On Friday Jamie Allison, Ford’s director of North American racing, offered a $100,000 incentive to the team of any Ford driver who could win a race in The Chase and just over forty-eight hours later Greg Biffle in the Roush Fenway Racing run #16 Sherwin Williams/3M Ford was first to the checkered flag – and the bonus money.
The race was one of Ford’s best for some time with five cars finishing in the top ten with Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and an impressive Paul Menard finishing in sixth to eighth places and A J Allmendinger taking tenth. Chevrolet shut out the rest of the top ten, Jimmie Johnson finishing second to take the lead in the championship, followed home by Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon taking third to fifth plus Ryan Newman bringing the #39 US Army Chevrolet to ninth place.
Biffle took the lead on lap 207 and apart from losing it for one lap when he pitted under green on lap 237 held the lead through to the end stretching it out to over seven seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson who fought his way past Tony Stewart as the Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet started getting loose. Johnson had started with a car which appeared to be anything but a top ten car but his crew persistently made alterations at each stop and were rewarded as JJ fought his way to the front of the field.
Johnson and Hamlin swapped places at the top of the championship table with Johnson now just eight points ahead. Other drivers to gain were Kevin Harvick who climbed two spots back to the third place he held when The Chase started, Carl Edwards, another one to climb two places, to fourth and biggest climber of all, Jeff Gordon,up three places to fifth, the place he finished in the race from his pole position start.
The biggest talking point during the race caused the biggest points drop for a championship contender when Kyle Busch was the victim of deliberate retaliation by David Reutimann and his #00 Aaron’s Toyota. The drama started on lap 52 when Busch’s M&M’s Toyota tapped Reutimann’s car into a spin. He was missed by the rest of the field but lost several laps having the damage repaired. Foolishly everybody thought that was the end of the matter except, it seems, for Reutimann. On lap 154 whilst the two cars ran side-by-side the #00 car clearly ran from the low line up to the high side of the track and straight into the left rear of Busch’s Toyota, sending himself into another spin in the process and causing severe damage to the M&M’s car’s rear suspension.
Kyle Busch radioed in for the car to be taken to the garage to have the rear housing and track arms replaced but his crew chief, Dave Rogers, cautioned him to make frequent short stops for light repairs, believing it was important to not lose any more places, and therefore points, than absolutely necessary. Busch’s crew worked magnificently at each stop and quickly gave Kyle a car which was usable, running about 0.3 seconds per lap slower than prior to the contact with the #00 car.
Busch being Busch he voiced his displeasure on the radio saying if NASCAR didn’t do anything about the retaliation he would ask for a meeting. But, in a sign that he is getting to grips with his temperament and sometimes fragile psyche, by the end of the race he was able to say that he was resigned to accepting he couldn’t change what had happened and would live with the disappointment that a non Chase driver could deliberately spoil the championship chances of a Chase driver. His frustration was understandable – at the time Reutimann retaliated Busch was in a points leading position, instead he dropped four places and is now eighty points behind Johnson.
The saga opens up a whole can of worms about when retaliation and NASCAR’s “let them at it” approach is acceptable and appropriate but it is hard to conceive that the rules or standards could be changed this late in the season.
Special mention should be made of Mark Martin in the #07 GoDaddy Chevrolet who was forced for the second race in succession to start from the rear, this time because a failed fuel pump necessitated an engine change. Yet again Martin fought hard and finished the day in an impressive 14th place.
And a little addendum to RCR’s ongoing appeal against NASCAR’s penalties imposed after Loudon, would anyone like to guess which car was taken back to the R&D centre along with the winning car? Yup – for the fourth race in a row they took the #33 Cheerios Chevrolet for a full specification check.