A race beset with an early flurry of cautions settled down into a steady state that pointed to only one winner - championship leader Jimmie Johnson. But despite leading for more than two-thirds of the race, it turned out that the five-time champion was still unable to clinch what should have been his first Cup victory at Kentucky Speedway after all.
After the disappointment of the previous evening's rain postponement of the Quaker State 400 Cup race, all the drivers were relieved to see blue skies and a dry track awaiting them come noon on Sunday. The weather and drying operations had washed the surface clear of the tyre rubber that had built up, and so in the first stint of the race many of the drivers were soon complaining of slick conditions making the tail-happy cars lack rear grip.
As a result, everyone was happy to see the scheduled competition caution on lap 30 that allowed them to come in for fresh tyres and make their first round of set-up changes, especially given that their cars had originally been prepared for an evening race rather than a noon start and there no time had been available for alterations before the green flag, which had seen Carl Edwards lead early from polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. was back in front after the pit stops with Jimmie Johnson in second, but the race faced problems getting back underway. At the first attempt, a right front tyre blow-out for Denny Hamlin in turn 4 left debris on the track, some of which hit and damaged the cars of Earnhardt and Johnson although not enough to require them to give-up track position to come in for repair. At the second restart attempt it was Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch who sent for a spin in turn 2 to bring out another rapid return to caution, although miraculously no one collected the #18 as it went awry.
The next restart - and near-instantaneous caution - wasn't such a lucky affair, as Kurt Busch attempted to get a run on Brad Keselowski on lap 47 only to get propelled up the banking and into the #2 in a violent impact that badly damaged the rear end of the Penske car, also inflicting heavy damage on the front end of the #16 of Greg Biffle, with the #93 of Travis Kvapil and #7 Dave Blaney also sent to the garage and Paul Menard and Landon Cassill both having to limp back to pit road for repairs which had to wait while the race went under a 20 minute red flag to enable track workers to effect the extensive clean-up operations.
"We were trying to get patient because it looked like we will get the whole race in before rain and there is no reason to drive like an animal. Apparently I am the only one that got that memo. It is one of those deals," signed Keselowski, who takes a big hit in the Cup standings and drops out of the all-important top ten as a result.
"I know he didn't intentionally wreck me but it is just one of those things," Keselowski added when asked how he felt about Kurt Busch's apology relayed over the Furniture Row Racing team radio. "A chain of events with the way the cars drive and the track has that really bad bump down there and we all know it. There is no reason to go down there but he still did.
“I am still wrecked so I don't know. He is smarter than that. He knows better than that," he added. "It was a pretty good hit but the back of these Cup cars have a lot of safety zones in them and if there is a place to take a hit like that, that is the spot. I am thankful for that." Keselowski later resumed the race albeit more than a hundred laps down, picking up a few spots - and championship points - by finishing ahead some of the other early retirees.
"I don't know what happened with the #18 earlier but we got lucky and missed that one," said Biffle for his part. "We weren't fortunate enough to miss this one. I was trying to get to the bottom to miss the #2 and couldn't get it. I was on the brakes and the nose might have been on the race track or something. I couldn't get to the bottom to miss him."