Friday, May 23, 2008

Race 12: Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's


On a night where the leaders were always in peril, whether it be #48-Jimmie Johnson’s engine failure, #2-Kurt Busch and #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s brushes with the turn four wall, #18-Kyle Busch's alternator problem, or once-leader #83-Brian Vickers’ lost left-rear tire, #9-Kasey Kahne found himself in victory lane for a points race for the first time since winning the fall event at Lowe’s in 2006. Kahne benefitted from the misfortune of yet another unlucky leader when leader #20-Tony Stewart saw a 6-second lead disappear with a cut right-front tire with 2 laps to go. Kahne became the first person to sweep the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year since #48-Jimmie Johnson did in 2003. Kahne led 66 laps to score the victory.

Kahne had early trouble with his splitter dragging on the track, which was repaired during the second round of green-flag stops. His car then came alive as darkness fell, challenging #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the lead and taking it from him on lap 193. In the final 62-lap run to the checkers following the eleventh and final caution, he remained in the top 5 and passed #18-Ky. Busch for the lead with 40 to go as they raced off turn two. Curiously, Kahne said he thought someone threw a beer bottle at him, likely intended for #18-Ky. Busch in 2nd, but could not tell if it was a Budweiser. Kahne made his last fuel-only stop with 17 to go as one of the first cars on pit road, setting him up to follow the ill-fated #20-Stewart en route to his popular victory.

1) #9-Kasey Kahne
2) #16-Greg Biffle Was very confident before the race that he had one of the cars to beat and, indeed, he remained in the top 10 for much of the event. While running 8th on lap 133, he got very loose in turn three and narrowly saved it, complaining soon after that he thought he had a tire going down. He had all four tires changed in an unscheduled stop the next lap, the crew discovering a wheel weight was missing on his right-front tire. Just past the halfway mark, he reported his car was overheating from debris on his grille and attempted to get some of it off by running up behind #11-Hamlin under green. Unbelievably, he worried about having a loose wheel again when he felt a vibration with 128 laps to go. The car held together this time and, after pitting with 12 to go, it cycled through in his favor. Led 2 laps.
3) #18-Kyle Busch After winning his third pole in less than a week and claiming the Nationwide race the previous day, he took off at the start of the 600, leading by a half-second after just one lap. As he lost the lead to #83-Vickers on lap 35, he reported a possible ignition problem and his engine sputtering. The condition was soon diagnosed as an alternator problem and he was forced to shut off his extra fans. He then broke loose in turn four on lap 148 and was forced to make an unscheduled stop for fresh tires, fearing the same problem as #16-Biffle. He got back the lap he lost from that stop by actually passing leader #83-Vickers just before #2-Ku. Busch brought out the second caution of the race on lap 162 and was back in 8th on lap 179. With 152 to go, he wound up with the lead again when #12-Newman was forced to pit again after missing his stall, but then lost the lead to a rocketing #88-Earnhardt, Jr. nine laps later. As he fell back, the alternator problem worsened as his battery started dropping volts, his engine three volts between 130 and 110 laps to go. Then, right when he needed it, leader #88-Earnhardt, Jr. brought out the eighth caution on lap 296, allowing him to pit for a replacement battery. Though he pitted when the pits were closed, he, like #88-Earnhardt, Jr., took the tail end of the longest line penalty in stride and was back in the race along with his on-track rival. Forced to rally once again with now a strip of tape across the right-front of his bumper, he started slicing through the pack, getting squirrely once off of turn four as he raced beneath #40-Marlin and #41-Sorenson. He was back up to 5th with 66 laps to go and began to position himself for the end of the race. With 55 to go, he caught and passed #48-Johnson for the lead by running the high line, but then lost the lead once more to #9-Kahne 15 laps later. Led briefly once more in the final fuel stops before stopping with 13 to go. Led 61 laps.
4) #24-Jeff Gordon Was handling terribly for much of the race, struggling to even remain on the lead lap during the race’s early long green-flag runs. Things finally started to turn around for him when debris on the track brought out the sixth caution of the race on lap 224, giving him the Lucky Dog as #29-Harvick was about a half-straightaway behind him for the position. Though he still found himself mired in traffic, running 18th with 128 to go, he climbed into the top 10 with 66 to go and took four tires under the eleventh and final caution which came out for debris just after the restart from the tenth caution. He chose to play it conservative after that, laying back as far as 19th place when his crew told him he’d be 2 laps short on fuel. The gamble worked and scored him an excellent finish.
5) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. After remaining in the top 10 through the first run, he climbed his way into 2nd on lap 105. A slow right-front tire change under the second round of green-flag stops on lap 119, leading to a 24.6-second stop, was very costly as the race remained under green for some time. After climbing up through the pack and narrowly avoiding contact with #11-Hamlin on pit road under the fourth caution of the race, his car looked faster and faster as he continued to hug the outside groove. Taking four tires along with most of the field under the sixth caution of the race, he took the lead from the two-tire-changed #19-E. Sadler and launched out to a massive 2.7 second lead with 164 laps to go. After the pit road jumble under the seventh caution, he flew back through the pack and retook the lead from #18-Ky. Busch with 141 to go. Once again opening up a huge lead while running up high, he suddenly became the victim of the seventh caution when he blew a right-rear tire, ground against the outside wall in turn four, and was rear-ended so hard by #96-Yeley that #96-Yeley’s car briefly caught fire. Since he was running so high, the damage was not as severe as even #2-Ku. Busch’s, so he sped down pit road several times and made quick repairs, each time beating the pace truck off pit road. He was originally penalized a lap for speeding past emergency equipment as he entered pit road, but this was rescinded. He did, however, deliberately speed down pit lane and restarted at the tail end of the longest line. Though holding his own on the lead lap, he lost track position yet again for a tire violation under the tenth caution of the race. This allowed him to pit an extra time for fuel with 63 to go along with #11-Hamlin and #99-Edwards without worrying about track position. He scrubbed the wall once again coming off turn two with 60 laps to go, just hanging on to get to the finish. Like teammate #24-J. Gordon, he did not pit and reaped the benefits. Led a race-high 76 laps.
6) #31-Jeff Burton Was solidly in the top 10 from the second caution of the race onward and was even up to 3rd with 171 to go, but his car refused to stick in the middle of the corner, keeping him from contending for the lead. He again found himself in 3rd with 88 laps to go and pitted with 12 to go after leading briefly. Led 1 lap.
7) #17-Matt Kenseth Sustained some slight damage to the upper-left hand corner of his windshield and the passenger-side A-post from flying debris off the #83-Vickers machine during the fourth caution. Pitted with 11 to go. Led 1 lap.
8) #19-Elliott Sadler Became a factor in the race when he, like #43-Labonte, took two tires under the sixth caution of the race. In fact, his own move gave him the lead on the restart which he held very briefly until #88-Earnhardt, Jr. swooped past. Though his crew was concerned they didn’t get enough fuel in his car during the brief pit stop, he did manage to defend his top 10 position for much of the rest of the race. He earned one of his best showings of 2008 despite, while running 4th with 35 to go, he thought he heard his engine making strange noises. He pitted with 17 to go, right behind teammate #9-Kahne. Led 3 laps.
9) #99-Carl Edwards After lurking around mid-pack for most of the night, he became another car involved in the tenth caution from #20-Stewart’s slow restart with 95 to go when he rear-ended #1-Truex, Jr., sending him into the outside wall. Though he himself sustained some damage, he, like so many others, remained on the lead lap. He and #11-Hamlin pitted for extra fuel with 63 to go as the eleventh and final caution came out immediately after the tenth but, unlike #11-Hamlin, chose to try and make it to the finish. Just like at Martinsville, the gamble just barely came up short when he ran out of gas off turn two on the final lap and had to coast to the finish.
10) #44-David Reutimann Running the high line and working pit strategy to come up from the 28th starting position, he had a career night in the 600, racing with #22-Blaney for 5th at the halfway mark and remaining in the top 10 for the rest of the race. Pitted with 12 to go.
11) #43-Bobby Labonte Racing the exact same car he used with some success in last week’s All-Star Race, he came up on the radar screen when he got the Lucky Dog after the fifth caution of the race brought out by #00-McDowell. Back on the lead lap, he gambled with #19-E. Sadler under the sixth caution of the race and, like him, took only 2 tires, giving him excellent track position. He raced in the top 10 for several laps, battling with #16-Biffle for 9th with 128 laps to go. Pitted for the final time with 14 to go.
12) #6-David Ragan Tied his father Ken’s career start total with his own 50th Cup start and was solidly in the top 10 from the second caution of the race until near the very end. Though he ran up to 4th with 88 laps to go and was 9th on the final restart with 62 to go, a late bobble off turn four just two laps later dropped him all the way to 17th. He did, however, get a few positions back in the final pit cycle, during which he pitted with 10 to go. Led 2 laps.
13) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) With his car still crabbed-out even with the NASCAR-mandated rear axles, he brushed the outside wall lightly on lap 22 while running the high line off turn four. He had another scare with 171 laps to go when he got loose racing under #96-Yeley off turn two, but managed to save it. He eventually lost his lap, but got it back under the eighth caution brought out by #88-Earnhardt, Jr. by receiving the Lucky Dog. He, like #24-J. Gordon, found himself surprisingly in the top 10 with 66 to go, and only the final round of pit stops, during which he pitted for fuel with 14 to go, kept him from finishing there. Is once again tied with #01-Smith with a series-leading five races as the top-finishing rookie, but was unfortunately 3 points shy of behind able to secure the 35th points position of #55-Waltrip.
14) #29-Kevin Harvick Had about the same kind of misfortune as #24-J. Gordon for much of the race, fighting handling problems and losing a lap, putting he and #24-J. Gordon in a battle for the Lucky Dog at the halfway mark. After #24-J. Gordon got the Lucky Dog under the sixth caution, he held the spot and remained there when #96-Yeley brought out the seventh caution twenty laps later on lap 244. He then started to find his own rhythm, moving up to 12th with 79 laps to go. Pitted with 12 to go.
15) #8-Mark Martin The sound coming from his car started to change around the halfway mark of the race when he cracked a header pipe, and Darrell Waltrip worried that there might have been a carbon monoxide problem. The problem, if any, was not enough to keep him from completing the race. He received the Lucky Dog under the third caution of the race brought out by #42-Montoya. His long final pit stop with 17 to go might have cost him a few positions on the track.
16) #2-Kurt Busch Still without a top 10 since his Daytona 500 runner-up, he was another very strong car in the first part of the race, running in the top 5 and leading both the 100 and 200-mile marks when the sun was still out. His crew had a scare during the second round of green-flag stops when, on lap 121, some spilled fuel ignited as he left his pit stall. Fortunately, it was extinguished quickly and no one was injured. Unfortunately, on lap 162, he brought out the second caution of the race when, while running second, he blew a right-front tire in turn four and smacked the outside wall. Surprisingly, the length of that caution was enough to keep him on the lead lap, his battered car lining up 18th on the restart. Pitted with 11 to go. Led 64 laps.
17) #22-Dave Blaney Successfully defended his strong 11th-place qualifying run for much of the race, remaining on the lead lap and running 5th near the halfway mark. He was involved in the tenth caution of the race during the slow #20-Stewart restart with 95 to go when he rear-ended #11-Hamlin, sending him spinning into #41-Sorenson in the middle of the pack. Still on track and leading with 9 to go, he looked to be gambling on fuel in the final run to the checkers, but as #20-Stewart closed within a second of him with 8 to go, decided to pit right then. Led 2 laps.
18) #20-Tony Stewart On lap 100, he bounced off #42-Montoya as he raced beneath #42-Montoya through turn two, sparking an on-track shoving match where #42-Montoya chased him down the track on the backstretch after the two made contact once more. The battle was one of many he was forced to wage as his car would not handle in the sunlight. Fortunately, when the sun set, his car came to life, hugging the inside groove and racing up to 8th on lap 192, then 3rd on lap 248. He had a good battle with #88-Earnhardt, Jr. at that latter stage of the race, running low as #88-Earnhardt, Jr. ran high. He assumed the lead with 95 laps to go after #88-Earnhardt, Jr.’s wreck in turn four, but brought the field down too slow on the restart, starting the mid-pack three-car incident with #1-Truex, Jr., #41-Sorenson, #99-Edwards, and #11-Hamlin which brought out the tenth caution of the race. He lost the lead seven laps later to #9-Kahne and remained in 2nd for some time after. He retook the lead when #9-Kahne pitted with 17 laps to go, then pitted himself with 13 to go and took the lead yet again when #22-Blaney finally pitted with 8 to go. Holding a six-second lead over #9-Kahne with just 7 laps to go, he looked to be a shoe-in for the win until he blew a left-front tire in turn two with just 3 to go, allowing #9-Kahne to make the winning pass in turn four. Led 23 laps.
19) #01-Regan Smith (R) Finished with no visible damage or tire marks on his car which, given the carnage of the race, is certainly worth mentioning.
20) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Got the Lucky Dog when the eleventh and final caution came out for debris just after the restart with 66 laps to go.
21) #12-Ryan Newman Was the biggest mover through the field early on, climbing 25 positions from his surprisingly-slow qualifying run in the first 76 laps. He did have his own share of adversity in the race, however, as he missed his pit stall during the cycle under the seventh caution brought out by #96-Yeley, dropping him to the back of the pack as he was forced to come back. He soon lost a lap from the lost track position, but got it back when he got the Lucky Dog under the tenth caution brought out by #10-Carpentier. Pitted for fuel with 14 to go. Led 1 lap.
22) #41-Reed Sorenson Was involved in the tenth caution of the race when his right-rear quarter panel was bumped by the spinning #11-Hamlin on the slow #20-Stewart restart with 95 laps to go, but fortunately didn’t hit anything.
23) #26-Jamie McMurray Lost a lap early and was never quite able to make up the lost ground, eventually forced to make an unscheduled stop with 111 laps to go.
24) #11-Denny Hamlin Turbulent weekend began with an on-track brawl with Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide race, the fight spilling over onto pit road when both crews got into it after the checkered flag. Around the halfway mark, an apparent replay with #16-Biffle seemed like it was about to happen until it was discovered that #16-Biffle was running up on his bumper in an attempt to dislodge debris from his grille. His bumper was tested once again by #22-Blaney during #20-Stewart’s sluggish restart with 95 to go, forcing him to break loose and clip #41-Sorenson, sending the pair into a spin to spark the tenth caution. Fortunately, neither hit anything in the incident. He, #88-Earnhardt, Jr., and #99-Edwards pitted an extra time for fuel in the eleventh caution with 63 to go, but was unable to stretch it and pitted with 10 to go. The night ended rudely for him when he cut a right-front tire and smacked the outside wall in turn two with 2 to go and did not bring out the caution. Led 1 lap.
25) #07-Clint Bowyer Lost a lap on lap 19 when an overheating problem from debris on the grille of his car forced him to make an unscheduled stop. In the first round of green-flag stops 31 laps later, he smoked his brakes so heavily as he came onto pit road that he nearly spun, but didn’t.
26) #28-Travis Kvapil Was forced to a backup car before qualifying, then was only able to turn in a speed good enough for the 41st position.
27) #55-Michael Waltrip Narrowly held onto his 35th-place points position by 3 points over #77-Hornish, Jr.
28) #66-Scott Riggs His primary car, along with teammate #70-Sauter’s, was confiscated the day before the race due to illegally-placed rear wing mounts. Pitted for the final time with 14 to go.
29) #5-Casey Mears Raced Hendrick’s 500th chassis in this event, where he was the defending champion. Led 1 lap.
30) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya On lap 100, was bounced off of by #20-Stewart as he raced above #20-Stewart through turn two, sparking an on-track shoving match where he chased #20-Stewart down the track on the backstretch after the two made contact once more. One lap after the restart for the second caution of the race, he brought out the third when, while racing beneath #17-Kenseth and #10-Carpentier through the dogleg, he bounced off #10-Carpentier, causing his right-rear tire to catch the grass and send him spinning across the grass. Fortunately, he did not come back up onto the track and only needed a splitter brace replaced under the caution. He was also forced to make an unscheduled stop with 181 laps to go due to damage sustained to the driver’s side of his car.
31) #40-Sterling Marlin Had a cameo as the car beneath whom #18-Ky. Busch was rallying to get to the front inside the final 100 laps, #18-Ky. Busch getting very loose as he slipped along the inside line.
32) #00-Michael McDowell (R) After losing a lap in the early going, he brought out the fifth caution of the race on lap 193 when he spun out by himself coming off turn two and backed into the inside wall just hard enough to slightly crease the left-rear of his car.
33) #33-Ken Schrader A very quiet debut for Richard Childress’ fourth team in 2008.
34) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. Reported he had a similar alternator problem to #18-Ky. Busch near the halfway point and, like #18-Ky. Busch, had to shut off his extra fans as a result. He lost a lap around that time, but got it back when he got the Lucky Dog under the fourth caution brought out by #83-Vickers. Late in the race, he got the worst of the tenth caution when, during the slow restart authored by #20-Stewart, he was tagged by #99-Edwards and spun into the outside wall, crumpling the right-front of his machine. He was later black-flagged on the restart for a loose front splitter.
35) #70-Johnny Sauter His primary car, along with teammate #66-Riggs’, was confiscated the day before the race due to illegally-placed rear wing mounts.
36) #45-Kyle Petty Lost some laps in the early green-flag run and made an unscheduled stop on lap 147.
37) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) Was stuck between #17-Kenseth and #42-Montoya on lap 168 when he made contact with #42-Montoya, ultimately sending #42-Montoya spinning through the grass in the third caution of the race. He himself became the cause of the tenth caution later that night when he spun off turn two on lap 330. He dropped out of the race entirely when his engine blew with 29 laps to go, but did not bring out a caution.
38) #96-J.J. Yeley While leading the inside line of lapped cars on the restart following the first caution of the race, he spun his tires and bunched up the entire row, but fortunately no wreck occurred. A wreck did occur for him first on lap 244 when he smacked the outside wall off turn two to bring out the seventh caution of the race. His car was pretty much finished off when he then brought out the eighth caution of the race, rear-ending #88-Earnhardt, Jr. as #88-Earnhardt, Jr. ground against the outside wall. The contact was sufficient enough to spark a fire underneath his car which was extinguished as he spun down the track.
39) #48-Jimmie Johnson Led a few laps around the 50-lap mark as he battled closely with the equally-strong cars of #2-Ku. Busch, #18-Ky. Busch, and #83-Vickers, then held the lead through the first round of green-flag stops. A plastic tear-off was visible on the front of his car at lap 97, though there was no visible sign that his car was overheating. After #2-Ku. Busch wrecked out of 2nd to bring out the second caution, he and #83-Vickers exchanged the lead with him retaking it on lap 181. After falling back from the lead at the halfway mark, he finally resurfaced as the leader when the race was restarted after the eleventh caution with 62 to go. Soon after losing the lead to #18-Ky. Busch with 55 to go, however, his engine soured and eventually blew up in a plume of smoke with 49 to go, but did not bring out a caution. Led 35 laps.
40) #38-David Gilliland The hood of his car was severely caved-in by the errant left-rear tire of #83-Vickers which flew off to cause the shocking fourth caution of the race on lap 184. Though the damage caused him to spin through the corner, he was able to drive back to the pits and he actually returned to the race 55 laps down with a new hood on his machine.
41) #15-Paul Menard Got the Lucky Dog under the first caution of the race brought out by #7-R. Gordon, then got it again under the second caution brought out by #2-Ku. Busch when #18-Ky. Busch was able to drive by leader #83-Vickers beforehand. With 144 laps to go, however, it was reported he was behind the wall for dropping fluid on the track.
42) #83-Brian Vickers Just 32 laps into the race, he made clear his strong run in the 2007 running of the 600 was no fluke as he chased down #18-Ky. Busch for the lead. Three laps later coming off turn four, he then squeezed in front of #18-Ky. Busch, narrowly avoiding contact. After losing the lead to #48-Johnson and #2-Ku. Busch a few laps later, he regained the lead once more on lap 137 with the exact same turn four maneuver. While leading on lap 154, he called in that he had a vibration and worried it was either a loose wheel or a warped brake rotor. He lost the lead once again to #48-Johnson on lap 181 and started to fall back, still troubled by the concern he had a loose wheel. He was in 5th on lap 184 when disaster struck. His left-rear tire suddenly came off entirely, sending him spinning hard into the outside wall, the rear, then driver’s side of his car tagging the SAFER barrier. His tire bounced perilously high, bounding off the hood and windshield of #38-Gilliland, which sent him into a spin, and the tire then bounced across the track and into the infield between a camper trailer and an elevated spectator’s stand. Interestingly, the center did not break out of the wheel, implying that the lugs were not tightened correctly. Some debris off his car caused the windshield and A-post damage on the car of #17-Kenseth. Fortunately, no one involved was injured, though some foam blocks needed to be replaced in the wall. Led 61 laps.
43) #7-Robby Gordon Brought out the first caution of the race on lap 61 when, just like in Texas, he brushed the wall in turns three and four after running the high line. Seconds before the #83-Vickers caution, his engine then blew on lap 183, pouring large amounts of smoke as he rode the apron of turn four.

#21-Jon Wood (R)
#34-Jeff Green
#50-Stanton Barrett
#78-Joe Nemechek
#08-Tony Raines

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