“When I was cooling my tyres down through the tunnel coming to the green I noticed that something didn't feel right," explained Johnson after the race. "I kept trying to clean the tyres off and it got a little better so I just assumed I had trash on my tires.
"But when I got down into turn one I realized that I had a right-rear flat. Unfortunate that we lost the lead there and we got a couple of cars in the process. I shouldn't feel bad about that but not much you can do with a right-rear flat." Later on Twitter he mused that he must have run over some debris under the previous caution laps.
The accident sparked chaos in the tightly-packed field behind them as everyone scrambled to avoid piling into the wreck. The primary casualty other than Johnson was the man he'd hit going into turn 1.
"We took off and the #2 [Kahne] didn't get going and I had a pretty good gap, so I crossed the line and was going to pull behind Jimmie," recalled Kenseth. "When I pulled down to go behind him I got a little draft and actually pulled up to his door, and so I decided to race him through there and we went off into one and I could hear his pipes. I wasn't sure he has lifted yet. He drove in really, really far and spun out underneath me and I got wrecked."
Kenseth was sceptical about Johnson's explanation of a right rear tyre problem: “I don't think he had a flat, did he? I don't think so," he said. "“I am not mad at him, it is just that you race for the win and I thought I gave enough room down there. He drove in hard because he is racing for the win too. We are in a situation where we need to win some races too."
As well as Kenseth, Denny Hamlin didn't make it: "We all went in turn 1 and the leaders got in trouble and next thing you know one of the cars slid right in front me and that was about the end of it," said Hamlin, who ended up T-boning the side of the spinning #17. "We weren't going to win anyway and at this point all we're racing for is wins." Hamlin was okay after the crash, although he was taken to the medical centre after reporting some pain in his stomach that quickly subsided.
But where there's a threat, there's also opportunity - as Jeff Gordon was about to discover.
"I've never seen the seas part quite like that before like they did going down into 1," laughed Gordon. "I got a great restart and was able to dive to the inside in front of Kasey and I saw the #48 get sideways and it just took them all out. And I was like: wow!"
Gordon popped out with the lead under the ensuing caution, with his Hendrick team mate Kasey Kahne in second place despite a flat right-rear tyre of his own. He wouldn't be able to make the restart and would have to pit - assuming that the race was about to go green again. Keselowski had also survived in fourth place but was similarly holding on by a tread, the #22 running on empty and leaving him to shut off the engine and coast down the straights in order to eke out a previous few extra minutes of track time.
"I was thinking about the restart and what we were going to do," said Gordon. "I didn't want to have the same thing happen to us that happened to the #48. And it started raining."
It started with a light mist postponing the restart; a couple of minutes later it was definitely raining, and a restart was no longer an option. NASCAR threw the red flag and then the heavens opened properly, drenching the track and making it impossible for the race to resume on Sunday. Since the halfway mark had been crossed, that meant one thing: the race was called.