Kurt Busch wins but Carl Edwards' actions are the story of the day
Fortunately for Jimmie Johnson fans (and unfortunately for everyone else) he started moving through the field and reported to Chad Knaus that his car was gooooood. Dale Jr's car was reportedly tight, having been set up for the bright sunshine of yesterday's practice. Lap 14 and Kasey blew by Kyle like he was standing still. Juan Pablo Montoya soon followed, even while Clint Bowyer pitted for a flat tire.
As the race settled in for the inevitable mid race run, there were incidents involving Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, another with Clint Bowyer hitting the wall, and another with David Ragan.
Tony Stewart, who had started from the back due to an engine change, had moved steadily through the field and with the race approaching a third of the way done, had moved into the top 10.
The elder Busch brother, Kurt, had taken over the lead with only Juan Pablo Montoya close to giving him any kind of a challenge when pole sitter, Dale Earnhardt Jr felt like he had a loose wheel and pitted for four fresh tires. Only a lap after he pitted, his teammate Mark Martin lost his right rear tire, but managed to save the car. Dale Jr got back on the lead lap by virtue of the "wave around" and the field went back to green, again with Kurt Busch showing his strength. Other cars showing strength at this point in the race were AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann and, of course, Jimmie Johnson.
The sixth caution of the day flew when Joey Logano cut down a right front tire. As often happens, the explosion of the tire as Joey continued around the track to get to pit road caused a ton of damage. One had to wonder if the "loosening" of the penalties for reacting and showing emotion would include the drivers showing disdain or disappointment in the tires. Being as Atlanta is such an abrasive track, the tires disintegrate as they run around the track, however, with seven drivers having tire issues before the middle of the race, one had to wonder what the post race interviews would bring.
Jeff Gordon was another of the cars with tire issues and with the restart near the halfway mark, he was back in 32nd position, battling his teammate, Earhnhardt Jr.
Denny Hamlin had taken the lead off the restart, but Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth were all so strong that any one of them looked like they could take the lead at any time. Montoya, however, made a kind of sling shot move to take second from Kurt Busch, then pulled a similar move to take the lead. Kasey followed Montoya to take second and only a couple of laps later, moved into the top spot.
The one driver who could be counted on to say what he thinks about the tires is Tony Stewart. When he dropped off the track while running in 6th place, thinking he had a left tire issue, we knew in our guts that someone would definitely be voicing his opinion. To his credit, Tony took some of the responsibility, but Larry McReynolds opined that the tire problems seemed to be unique to the Hendrick Motor Sports cars, with which Tony is affiliated. Jimmie Johnson also reported vibrated issues, but elected not to pit.
As the cars made green flags stops and cycled through with 112 laps to go, Bill Elliott moved into the top 2, giving the announcers the opportunity to highlight he and some of his incredible finishes at Atlanta. Jeff Burton also moved into the lead to grab 5 bonus points, but lost his momentum when caught speeding on pit road.
The 7th caution, for debris on the track allowed the drivers to get on the same pitting sequence. The same cars who were dominant all day, however, continued to be dominant. The one addition to the top five with less than 50 laps to go was Brad Keselowski. Brad had made contact with Carl very early in the race, and subsequently got into the wall, but it hadn't seemed to bother his car at all. He had joined his teammate, Kurt Busch in the top 5. Unfortunately, Kasey Kahne remained strong, showing no sign of any weakness.
Denny Hamlin blew a tire with less than 40 laps remaining, bringing out the 8th caution of the day, and when they went back to green, Elliott Sadler and Max Papis hit the wall when Elliott got hit from behind. The caution put Mark Martin back on the lead lap.
The 48 crew had found some inner wall tire wear on the right front tire and brought Jimmie back down pit road to check it out. He'd gotten into Ryan Newman a few laps earlier resulting in some right front damage.
With 27 laps to go, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were fighting for top spot as they took the green flag. Kurt won the spot, but Matt had said earlier that his car needed the long green flag run to come to him. JPM settled into third, followed by Kasey and Brad. Remember when I said AJ Allmendinger had been flirting with the top ten earlier in the race? Well, he was running in 6th position at this point in the race.
Further back, in the teens, the dicing between cars intensified, with Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and both of the TRG cars, Brian Vickers and Scott Speed involved. Harvick moved ahead, hovering just outside the top ten, in 11th.
With ten to go, Kurt was still in the lead, but Montoya was lessening the difference slightly, all while Kasey was lessening the difference on him. Martin Truex Jr was also up flirting with the top ten for Michael Waltrip Racing.
JPM was making incredible gains on Kurt Busch when suddenly Carl Edwards, perhaps in retaliation for the earlier contact today, or perhaps for the contact last year in Talladega, Carl's hands appear to make a deliberate turn towards Brad. The replay done is slow motion clearly shows the move by Edwards and Brad takes the kind of scary ride no fan ever wants to see any driver take. Brad climbs from the car, but clearly looks dazed when waiting to make his way to the ambulance.
*with apologies for the quality of the video
Carl Edwards was ordered to park the car and make his way to the NASCAR hauler. At the time of the wreck he was 156 laps down and had no reason to be racing with a car running in 6th place. My sincere hope is that Carl will be parked for an additional race.
The restart had some cars who hadn't pitted. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get started as quickly as the cars who had been dominant all day and the resulting wreck disabled many of the front runners, including Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, and David Gilliland.
Pit stops ensued, in order for drivers to make sure they had not picked up debris on the track from the wrecking cars, and they made the second attempt to finish the race. This time, even though there were some problems getting restarted, Kurt Busch led them all the way to the checkers, taking the win for Penske Racing. Once again, he did his backwards victory lap.
While congratulations are certainly in order for Kurt, for me the story this year has been the number of non dominant drivers from last year finding success this year. The Atlanta race saw Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger, Scott Speed and Marcos Ambrose all finishing in the top 15. And speaking of top 15, although it wasn't a dominating finish for Jr., he did manage 15th after being two laps down. Further, Kevin Harvick remains the points leader with his 9th place finish, staying ahead of Jimmie Johnson who finished 12th.
And of course, we will all be watching and listening on Tuesday when NASCAR announces penalties for the week. Surely Carl Edwards will be seeing additional penalties, beside being parked with 4 laps remaining in the race. In this case, the video camera evidence, showing his hands deliberately turning his car into Keselowski should be evidence enough that the man is a danger to himself and others on the track. I only thank NASCAR for their safety efforts that prevented any injuries to either the drivers involved or the fans in the stands.