In NASCAR, anything can happen during races.
On lap 180, Joey Logano blew out a left-rear tire in turn 3. He had to make multiple pit stops under the caution (during one stop, the crew had to remove part of the tire that had wrapped itself around the left rear hub) and lost a lap.
When Scott Speed crashed in turn 1 on lap 189, Logano received the free pass, putting him back on the lead lap in the 32nd position. During that caution, he made his final pit stop and essentially hoped and prayed for rain.
The leaders drove away after the restart, but they had to make their final pit stops under green. Tony Stewart led until he pitted on lap 235. Mark Martin and Greg Biffle each led single laps before pitting. Bobby Labonte then led for nine laps before pitting the Ask.com Ford on lap 246. Ryan Newman then took over the point. Things looked good for Newman, for he was actually leading when it started to sprinkle outside. However, the sprinkles started too late for Newman, for he was already out of fuel. This forced him to pit and gave the lead to rookie Logano.
A couple of laps later, NASCAR threw the yellow flag for rain. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli told Logano over the radio that he had “…three to five laps of fuel left under green,” which equals quite a few more laps at reduced speed under yellow. Logano led the field under yellow for five laps before NASCAR brought the field onto pit road and threw the red flag on lap 273. 20 minutes later, NASCAR called the race, giving the 19-year-old rookie his first career Sprint Cup victory.
After the race, Joey was very happy with his accomplishment.
“When [the blown left-rear tire] happened, I thought we were done,” Logano said after the race. “However, [crew chief Greg Zipadelli decided to go for the fuel-mileage strategy] and I was just lucky enough to be in the seat.”
Jeff Gordon, who led 64 laps on Sunday and won the race off of pit road amongst the leaders on lap 235, finished second.
“I was so proud of the team, I didn’t feel like we were that good yesterday,” Gordon said in the post-race press conference. “We were not very good on the restarts. So we had to fight real hard or give up two spots, but man, our car was so strong after we got 10 laps on the tires.”
This is a little ironic, because Gordon was actually really good on the restarts, but not so good through turns 1 and 2. This is why he had to fight off drivers like Kurt Busch and Stewart.
Behind Logano and Gordon was Kurt Busch in third. David Reutimann, who also gambled on fuel, finished fourth and points leader Stewart rounded out the top five. Another gambler, Brad Keselowski, in the No. 09 Miccosukee Chevrolet finished sixth, followed by Kyle Busch. Sam Hornish Jr. finished eighth, followed by Jimmie Johnson. Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 10.
This is the second consecutive year that the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 has been rain-shortened. Granted, the powers that be at Lenox knew going in that this could be possible, they’re probably not too pleased.
Points Standings (Top 12)
Stewart led 40 laps on Sunday, and finished fifth. It may have been higher had the race gone the full 301 laps, and if there were not problems on the final pit stop. Since Gordon finished second at Loudon, the lead has been cut from 84 to 69 points going into Daytona on Saturday night. Johnson, who led the most laps on Sunday, is still third, 169 points back. Kurt Busch, after another strong run to third, is still fourth, 101 points behind Johnson.
Carl Edwards remains in the fifth spot but lost quite a bit of ground Sunday due to a 19th-place finish. Denny Hamlin follows up 25 points behind Edwards. Hamlin just barely jumped over Newman in the standings with his 15th-place finish. Newman was in position to potentially win before running out of gas late on Sunday. The three laps lost in the pits while the team was desperately trying to restart the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet dropped Newman to a 29th place finish. Kyle Busch, after a seventh-place finish on Sunday, is up one place to eighth in the points, just 19 behind Newman.
Just two points behind Kyle Busch is Biffle in ninth. Biffle ran well on Sunday, but a meeting with the wall set him back to an 18th-place finish. Matt Kenseth is still 10th after a solid run. However, the combination of the pit strategy and the rain dropped him to a 22nd-place finish. Martin is two points behind Kenseth in 11th, and Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top 12. Kahne is one point out of the top 12 in 13th. Reutimann is 14th, 12 out of the top 12. The difference between 10th and 14th in the standings is only 17 points.
Around the 35th Place Cut-off
There was no movement into, or out of the Top 35 as a result of this week’s race. The results have actually significantly widened the margin between 35th and 36th place. John Andretti, driving the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 (sponsored by Taco Bell), brought his Chevrolet home in the 16th position. This is the best ever finish by a Front Row car in the Sprint Cup Series. This was possible because Andretti’s team decided to get off sequence with their pit stops, like Logano, Reutimann and Keselowski.
Speed, whose No. 82 Red Bull team was still within striking distance of the Top 35 going into Loudon, crashed out of the event after contact with Marcos Ambrose on lap 189. Speed was classified 36th at the end of the race. As a result, the difference between the No. 34 and No. 82 is now 155 points going into Daytona. This means that the No. 34 has almost a full race’s worth of points between him and the No. 82 (provided that both cars qualify).
The highest-finishing team outside the Top 35 in owner points on Sunday was the No. 09 for Phoenix Racing. Like Logano and Reutimann’s teams in front of him, Keselowski’s team decided to press their luck and try a fuel-mileage strategy late in the race. Keselowski was one of a few teams to make it to the final caution when the rains came. When the race was called, Keselowski was credited with a sixth-place finish, his third top-10 finish of the season.