12 November 2012
Mayhem as Harvick wins and Johnson wrecks
Keselowski got the message and moved up to third place, which became second when Newman finally came in for his deferred pit stop on lap 209 which put Johnson correspondingly up into sixth place behind Hamlin as the race reached the hundred-to-go mark. Busch continued to lead, but once again his pace started to wane the longer the green flag run lasted and soon Keselowski was baring down on him and slicing into his lead: car owner Roger Penske was on the team radio to remind Keselowski "Big picture here," and the driver promised in turn to be "a good boy" as he pulled off a clean pass for the lead on lap 233.
The ball was in Jimmie Johnson's court to respond: and he did it in just the worst way possible just seconds later when the #48 went into the wall on lap 235 after his right front tyre blew out on him from excessive brake heat.
“We were cruising along and I think we would have had a top five day or a top ten day if things worked out at the end," Johnson explained. "I had a slight vibration starting in the right front - I didn't really know where it was coming from but clearly now it was the right front. And as I was coming off of turn four, it went down and I went straight in the wall. If I were another 30 or 40 feet around the corner, I probably would just have had a flat and not hit the wall. But, where it let go, I had a direct line to the wall and knocked it down.”
It had indeed been a hard, destructive hit and Johnson was on the radio to crew chief Chad Knaus to say that the brakes had been damaged - this would be no quick bodywork patch-up job with duct tape, and instead Johnson was ordered to take the car straight to the garage for repairs. It was undeniably a major setback for Johnson's hopes of a sixth championship: providing Keselowski could bring home the #2 safely from here then it gave Keselowski the whip hand in the Chase going into the season finale next weekend.
Meanwhile, the field was able to pit under the ensuing caution, with Busch once again coming out at the front ahead of Hamlin and Harvick as Keselowski dropped back to fourth place ahead of Menard and Kahne. At the green on lap 241 Busch disappeared into the distance ahead of the field, but Keselowski was by no means putting up his feet and cruising to the finish now that Johnson was out of the picture - instead he was fighting Hamlin hard for second place.
A fifth yellow came out for David Ragan hitting the wall in turn 3 on lap 272, and Ragan was puzzled by what had caused the damage to his tyre that had precipitated the accident. "We had no tyre issues all day. Everything looked good on our car. I very well could have run over something, but I don't really know what happened," he said. "I cut a tyre going into turn three and that was ultimately the end of our day."
Ragan's accident occurred at the same moment that Johnson re-emerged from the garage with the patch-up repairs to the #48 sufficient to put him back out on the track albeit 38 laps down and with only the meagre prospect of picking up a single spot in the remaining 40 laps of the day's event by overhauling the stricken Ragan in the race standings.
Eight cars opted not to pit under the caution, including race leaders Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin who took the restart with 35 laps to go ahead of Harvick, Kahne, Bowyer and Gordon. No such reckless thoughts of staying out for Keselowski, who pitted for fresh tyres lest the same fate befall him as had so recently happened to the #48 and duly fell to seventh place.
A quick return to yellow for a spin by Tony Stewart at least put Danica Patrick back on the lead lap on a free pass in 20th, as well as meaning another restart attempt on lap 284. The race ran green to lap 300, at which point Sam Hornish Jr. tangled with Patrick which ended up with a tyre going down on the #22 that sent him slamming into the wall in turns 3 and 4 to bring out the seventh caution of the day.
The restart came with eight laps remaining in the race, and Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers was on the radio to tell his man, "Don't overthink it, just do what you do," adding: "Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. This is a walk in the park." Unfortunately the couching didn't prevent Busch from losing the lead to Kevin Harvick at the green flag on lap 314, while behind them Jeff Gordon's run in third place ended with the #24 sliding into the wall after light contact with Bowyer left Gordon with a puncture.
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