THE STARTING GRID:
Using the same car he drove to victory at Indianapolis the previous month, #48-Jimmie Johnson utterly dominated the event, leading a race-high 228 of the race’s 250 laps, or a whopping 91.2% of the total distance. Despite the track’s very loose conditions, Johnson was 4.9 seconds ahead of the field on lap 39, a mere 15 laps after the restart following the second caution of the night, and on lap 120 was 8 seconds up on the field after the first round of green-flag stops. Besides the green-flag pit cycles, only #16-Greg Biffle and his excellent pit stops looked to stand in Johnson’s way, but Johnson had an uncanny ability to regain the lead in 3 laps or less after the succeeding restarts. After coming off pit road 6th during the sixth caution with 89 to go, it only took him 3 laps to get the lead back and escape the lapped traffic. Even after Johnson’s jackman caught his leg on an air hose during a stop under the seventh caution with 70 to go, he once again got the lead back in 3 laps. The win, Johnson’s third of the season, is also his third at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California and his second straight win in the Labor Day event. The polesitter has now won 5 of the last 7 Sprint Cup races. Johnson also clinched his spot in the Chase while leading on lap 100.
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson THE WINNER!
2) #16-Greg Biffle After starting 15th at a track where he felt very comfortable as night fell in the February race, he moved up to 4th by lap 39, but was suffering a bit of an overheating problem as some debris blew onto his grille. He was up to 2nd after pit stops under the fourth caution on lap 69 and made a bid for the #48-Johnson’s lead on the lap 74 restart. He tried to get by up high, but couldn’t quite leap off the corners enough to make the pass. The few laps he did lead were the product of his pit crew, who got him off pit road ahead of #48-Johnson under the sixth, seventh, and eighth cautions of the night. In the final 28 lap run to the finish, he looked to be catching #48-Johnson as a bag of chips picked up on his grille was giving him added downforce. When the bag blew off, however, #48-Johnson cruised to victory. By starting the race at Richmond, he will clinch his spot in the Chase. Led 12 laps.
3) #11-Denny Hamlin Determined to defend his Chase berth, he raced up from the 21st spot to 8th on lap 29. From there, he inched into the top 5 and picked up his second-straight third-place finish.
4) #29-Kevin Harvick Excited about his very fast car, the very car he had used in 4 of the last 6 races, he moved all the way from the 33rd starting spot to 5th on lap 50, then inched up to 4th on lap 90 as the field continued to string itself out. He was not far from the top 5 after that.
5) #17-Matt Kenseth Worked his way into contention by gaining 5 spots on pit road during the fourth caution on lap 69. Led 1 lap.
6) #99-Carl Edwards Was fastest in the first practice session, but fell off in qualifying and started 26th, ironically giving him a pit stall right next to that of Bristol rival #18-Ky. Busch, who started 11th. He attempted a similar march to the front as he had performed during his win at Michigan two weeks prior, but was hindered by a shaking sensation in his car by lap 64. Trying to get a handle on the very slick track, he tried running the apron in turns three and four on lap 100 as he was running in 12th. A subsequent pit stop seemed to have helped as he moved back up to 9th on lap 135. He attempted a two-tire stop late in the race along with #16-Biffle, but slid back slowly in the final run to the finish.
7) #18-Kyle Busch After the controversy at Bristol, he took his anger out in the Nationwide race the night before the main event, leading all but 6 laps en route to yet another victory in that series. From the 11th spot, he raced up to 6th on lap 11, but for whatever reason, seemed to stall out at that point, slipping back to 16th on lap 68. Much like #99-Edwards, he then searched for a faster line, at one point running very close to the grass on the frontstretch before returning to the racing surface. The plan must have worked, because with 48 to go, he was then hovering up in the 9th spot.
8) #9-Kasey Kahne Looking to turn around the misfortune of back-to-back 40th place finishes, he raced up to 7th on lap 74. He was 5th on lap 126, but still stuck 14th in points as #07-Bowyer was running 12th and #6-Ragan was 15th. By lap 135, he became very frustrated that his car wasn’t going fast enough to contend for the win. His car was about as loose as anyone else’s, but strangely was still loose when night fell and the track tightened.
9) #44-David Reutimann Continued his streak of sterling summer performances with his career-best finish. In another brand-new Michael Waltrip Racing machine, he flew up to the lead pack in a very loose car, making several daring moves along the way. From the 12th starting spot, he diced his way up to 6th on lap 15, when he nearly wrecked himself blocking #1-Truex, Jr. up high on the backstretch. He was still in 6th on lap 135. Lagging just outside the top 10 in the final 100 laps, he gained 11 spots under the seventh caution of the night with some pit strategy, but lost it almost immediately to #16-Biffle when the race restarted with 65 to go. Led 3 laps.
10) #07-Clint Bowyer Ran a quiet, defensive race, and now sits just 17 points ahead of #6-Ragan for the final spot in the Chase.
11) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Ran his trademark extremely-high line around the track, again coming perilously close to the outside wall, but to his credit, never made contact. Due to his car being set up with too much “yaw,” a problem which could only be repaired at the shop, his car was extremely loose, and he fell from 6th to 12th between laps 47 and 66. On lap 112, a green-flag stop that lasted just over 20 seconds when a crewman struggled with his right-front set him further back. Still, while running 11th with 92 to go, he clinched his spot in the Chase.
12) #83-Brian Vickers Started 19th, but was up to 4th by lap 23 and, for much of the race, remained with teammate #84-Allmendinger in a banner night for Team Red Bull. He passed his teammate for 2nd on lap 34 as the two remained in the top 5 for much of the night. Under the fourth caution on lap 69, he fell from 3rd to 13th when a member of his pit crew dropped a lugnut. By lap 90, he was back up to 5th, and then was 3rd by lap 135. With 78 to go, pit road lashed back when he was sent to the back of the field for a tire that rolled out of his pit box.
13) #6-David Ragan Kept the Chase pressure on for #07-Bowyer with another solid finish despite scraping the outside wall in turns one and two around lap 140. He was 11th with 20 to go, slipped back to 15th that same lap when his car went too high, then got a couple spots back before the finish. He goes into Richmond just 17 points behind #07-Bowyer for the final spot in the Chase. Led 1 lap.
14) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Looked to be having another breakout night when he was 3rd fastest in practice and qualified on the outside pole for his best career start. He held onto the spot in the early laps, fell to 3rd after the first round of stops, but got the spot back on lap 28 as teammate #83-Vickers moved up to 4th. #83-Vickers then engaged in some friendly competition as the teammates remained in the top 5 for much of the race. He was 10th on the lap 74 restart, but soon moved back toward the front with teammate #83-Vickers again in tow. He was 4th with 74 to go, but the final two pit stops under the seventh and eighth cautions were so slow that they dropped him back to 19th for the final run to the checkers. Still, the night moved his team up to 31st in owner’s points, solidly in the top 35. Led 1 lap.
15) #24-Jeff Gordon Qualified 3rd, but, unable to drift sideways through the corners like #48-Johnson, struggled to find a way to get any rear grip for his car. He was 8th on lap 55, 11th on lap 64, and 16th on lap 135. Led 2 laps.
16) #12-Ryan Newman Suffered a little cosmetic damage in the third caution of the race when the cap off the cut tire of teammate #2-Ku. Busch hit the right-front of his car. He lost a lap sometime after and got it back as the Lucky Dog under the fifth caution on lap 145 for debris. With about 85 to go, he then struggled with debris on the grille of his car.
17) #31-Jeff Burton Another steady run in what was his 500th career Sprint Cup start. Led 1 lap.
18) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) The highest-finishing rookie for the sixth time this season and first time since Watkins Glen, successfully rebounding from a DNQ at Bristol the week before with a 5th-place starting spot, then rallying back once again from a transmission change that sent him to the back of the pack. He lost a lap at one point, then got it back as the Lucky Dog under the sixth caution with 89 laps to go when a piece of debris came off another caution light at the start/finish line. In the rookie chase, #77-Hornish, Jr. still has a series-leading eight races as the top rookie, #01-Smith has seven, #00-McDowell has four.
19) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. After avoiding a close call when #44-Reutimann nearly cut him off on lap 15, he became an unwilling participant in the third caution of the race on lap 43 when #2-Ku. Busch suddenly twitched to the left and banged doors with him as the two raced down the frontstretch. The contact between the two cars ultimately led to #2-Ku. Busch cutting a left-rear tire and spinning in turn one. He faced yet another setback when, after the first round of green-flag stops near the halfway mark, he was forced to pit again on lap 120 for a loose wheel. He got a lap back as the Lucky Dog under the eighth and final caution after #21-Ambrose hit the wall in turns three and four.
20) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya Started back in 23rd, but quickly got up to the top 10 in the early going, running very high in turn one on lap 26 during his march through the field. He was in the 10th spot on lap 79 and 8th on lap 90.
21) #43-Bobby Labonte Lost a lap at some point, then got it back as the Lucky Dog when #7-R. Gordon brought out the seventh caution with 70 to go.
22) #20-Tony Stewart After running between 11th and 15th for much of the night, he wound up as the last driver on the lead lap.
23) #38-David Gilliland NO NOTES
24) #26-Jamie McMurray Suffered the earliest misfortune in the race when he brought out the first caution of the race on lap 4. It was then that he blew a left-front tire on and was nearly run over by the rest of the field as he wrestled his wounded car down to the inside of the track entering turn one. After grinding on the lower suspension of his car, he returned to pit road once again as the right-front of his splitter was dragging on the track. He got his lap back as the Lucky Dog when the second caution of the race came on lap 19 after the turbulence from the cars caused a caution light to fall onto the track up high in turn one.
25) #66-Scott Riggs NO NOTES
26) #5-Casey Mears NO NOTES
27) #41-Reed Sorenson Announced on the Tuesday before the race he will be joining Gillette-Evernham Motorsports in 2009.
28) #28-Travis Kvapil Coming into the night’s race, he led the Sprint Cup Series in percentage of laps completed in 2008.
29) #22-Dave Blaney By qualifying 8th, he picked up his best Sprint Cup start since his outside-pole start at Talladega in the fall of 2007.
30) #8-Aric Almirola NO NOTES
31) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) After the race, he sat 36th in owner’s points, 18 points away from #7-R. Gordon’s team in 35th.
32) #21-Marcos Ambrose (R) During qualifying on Friday, he bounced off the turn four wall, but still secured the 40th starting spot. He then offered an unintentional encore when he bounced off the wall in turns three and four even harder with 33 to go to bring out the eighth and final caution of the night.
33) #55-Michael Waltrip Led 1 lap.
34) #19-Elliott Sadler Suffered some minor damage sometime during the fourth caution on lap 69 brought out by #78-Nemechek and, as a result, was forced to make an extra pit stop under that caution.
35) #00-Mike Skinner The climb into the top 35 continues; the team now sits 37th in points, 55 behind #7-R. Gordon in 35th.
36) #01-Regan Smith (R) NO NOTES
37) #15-Paul Menard NO NOTES
38) #45-Kyle Petty NO NOTES
39) #2-Kurt Busch Brought out the third caution of the race on lap 43 when, after accidentally banging doors with #1-Truex, Jr. on the frontstretch, he cut a left-rear tire and spun when the cap (or outer part) of the tire came off. The cap then hit the left-front fender of teammate #12-Newman, who was trying to get by down low. Unfortunately, he also lost a lot of time getting back to pit road as the car handled very poorly as a result.
40) #7-Robby Gordon Brought out the seventh caution of the race with 70 to go when he spun up high in turn four and slid straight down to the grass, digging up a huge clod of dirt with his splitter, but fortunately not causing more damage than a couple broken brackets. The run slid him back to the perilous 35th spot in owner’s points.
41) #96-Ken Schrader NO NOTES
42) #08-Johnny Sauter His team, E&M Motorsports, finally made its first Sprint Cup start of 2008 after 10 DNQ’s, bumping #70-Raines out of the field during knockout qualifying. Adjusting to race setup, he lost a lap early, but got the Lucky Dog when #78-Nemechek brought out the fourth caution on lap 69. Dropped out after completing 161 laps with overheating problems.
43) #78-Joe Nemechek Brought out the fourth caution on lap 69 when he twitched coming off turn two and slammed the outside wall very hard with the right side of his car. Fortunately, he walked away okay.
DID NOT QUALIFY: