Sometimes, motorsports can be cruel. You could completely dominate a race, only to lose badly at the end, either through a crash, or by mechanical means. However, sometimes, other factors can cost you a race.
Sunday brought on one of those “other factors.”
Jimmie Johnson, in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, dominated the day, leading a race-high 146 laps during the event. However, the complexion of the event changed completely on lap 150, when David Stremme spun and hit water barrels at the beginning of pit road. This caused the third and final caution of the race, and once Stremme’s No. 12 was removed, it brought everyone to pit road.
Two things happened here. One, Greg Biffle beat Johnson off pit road, and two, the stops were outside of the pit window to make it to the end of the race for a number of drivers.
Johnson did eventually get the lead back with six laps to go, but his fuel cell ran dry coming to the white flag. This gave the lead back to Biffle, but he too, ran out of gas on the backstretch.
This meant that the race lead with one mile to go fell to Mark Martin, who had been running third behind the two leaders. Martin was able to keep his car running long enough to cross the start-finish line and claim victory, his third of the season. Afterwards, Martin was surprised at his luck, but very happy.
“I saw the pace they were [going] to run, and I started saving from the third lap,” Martin said. “After I got my track position, I started trying to save [fuel].”
Second, almost three seconds behind Martin, was Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, who blew an engine in practice on Friday and was forced to start from the rear of the field as a result. Gordon was very happy with his result, regardless of how he got it.
“Oh man, it doesn’t matter to me whether it comes down to fuel mileage or not, [since] it’s always [so] intense and exciting out there, Gordon said after the race. “We had a top five car, so it was certainly a great effort by this whole team.”
Behind the Hendrick one-two was Denny Hamlin in third in a huge improvement over last week at Pocono, when his race was effectively before he even got to turn 1. Carl Edwards finished fourth and Biffle coasted across the line, out of gas, in fifth.
Juan Pablo Montoya picked up his second straight top 10 finish with a sixth on Sunday, followed by point leader Tony Stewart. Kurt Busch ran out of gas coming out of turn 4 and finished eighth. Polesitter Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Stewart’s seventh place finish was fairly strong, but Gordon’s run to second from the back of the field means that Stewart lost part of his points lead. The lead is now 47 points for Stewart over Gordon after 15 races. Johnson is still in third place, but now trails by 142 points after running out of fuel at the white flag. This dropped him from a likely victory all the way back to 22nd, the last car on the lead lap. Kurt Busch, who also ran out of fuel and coasted across the start-finish line, moved up one spot to fourth as a result of a consistent top 10 effort on Sunday. He would have finished higher than eighth Sunday had he not run out of gas on the run up to the line.
Ryan Newman dropped one place to fifth after a tough day on Sunday. Handling problems kept the No. 39 back in the pack a ways. Even extensive changes, like changing a spring under caution, as amazing as that was (it was done in 15 seconds) did not help Newman’s cause, since he finished 23rd, the first car one lap down. Edwards maintained the sixth position after finishing fourth Sunday. Biffle is still seventh after coasting to a fifth place finish. In eighth, this week’s big mover is Martin, who has re-entered the top 12 after his win on Sunday.
Kyle Busch is still in ninth spot, 329 points out of the lead after a pedestrian run to 13th. Busch led the first nine laps, but then dropped back in the pack due to handling issues. Hamlin is up two positions to tenth after a third place finish on Sunday. Matt Kenseth is down three spots to 11th after having to make a green flag pit stop for left side tires, which put him down a lap. Kenseth eventually did get the lap back, but could only make it back up to a 20th place finish. Jeff Burton now rounds out the top 12. David Reutimann, who was 11th after Pocono, is now back to 13th, but is only three points behind Burton.
Around the Cut-off
There were not any teams that moved into or out of the Top 35 in owners’ points this week, but there was some point movement. The No. 82 of Scott Speed suffered mechanical issues and had to go behind the wall. The car re-emerged 25 laps down and still finished the race, albeit in the 37th position.
As for the Red Bull Racing No. 82’s competition for the 35th place in owners’ points, the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports, they started off the weekend with John Andretti giving the team their best ever starting position, 10th. Once the race started, Andretti held a fairly good position for a few laps, even moving up to ninth briefly before falling back through the pack. Andretti eventually brought the Taco Bell Chevrolet home in 33rd place, two laps down. Even though this is not a great run, it was enough to stretch the No. 34’s advantage over the No. 82 to 53 points.
Robby Gordon, whose No. 7 sits in 34th place in owners’ points, is 153 points ahead of the No. 34 and TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 in 37th is 108 points behind the No. 82 and unclear whether they can really run all the races to their conclusion. As a result, it is essentially between the Nos. 34 and 82 for the last spot in the Top 35 for the time being.
The best run for a team currently below 30th in owners’ points was by Bill Elliott in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21. Elliott had a very good weekend, qualifying 15th on Friday and bringing home a 16th place finish. The Wood Brothers’ limited schedule was designed to capitalize on Ford’s strengths, and the No. 21, when at the track, has generally run quite well this season.