THE STARTING GRID:
A confluence of dramatically-changing weather conditions, fuel strategy, and a rash of late-race cautions moved #2-Kurt Busch from 18th to the lead with 27 laps to go. Busch did not have one of the fastest cars of the day, complaining of a lack of straightaway speed, but, unlike the leaders, he pitted with #5-Casey Mears, #18-Kyle Busch, and a few others under the fifth caution at lap 217 and had already decided to go for the win despite being two laps short of the 301 lap mark. After narrowly avoiding disaster on lap 247 when he caught a piece of the wall off turn two and smoked his brakes racing #42-Juan Pablo Montoya, he chose to stay out while the leaders followed the dominant #20-Tony Stewart onto pit road under the sixth caution on lap 274. Aided by lapped traffic and seven other cars who stayed out under that caution, Busch was still in the lead when a pair of wrecks with 22 laps to go brought out the seventh caution which became a red flag when a thunderstorm washed over the track. While his car was seen shedding parts as it dragged a loose brake duct under the rear of his car, Busch was relieved when the race was called at that point, 284 laps in, with Busch as the winner. Busch led only the final 10 laps as he scored the upset victory.
1) #2-Kurt Busch THE WINNER!
2) #55-Michael Waltrip After changing engines for the second week in a row, forcing him to start at the back of the pack, he moved into 2nd when he stayed out under the sixth caution of the race on lap 271 and remained there in the two laps of green-flag racing before the seventh and final caution came, followed by the red flag for rain that ended the race. He was within sight of #2-Ku. Busch when #7-R. Gordon chased him up the track just before that last caution, but was not quite in position to make the pass.
3) #96-J.J. Yeley Moved into 3rd when he stayed out under the sixth caution of the race on lap 271 and remained there in the two laps of green-flag racing before the seventh and final caution came, followed by the red flag for rain that ended the race. Not only scored the best finish of his career since finishing 2nd in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 to #5-Mears, but did so a week after his DNQ at Sonoma.
4) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. Despite feeling ill on qualifying day, he turned in a solid run, establishing himself as one of the fastest cars on the track when he climbed up to 4th on lap 50 after starting 8th. After falling back to mid-pack as the clouds returned, he moved up to 4th once more after staying out under the sixth caution on lap 271.
5) #19-Elliott Sadler Was locked in a tight battle with #15-Menard for the Lucky Dog on lap 160 and eventually got it under the fifth caution on lap 217. This put him in a position to gamble by staying out in under the lap 271 caution, the sixth of the day, where he successfully defended his fifth-place restart spot.
6) #41-Reed Sorenson Was the provisional polesitter when rain nearly washed-out qualifying on Friday, threatening to make him start back in 35th. The track was dried, however, and though #10-Carpentier and the other drivers who ran later knocked him back to sixth, he still had admirable track position for the start. He was not as visible in the race, however, except for breaking loose in turn three on lap 162 right in front of teammate #42-Montoya, at which time he saved the car, but still dropped back several spots. He went down a lap soon after, but received the Lucky Dog under the fourth caution on lap 203 and stayed out under lap 271's sixth caution to finish where he started.
7) #5-Casey Mears Turned in another excellent run after it was made official that he would not be returning to Hendrick in 2009. After running mid-pack in the first fuel run, he gained the lead by staying out with #83-Vickers under the first caution on lap 86. Surprisingly, he opened up a massive two-second lead over the field by lap 122, remaining in the lead despite leading only 1 lap all season. His car was even the leading Hendrick car when all four were running in the top 8 on lap 127. The second caution on lap 140, brought out by debris, came at a perfect time for him as #20-Stewart was catching him and he planned to pit next at lap 150. However, he lost the lead to #20-Stewart during that pit exchange and was unable to get it back, hovering around 3rd on lap 178. Looking for an edge, he pitted along with #18-Ky. Busch, #2-Ku. Busch, and others under the fifth caution on lap 217 and, like them, hoped to stretch his fuel the rest of the way. This decision proved to be a good idea as he was able to stay out during the sixth caution on lap 271. Led 53 laps.
8) #11-Denny Hamlin Another very fast car in the first part of the race, his machine drove well, but sprayed out troubling volumes of brake dust whenever he was racing another car through the corners. He, like many of the leaders in the mid-to-late stages, was about 9 laps short of making the 301 lap distance. He pitted for fuel only along with the other leaders under the sixth caution on lap 271 and was the first off pit road as teammate #20-Stewart chose to take on tires.
9) #48-Jimmie Johnson After cruising up through the pack along with teammate #24-J. Gordon, he raced up into 3rd behind #24-J. Gordon inside the final 100 laps and began racing much harder as the clouds closed in. On lap 228, he broke loose under #24-J. Gordon as the two raced for 2nd and bumped him up the track off turn two, the two bumping each other again on the backstretch before he got the spot. He then set sail for the leading #20-Stewart, closing to within a half-second of him on lap 253 as he rolled very well through the center of the corners. He lost some ground when #28-Kvapil smoked his brakes in front of him on lap 256, then a little more when he got loose racing under the lapped car of #7-R. Gordon on lap 264. He was the eighth and final driver to stay out under the sixth caution on lap 271 and only lost one spot in the final scramble. Benefitted greatly from extensive testing at the Milwaukee Mile.
10) #43-Bobby Labonte Bested his best qualifying run of the season for the second week in a row by starting outside-pole and remained in the top 5 for much of the early stages of the race.
11) #24-Jeff Gordon Fought his way up from a 19th place starting spot to the 12th spot on lap 50. In surging up through the pack, he sustained some slight damage to the left-front fender of his car, but the crew was able to make repairs and he was able to race up to 4th on lap 127 and 2nd on lap 174.
12) #31-Jeff Burton After climbing up from his 31st place starting spot to the top 20 on lap 22, he took two tires under the second caution on lap 140 and was 7th for the restart, where he remained for much of the day until the final run to the rain-shortened finish.
13) #20-Tony Stewart Won the Nationwide Series race at the same track on Saturday and was one of several cars who climbed double-digit positions from their starting spots during the first fuel run. After starting 28th, he was up to 14th by lap 50. Along the way, he gently bumped #40-Franchitti coming off turn three on lap 54, then clipped #22-Blaney into a wiggle coming off turn four on lap 92 as he continued to climb. He was up to 2nd on lap 138 and was closing in on #5-Mears to less than a second when the second caution came out on lap 140. During the pit stops under the yellow, he beat #5-Mears off pit road and held the lead for the entire mid-to-late stages of the event, even as the weather changed, and looked to be the first man to sweep two races at New Hampshire. Knowing he couldn’t make it on fuel, he pitted and led many of the leaders down pit road, but lost five spots in the pits when he chose to take on tires. That, combined with the eight cars who stayed out and the lapped traffic, dropped him well back in the pack for the final few laps. Led a race-high 132 laps.
14) #29-Kevin Harvick Fastest in practice on Friday and qualifying third despite nearly wrecking off turn two on his timed lap, his car was still strong when the weather turned out to be sunnier than expected on race day and he led several of the opening laps after passing polesitter #10-Carpentier. He held the lead until #88-Earnhardt, Jr. caught him on lap 43 and passed him on the next lap. He then ran 3rd for much of the race, but started falling through the pack around lap 176 when his car handled so badly that he couldn’t pick up the accelerator in the middle of the corner. When the clouds moved back in again in the final 100 laps, his car picked up speed, but he ran out of time. Led 54 laps.
15) #12-Ryan Newman NO NOTES
16) #83-Brian Vickers At a track where he’d not qualified in July and finished last in September, he gained valuable track position when he stayed out with #5-Mears during the first caution on lap 86. Complaining that his car was “plowing,” he was not quite able to hold the position as well as #5-Mears, but even so, only slipped back as far as 5th before the second caution came out on lap 140 for debris, allowing him to pit with the leaders. He remained in 4th on lap 178 and remained in the lead pack which, unfortunately, put him on the losing pit strategy when the sixth caution came out on lap 271.
17) #99-Carl Edwards Dropped back with teammates #16-Biffle, #26-McMurray in the early stages from similar handling problems and was strangely invisible for much of the day despite running up to 14th on lap 262.
18) #17-Matt Kenseth After struggling with his teammates for much of the race, he raced his way up to 11th on lap 262, then lost a handful of spots to the eight cars that stayed out under the sixth caution on lap 271.
19) #44-David Reutimann Brought out the first caution of the race on lap 86 when he got loose and slid up into the left-rear of #40-Franchitti, sending #40-Franchitti spinning into the outside wall in turn thee. He nearly brought out another caution on lap 214 when he checked up in a tight pack of traffic coming off turn three, forcing #8-Almirola to bump him and #26-McMurray to bump #8-Almirola, #8-Almirola saving his car from spinning.
20) #78-Joe Nemechek He received the Lucky Dog under the first caution of the race on lap 86, then brought out the third caution when he spun in turn three on lap 152, but didn’t hit anything. Led 1 lap.
21) #16-Greg Biffle Slipped back in the early stages along with teammates #99-Edwards and #26-McMurray as his car was handling poorly in the sunny weather, his car nearly spinning twice off turn two in the first 30 laps as his car “lacked overall grip.” A gamble to take four tires under the brief third caution on lap 152 didn’t help as he remained in 22th on lap 167 and, once again, bad luck came in the form of a pit road speeding penalty - this time for too fast entering - under the third caution on lap 203, sending him to the tail end of the longest line. He had just gone a lap down to #20-Stewart on lap 271 when the sixth caution came out, giving him the next-to-the-last Lucky Dog of the day.
22) #07-Clint Bowyer Slowly, but surely moved his way into the top 5 in the late stages, racing hard with #24-J. Gordon on lap 232 to the point that he got loose and wound up with a black donut on his passenger side door. Disaster struck when he brought out the seventh and final caution of the day as he broke loose racing #77-Hornish, Jr. in turn three on lap 279, sending his car backing hard into the outside wall. Still managed to finish running.
23) #8-Aric Almirola Wild afternoon began quietly when, after having to start at the back of the pack due to a transmission change, he went a lap down in the early part of the race, then got the Lucky Dog under the third caution of the race on lap 152. Things started getting crazy for him on lap 214 when he was wedged between the slowing #44-Reutimann and the closing #26-McMurray, his car breaking loose when #26-McMurray bumped him. Though he made a miraculous save, he was again tested just three laps later by #9-Kahne coming off turn one when #9-Kahne bumped his left-rear. He almost saved the car again, drifting through the corner for a few hundred feet, but eventually bumped the wall with the rear of his car, bringing out the fifth caution. Then, under green on lap 224, he retaliated, clipping #9-Kahne and sending him into a spin in turn one.
24) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Was one of the strongest cars in the first run and was the first to pass #29-Harvick for the lead, edging ahead of #29-Harvick on lap 44 and taking the lead outright soon after. Stuck in traffic running 8th after pitting under the first caution of the race, he nearly spun in the middle of a tight pack of traffic coming off turn four on lap 94, but saved it. Running 10th and knowing he was short on fuel, he made a move to pit road on lap 271, but just enough of his car was in the racing groove for a low-running #26-McMurray to plow into the right-rear of his car, sending him spinning onto the entrance of pit road. Still managed to finish running. Led 29 laps.
25) #18-Kyle Busch For the second week in a row, he was allowed to re-qualify on Friday, this time after it started to rain during his qualifying lap. Again, the second chance did not result in a significantly-better qualifying run, but unlike last week, he wasn’t a factor in the race, mired mid-pack all afternoon. He ran over his air hose during his pit stop under the second caution on lap 140, but was not issued a penalty. He tried to turn pit strategy to his favor by pitting with #5-Mears, #2-Ku. Busch, and others under the fifth caution on lap 217. Unfortunately, he chose to pit with the leaders on lap 274 and, after battling hard back in the pack with #42-Montoya on lap 278, then bumping off each other on the frontstretch, he was spun by #42-Montoya coming into turn one and collided with the passing #42-Montoya, crumpling the front of his car.
26) #7-Robby Gordon Was another persistent lapped car who first had a front-row seat to the #20-Stewart / #48-Johnson battle for the lead on lap 264, then raced new leader #2-Ku. Busch much harder on lap 278, locking his brakes and chasing #2-Ku. Busch up the track as he tried to get the Lucky Dog. He received the Lucky Dog just seconds later when the seventh and final caution came out for a wreck behind them. Led 1 lap.
27) #01-Regan Smith (R) The highest-finishing rookie for the sixth time this season, trailing #77-Hornish, Jr. with a series-leading seven races.
28) #38-David Gilliland NO NOTES
29) #15-Paul Menard Was perhaps the fastest of the lapped cars in the race, keeping pace with the leaders and battling hard for the Lucky Dog with #19-Sadler on lap 160.
30) #9-Kasey Kahne Worked to get on the same pit sequence as the leaders by being the first car to make a green-flag stop on lap 62, allowing him to move from 6th to 2nd behind #29-Harvick when the pit cycle was completed on lap 81. Pit strategy shook him out of the lead pack, however, where he found himself racing #8-Almirola, whom he bumped into a spin on lap 217, bringing out the fifth caution of the race. He was retaliated upon by #8-Almirola on lap 224 when he was himself spun, but did not bring out a caution as he didn’t hit anything.
31) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) Won the first pole of his Sprint Cup career in his 17th start as one of the last cars to qualify after the one hour, forty-five minute rain delay on Friday. On Sunday, he led the opening four laps, holding off #29-Harvick on the outside before losing the lead to him soon after. He fell a lap down during the first green flag run, but received the Lucky Dog under the second caution on lap 140. Led 4 laps.
32) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya After pacing both practice sessions on Saturday, he was not as competitive on Sunday and took four tires along with #16-Biffle under the third caution on lap 152, but also found himself still mired in the middle of the pack, 25th on lap 167, narrowly averting disaster when #41-Sorenson slid up the track in front of him on lap 162. After racing hard with #18-Ky. Busch on lap 278, then bumping off #18-Ky. Busch on the frontstretch, he turned hard left and spun #18-Ky. Busch, who swung around and slammed him in front of his left-rear tire, knocking him into a spin as well. He openly admitted to deliberately spinning #18-Ky. Busch in a post-race interview. Was penalized two laps, dropping him from 26th to 32nd.
33) #22-Dave Blaney Wiggled off the nose of #20-Stewart as the two raced off turn four on lap 92 soon after the restart following the first caution of the race, but kept his car from spinning.
34) #66-Scott Riggs Excellent fourth-place qualifying run was, unfortunately, the sole highlight of his weekend, keeping him 36th in owner’s points coming into Daytona.
35) #45-Terry Labonte NO NOTES
36) #28-Travis Kvapil Went a lap down and locked his brakes in front of second-place #48-Johnson on lap 256.
37) #70-Johnny Sauter NO NOTES
38) #40-Dario Franchitti (R) After turning in his best career qualifying run with a 7th place effort and being one of the 10 fastest cars in practice, he gradually slid back through the pack during the first run, #20-Stewart tapping his rear bumper coming off turn 2 on lap 54 when he did not get on the throttle fast enough. The contact did not make him spin, but he wound up bringing out the first caution of the race on lap 86 when #44-Reutimann slid up into his left-rear in turn three, sending him spinning backward against the wall. His car sustained some minor damage to the left-front fender, just enough to make it rub against the tire.
39) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) Dropped several spots on lap 213 when, after the lap 211 restart jumbled up by the slowing #00-McDowell, he was stuck in the middle of a tight three-wide battle raging through the middle of the pack. His luck didn’t get better in the latter stages of the event when he was involved in the seventh and final caution of the race on lap 279, spinning through the grass and kicking up spectacular clods of dirt as he fought to regain control. Though there only appeared to be some damage to the front of his car, it still dropped him further back in the field than #07-Bowyer.
40) #6-David Ragan Racing in a Red Sox sponsored machine which, inauspiciously, carried Bill Buckner’s number, he had a roller coaster day, losing spots in the pits when he slid into his pit stall early in the race, then soldiering up to 13th on lap 262. It was there that he tried to negotiate the lap 271 wreck, the sixth caution, coming off turn four, but his disabled teammate #26-McMurray clipped him in the right-rear, ripping the right-front tire off his car as he spun down the frontstretch.
41) #26-Jamie McMurray Slipped back from a solid 13th place starting spot in the early stages along with teammates #99-Edwards and #16-Biffle, likely due to the team chasing the setup. His was the car that first bumped #8-Almirola into a spin during #8-Almirola’s miraculous lap 214 save. He found his second wind along with many of his teammates and was 12th with 39 laps to go, but while running there nine laps later, disaster struck when #88-Earnhardt, Jr. slowed in front of him coming off turn four. He barely had enough time to turn when his right-front clobbered #88-Earnhardt, Jr., sending him sliding up into the wall and into teammate #6-Ragan, taking him out of the race in what was the sixth caution of the race.
42) #00-Michael McDowell (R) Was the first car to go a lap down, losing a lap to #29-Harvick during the first fuel run. Running sixth on the inside line on the lap 211 restart following the fourth caution brought out by #84-Allmendinger on lap 203, his car did not get up to speed and blew the engine. Fortunately, he got out of the way and did not bring out the caution himself, though the field behind him did race three-wide for the next couple laps.
43) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Fell back from his 10th place starting spot and ran a quiet race until he brought out the fourth caution of the race on lap 203 when his engine exploded in a massive plume of smoke on the frontstretch, sparking a fire beneath his car as he stopped in front of a fire crew on the backstretch. Fortunately, he got out of the car okay.
DID NOT QUALIFY:
#21-Marcos Ambrose (R)