Thursday, May 8, 2008

Race 11: Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington


#18-Kyle Busch complained early that his car wouldn’t turn, said that his brakes were practically gone after only 135 laps, lost more than twenty positions due to a missing lugnut penalty a few laps later, and smacked the wall very hard on at least four separate occasions to the point that his right-rear tire protruded from the side of battered car, but still managed to dominate the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington, leading a race-high 169 laps. Busch took the lead for the final time from #24-Jeff Gordon after the seventh caution of the race and, in the final 60 lap run to the checkers, opened up more than a three-second lead over #99-Carl Edwards to cruise to his third Cup victory of the season. After coming just short of victory in the Daytona 500 and in Fontana, Busch has since won one race in each of the three months since to tie #99-Edwards for the lead in wins.

1) #18-Kyle Busch THE WINNER!
2) #99-Carl Edwards After struggling in qualifying and discovering the same vibration problem as his Roush-Fenway teammates with 111 to go, he still managed to climb up to the second position, but while trying to save fuel, could not bring down his three-second deficit on the track.
3) #24-Jeff Gordon The defending Darlington winner took the lead under the sixth caution brought out by #83-Vickers when he and teammates #48-Johnson and #88-Earnhardt, Jr. stayed out while leaders #11-Hamlin and #1-Truex, Jr. pitted with 118 to go. Just 21 laps later, he would lose the lead to the rallying #18-Ky. Busch, then regain it again off pit road during the seventh caution brought out by #84-Allmendinger with 88 to go, then lose it for the final time on the ensuing restart to #18-Ky. Busch. Led 24 laps.
4) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Excited the crowd by racing to the lead past #16-Biffle on lap 2, but seemed to only have about a third place car for the rest of the evening. Despite scrubbing the wall off turn three on lap 176, his pit crew did get him the lead on at least two occasions. Led 35 laps.
5) #6-David Ragan Continued to impress with a solid run becoming a top-5 run in the late stages, finishing there even after he bounced off the outside wall with 80 laps to go and caught Roush-Fenway’s vibration problem 22 laps later. Led 2 laps.
6) #17-Matt Kenseth After what had been a rather forgettable string of races since Martinsville, this quietly-strong run was just what the doctor ordered. Around the halfway mark, however, he did have a fright when a vibration made him worry about a loose wheel. This condition was later found to be in all of his Roush-Fenway teammates, however, and the wheels did not budge on his car. Led 3 laps.
7) #11-Denny Hamlin Bad racing luck from Richmond seeped a little into his Darlington weekend. Unable to defend his previous two Nationwide wins at Darlington due to a wreck in qualifying, his conservative Cup Series qualifying run was barely enough to put him in the top 25. After slowly picking his way through the pack, his car came alive in the dark, climbing to 5th on lap 184. He took the lead some time later, but lost it during the sixth caution brought out by #83-Vickers when #24-J. Gordon, #88-Earnhardt, Jr., #48-Johnson, and a few others stayed out. Stuck racing for seventh with #1-Truex, Jr., who also pitted under that caution, #1-Truex, Jr. spun him off turn four with 65 laps to go, bringing out the race’s eighth and final caution. He did manage to climb back into the top 10 as #1-Truex, Jr. fell back. Led 15 laps.
8) #28-Travis Kvapil Donning Fred Lorenzen’s classic paint scheme, complete with old-style numbers and LaFayette Ford sponsorship, Kvapil scored his second top-10 of the season in a career night, leading a couple laps and spending most of the day around the top 5. He slipped back a little after brushing the wall in turns three and four late in the going, but still held onto his top 10 finish. Led 2 laps.
9) #22-Dave Blaney Made his way up into the top five around the halfway point of the race, his car noticeably free of the Darlington Stripes found on many of the cars by that point. Though he fell back, he still turned in his best performance of the year since the Budweiser Shootout.
10) #31-Jeff Burton Silently continued his streak of completing all the laps run this season.
11) #26-Jamie McMurray Fought handling problems all day, but flirted with the top 10 in the final quarter of the race, leading some during the pit stop cycle. Led 3 laps.
12) #2-Kurt Busch Led 1 lap.
13) #48-Jimmie Johnson Uncharacteristically absent from contention at one of his best tracks, he struggled all weekend. Forced to a backup car after a practice wreck, then spinning his backup in the final practice session, his team still managed to get his car fast enough for a third-place starting spot. In the race, however, he scraped the wall hard around lap 116 and had a slow 18.9 second green-flag stop as a result, dropping him back in the running order. After the fourth caution brought out by #29-Harvick, he then started running 5 mph slower than the leaders when an alternator problem forced him to shut off some of his fans. In the final long run to the checkers, he slipped out of the top 5 and barely held on to this top-15 finish as his tires lost grip.
14) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. Inherited the lead from #16-Biffle when #16-Biffle slowed up on the frontstretch with 170 to go and missed the entrance to pit road. Brought out the race’s eighth and final caution with 65 laps to go when, while racing #11-Hamlin for the seventh spot, he got loose and spun #11-Hamlin off turn four. He remained in the top 10 after the incident, but fell back after scrubbing the wall in turns three and four with 29 laps to go. Led 11 laps.
15) #07-Clint Bowyer Bounced off the wall with 38 laps to go, but remained in the 15th spot at the finish.
16) #8-Mark Martin NO NOTES
17) #66-Scott Riggs Losing his primary car before qualifying seemed an ironic burst of good luck as he qualified his backup in 9th and remained in the top 10 for much of the early part of the race. Though he slipped back in the later stages, he still held on for a respectable finish.
18) #43-Bobby Labonte NO NOTES
19) #44-David Reutimann Was nearly taken out when he passed on the inside of #9-Kahne as #9-Kahne almost spun off of turn four with around 50 laps to go. Slight contact may have been made to the right-front of his car, but not enough to prove hazardous.
20) #38-David Gilliland Had perhaps the most significant wreck that did not bring out a caution flag around 100 laps to go when he drifted up into the outside wall off turn two and bounced off it twice. Led 1 lap.
21) #20-Tony Stewart Won his first-ever race at the Darlington Raceway with a victory in the Nationwide race on Friday but, much like when he had a similar first at Talladega, wound up far behind his teammate #18-Ky. Busch. What tripped up Smoke this time was the subject of the race’s first caution on lap 2 when #19-E. Sadler broke loose racing beneath him in turn one, pinching his Toyota hard into the outside wall. He then lost two laps as he struggled to regain control of his injured car, but managed to get both of them back before the night was over.
22) #9-Kasey Kahne The car which he thought would snare him a great qualifying time wound up totaled in qualifying when something broke as he exited turn two, stuffing him in the wall and back in provisional land with the backup car. Things weren’t so good in the race, either, and with around 50 laps to go, he nearly spun coming off turn four and clipped #44-Reutimann, both cars recovering without bringing out the caution. Led 1 lap.
23) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya Like #84-Allmendinger, he picked up big time on his second qualifying lap after hitting the wall on his first. Was otherwise invisible in the race.
24) #55-Michael Waltrip His 700th Cup start was rather uneventful.
25) #83-Brian Vickers Was damaged in the strange pit road entrance incident with #12-Newman following the fifth caution of the race which put a noticeable dent in the driver’s side door of his car. A few laps later, he would himself bring out the sixth caution of the race by spinning off turn four with 119 to go.
26) #96-J.J. Yeley Led 1 lap.
27) #84-A.J. Allmendinger In Friday’s qualifying session, he bounced off the wall very hard on his first lap, but kept his foot in it and cranked out the 26th-fastest lap the second time around. He was not as swift during the race, but stayed out of trouble until he brought out the seventh caution of the race by hitting the wall once again with 88 laps to go.
28) #00-Michael McDowell (R) The highest-finishing rookie for the first time this season, ironically taking place in his first race without backing from Aaron’s.
29) #01-Regan Smith (R) NO NOTES
30) #21-Bill Elliott Scored one of his best qualifying runs of the season by clinching the 20th spot in his David Pearson throwback paintscheme, but, like Marlin, was out-gunned in the race by the leaders.
31) #78-Joe Nemechek NO NOTES
32) #41-Reed Sorenson NO NOTES
33) #7-Robby Gordon Like #9-Kahne, trashed his car in qualifying when the car suddenly smacked the outside wall off of turn two and was forced to a backup car with a poor qualifying position. He smacked the wall late in the race as well, but did not bring out a caution.
34) #40-Sterling Marlin Returned back to his old 40 car for the first time since the 2005 season finale to race at Darlington, the track where he won in 1995 the last time the track was repaved and in 2002 for his most recent Cup win. Though his car was intact at the finish, save for a Darlington Stripe received as he tried to hold off leader #18-Ky. Busch around lap 103, he had no such luck in this race, finishing a few laps down.
35) #5-Casey Mears While running 13th with 97 laps to go, he cut a left-front tire and smacked the outside wall, dropping him back in the running order as, like #38-Gilliland’s incident, there was no caution.
36) #15-Paul Menard Nearly wrecked leading #10-Carpentier off turn four when he had fresher tires than #10-Carpentier during the second round of green-flag stops. With 146 to go, he was next seen on pit road being pushed to the garage area with the engine turned off.
37) #12-Ryan Newman Lost a good amount of track position when he was penalized for a tire violation in the pits during the first round of green-flag stops on lap 68, then missed the commitment cone and was forced to come around again. He was later involved in an even more curious incident as the field was about to restart from the fifth caution, his car colliding with #83-Vickers at the pit road entrance as the two somehow crossed paths. The resulting damage to the right-front of his car did not help his car’s handling.
38) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) Brought out the second caution of the race when he bounced off the outside wall hard enough to make the numbers on the right side of his car unreadable. He went on to brush the wall a few other times in the race, his total second only to #18-Ky. Busch, but was not involved in any other incidents.
39) #29-Kevin Harvick Strong run early ruined when, while running sixth on lap 147, he broke loose coming off turn two and smacked the outside wall hard, crunching the right-rear and right-front of his Chevrolet to bring out the fourth caution of the race (the third was waved just 7 laps earlier for debris).
40) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) Held the lead for a while during the second round of green-flag stops around lap 116, during which time he was almost wrecked by #15-Menard as he closed in on him off of turn four with fresher tires. With 97 laps to go, just as #5-Mears limped into the pits, he was on pit road with a blown engine. Interestingly, only he and #16-Biffle, who also lost an engine, failed to finish the race. Led 4 laps.
41) #45-Kyle Petty Had an unscheduled stop only nine laps into the race after brushing the wall, ultimately sending him to the garage after 16 laps. He returned to the track several laps down and pretty much rode noticeably slow around the apron for the rest of the night.
42) #19-Elliott Sadler A great 7th place qualifying run was the high point of his weekend. Was the cause of the race’s first caution just 2 laps in when he broke loose under #20-Stewart as the two raced side-by-side into turn one, his car washing up the track and into #20-Stewart. The damage to the front and right-rear of his car was significant enough to put him behind the wall for much of the race’s first half, but he did return to finish the race under power.
43) #16-Greg Biffle The two-time Darlington champ looked to be finding his old groove on the track’s new pavement, surprisingly bumping #88-Earnhardt, Jr. to set a new track record at 179.442 mph. While racing for the lead with both #88-Earnhardt, Jr. and #18-Ky. Busch, he authored an impressive save when #18-Ky. Busch made contact with his rear bumper midway through turn two. His car drifted for a few seconds at a sharp angle, but recovered, only costing him two spots. The first chink in the armor appeared with 170 to go when he slowed up on the frontstretch as he missed the pit entrance. He soon discovered he had an even worse vibration than teammate #17-Kenseth and pitted on lap 234. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an engine failure, the oil from his car bringing out the fifth caution of the race. Led 95 laps.

#34-Jeff Green
#70-Johnny Sauter

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