Sunday, October 18, 2009

Johnson Jives around Gordon to win NASCAR Banking 500

Running for the final time as Lowes Motor Speedway (the track is likely to retake the old Charlotte Motor Speedway for 2010), the NASCAR Sprint Cup series NASCAR Banking 500 mile race started under the stars of North Carolina Saturday night. The midway point of the NASCAR's 2009 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, the newly-planted point leader Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Chevrolet qualified on pole at a blistering fast average pace of 192.376 mph another the 1.5 mile oval. With teammate and 2009 title challenger Mark Martin placing his #5 Pop Tarts Chevy on the front row, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth were both hungry enough to snack on the Hendrick Motorsports gang.

On the start of the NASCAR Banking 500, Mark Martin leapfrogged Johnson's pole sitting machine in order to gain 5 bonus points for leading a lap. Caution came out early on lap 3 and lap 9 for misadventures of Sam Hornish Jr's #77 Mobil 1 Dodge. Originating from a minimum damage spin out from his front splitter tagging the race track out of turn 2, Hornish looped around a second time out of four, skidding down the pit entrance road.

With Jimmie Johnson back in the lead, a brief rain sprinkle kissed the Lowes Motor Speedway just enough to require a caution on lap 34. As brief precipitation dwindled under the yellow flag, leaders used the caution to period to make pit stops. Beating Johnson's Lowes #48 Chevy, Matt Kenseth and his Roush/Fenway Racing team gambled with a two tire stop.

When the green flag fell again, this plan allowed the #17 Ford to lead for 10 laps under race pace until the #48 juggernaut gained the edge to retake first spot. No longer dominating the field, the #11 Fedex Toyota of Denny Hamlin hunted down Jimmie Johnson's Chevy and snatched the lead on lap 71. As cars circulated around the 1.5 mile oval, green flag pit stops resulted in Hamlin retaining the lead with Matt Kenseth second and the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch comprising the front three at lap 100. On lap 119, third place Kyle Busch looped his Toyota in turn 4 bringing out the fourth caution of the NASCAR Banking 500. As cars again entered pit lane for service, three teams took lessons from Kenseth's two-tire stop on lap 35 as Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, and Ryan Newman moved ahead of Denny Hamlin.

As the race resume under green, lap 126 provided an event significant to the championship chase as contact resulted between the Chevrolets of Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Moytona. Both cars sustained damage but continued. On the same lap, a tough year for Dale Earnhardt Jr continued for 2009 as his #88 AMP Chevrolet Impala suffered transmission problems before halfway point. While Hendrick Motorsport's #88 AMP Chevrolet crew succeeded in repairing the transmission anomaly, Earnhardt returned 29 laps down on the leader. Falling only one lap after the problems, there should be some comfort that this is yet another #88 Chevy result which didn't equate to their run.

Gordon led as Montoya's Chevy exhibited that the contact with Martin did more damage than originally thought. As the right front tire of his #42 car wore out from contact, Juan Pablo Montoya fought unsuccessfully to stay out under crew chief orders. Montoya spun on lap 163 falling two laps down by the time caution was thrown.

Following pit stops, Denny Hamlin resumed leading the event by beating Gordon back onto the track. Jeff Gordon retook the lead 3 laps after the green flew. Shortly after on lap 192, Denny Hamlin entered pit road on an unscheduled pit stop. The #11 Toyota's engine was souring due to a broken valve effectively wiping out the early race success.

Matt Kenseth led 33 laps through what would be a 102 lap green flag period. Taking command of the race lead at 223, Kasey Kahne's #9 Dodge Charger led almost 80 laps as he broke out to a 6.5 second lead by lap 280. Using the Dodge R6 engine in the #9 Budweiser for the first time since the New Hampshire race, Kahne and the Richard Petty Motorsports team was the class of the field during the long green flag run. Relinquishing the top position for a pit stop, a fading primary ignition of the #9 Dodge received quick attention from Kahne, switching to a backup system.

The green run at Lowes Motor Speedway was ended on lap 290 when the Geico Toyota of Max Papis suffered an engine failure. Under the aid of the caution and a pit road spot garnered through his pit selection, Jimmie Johnson inched Kasey Kahne to the line on pit road. Holding the lead through most of the final laps, a final caution for a spinning Greg Biffle provided one last attempt for the #48 Chevy to go challenged. Jeff Gordon, having bypassed Kahne on a restart before, never relented on his teammate on the double file restart and would capture the lead on lap 319. This triumph for the #24 Chevy(done up in a Transformers paint scheme depicting Megaton) as Johnson powered by two laps later on the speedway's front stretch.

As Gordon faded to eventually finishing fourth, Johnson motored through 13 laps to win the NASCAR Banking 500 as Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne followed distantly for second and third. A multitude of drivers also secured impressive top 10 runs including Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, and Martin Truex Jr.

Securing his third win in five of the Chase races, Jimmie Johnson holds a 90 point lead in the Sprint Cup standings and is well on course to do the impossible feat of four straight Sprint Cup championships. Several rivals including Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Carl Edwards had rotten finishes after the 500 mile distance.

2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup
NASCAR Banking 500 at Lowes Motor Speedway

1. Jimmie Johnson #48 Chevrolet (C)
2. Matt Kenseth #17 Ford
3. Kasey Kahne #9 Dodge (C)
4. Jeff Gordon #24 Chevrolet (C)
5. Joey Logano #20 Toyota
6. Clint Bowyer #33 Chevrolet
7. Casey Mears #07 Chevrolet
8. Kyle Busch #18 Toyota
9. Martin Truex Jr. #1 Chevrolet
10. Kurt Busch #2 Dodge (C)

11. Ryan Newman #39 Chevrolet (C)
13. Tony Stewart #14 Chevrolet (C)
17. Mark Martin #5 Chevrolet (C)
34. Brian Vickers #83 Toyota (C)
35. Juan Pablo Montoya #42 Chevrolet (C)
38. Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88 Chevrolet
39. Carl Edwards #99 Ford (C)
42. Denny Hamlin #11 (C)

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