with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle all quickly streaming past the #78 which plummeted out of the top ten on its worn tyres.
Gordon was concerned about debris on the grille sending his water temperature skyhigh, but once that was cleared up he was past Busch for second place, making it a Hendrick 1-2 at the front, followed by a Joe Gibbs Racing pairing of Busch and Hamlin in third and fourth. The status quo largely held until the next round of pit stops loomed, at which point the fourth caution was out for a blown left front tyre on Jeff Burton's car, allowing everyone to come in for a stop under yellow.
Greg Biffle won the race off pit road with a two-tyre-only call and was ahead of Johnson, Busch and Hamlin; Jeff Gordon meanwhile had suffered a poor stop and fallen back to sixth behind Earnhardt, leaving Gordon scratching his head about what had gone wrong.
"I have no idea, I have to review it," he said. "The one thing about this pit road is that if you get a little bit behind, once you get up here, you're way behind because they pull out in front of you and the next one pulls out in front of you and that's what happened. We lost more than we should have but that wasn't so bad.
"The worst thing was when you start on the outside lane - my car would just not go on that outside lane," he added. "And then they got all jumbled up and we lost even more spots. And then we had another caution on the outside lane again, so it just wasn't our day."
Biffle got a terrific start and shot clear of the pack, leaving Johnson and Busch to get physical in their battle for second spot in turn 2; but once Johnson cleared the #18 it took him no time at all to catch and flash past Biffle for the lead again down the backstretch a couple of laps later.
And then the race was under yellow again, for a multi-car wreck in turns 1 and 2 on lap 132. Joey Logano had been racing side-by-side with Trevor Bayne when he had got loose, slammed into the side of Bobby Labonte and then started to spin down the racetrack - which had been right in front of Sprint Cup championship points leader Matt Kenseth who had been minding his own business in the midfield pack. Kenseth ran straight into the #20 and suffered serious damage that left the #17 on fire as Kenseth scrambled clear. Logano managed to limp back to pit lane but his day was also pretty much over, while Bobby Labonte escaped relatively lightly from the fracas and was able to continue uncompromised.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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