29 October 2012
Johnson leads chase after Martinsville win
Travis Kvapil's spin in turn 2 brought out the third caution on lap 128. Gordon, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. opted to stay out under the yellow and duly led the field at the restart ahead of Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin, while Johnson had dropped back to 11th place after deciding to come in.
Gordon once again surged away, but this time he had competition - from Brian Vickers, who surged into second place and then set his sights on the leader. He slid under Gordon into turn 1 for the lead bringing Hamlin through with him at the same time for the ride, just before a new caution was out for a solo spin by Kyle Busch in turn 4. The #18 didn't make any contact with anything or anyone, but Busch was dumped to the back of the lead lap in 28th place as a result of the misdemeanour.
Vickers cleared Hamlin to keep the lead at the restart, but was ousted by Hamlin on lap 165 who was in turn usurped by Johnson who decided that he wanted his lead back now, thank you very much, and who duly reclaimed it on lap 171 with Clint Bowyer following through into second. Bowyer decided to give the #48 a little 'excuse me' bump to allow him to take the lead on lap 182, and checking up caused Johnson to lose second place to Hamlin shortly afterwards.
A fifth caution came out on lap 199 when Marcos Ambrose spun in turn 2; the pit stops put Johnson and Gordon back on the front row for the restart, but the shock of the race so far was Hamlin getting done a second time for speeding on pit lane and getting demoted to the back of the lead lap - 28th place - all over again.
After a brief additional caution for a second spin by Ambrose, the race resumed and Clint Bowyer soon passed both Johnson and Gordon for the lead just before a new caution came out for a spin by Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing #78 in turn 4 on lap 228, with a little help from Kevin Harvick - although Busch admitted that he'd hardly had a stellar car all afternoon.
"The spin was obviously a major blow to us today," he said. "But we also had a vibration in the Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet for the majority of the race and that affected the car's handling."
After that rather broken patch of caution-hit running, the race restarted on lap 235 and went for a whopping 158 green flag laps without further interruption. Bowyer established himself as the dominant leader over Jeff Gordon for the first two thirds of that distance, despite a dicey moment when he made contact with Tony Stewart's #14 car as he put the reigning Sprint Cup champion a lap down on lap 301.
Gordon started to fade as the time for green flag pit stops approached. He'd already lost second after being passed by the likes of Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers before he came on to pit road on lap 335. Bowyer didn't come in until lap 351, but when he did the car stalled and he lost valuable seconds as he was push-started by the crew.
Vickers briefly inherited the lead before his own pit stop on lap 365, and then it was Kasey Kahne who pushed to the front for the first time on lap 366, although his time at the top only lasted a dozen laps before Bowyer arrived having recovered from his pit lane setback and ready to take back his rightful place at the head of the field with little drama.
In fact the drama was happening elsewhere on the track: Denny Hamlin, having already overcome two speeding penalties to stay in contention, was now facing hi last stand of the day. The car's electrics started going haywire on him on lap 372 with the gauges flashing all sorts of things that they were never meant to do. He tried switching over to the backup battery, which momentarily did the track and allowed him to get back up to speed, only for the issue to reassert itself seconds later and the car start to cut out. As driver and crew tried to work out what was wrong and how to fix it, the car died for good on lap 391 triggering the eighth caution of the day.
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