The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend was at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the fastest track on the circuit. This race last year was all about the tires, as in how bad they were. Goodyear brought a tire to the race that was a hard compound, harder than what drivers tested with, and what it produced was teams sliding around the track, and hanging on for each lap. After the race, drivers were very critical of the tire brought to the track and wanted change. The teams got a softer tire for the fall race, and this year got softer tires as well.
Friday qualifying belonged to Mark Martin, as he took the Coors Light pole award from Kurt Busch. Martin was the only driver to eclipse the 187 mph barrier the entire session. This was Martin’s first pole for a race since 2001.
When Sunday rolled around, the drivers and fans were treated to sun-soaked skies and mild temperatures, making a perfect afternoon for racing. Finally, the green flag fell on the Kobalt Tools 500 as Martin led the field across the line, leading the first lap. However, much like last week, an early caution brought a sudden halt to the race, as Reed Sorenson hit the wall in turn 2. In the garage, Sorenson told reporters that the reason for the wreck was not because of a bad tire, but more in the way of suspension.
The green flag flew again on lap 6, but immediately Busch took the lead and began pulling away from the field. Six laps later, the field was slowed again as Bobby Labonte spun coming out of turn 3, sliding through the infield. The early cautions brought out an early opportunity to work on the cars on pit road, as everyone came down for service. After service was finished, it was Ryan Newman winning the race off pit road by electing to take only two tires.
The green flew again on lap 15, and it didn’t take long for Busch to retake the lead, as he moved quickly past Newman one lap later in turn 2. When he took the lead, Busch began pulling away from the field, and quickly. By lap 30, Busch’s lead over second place had expanded by two seconds, and by lap 40 it was nearly six seconds.
Green-flag pit stops began around lap 50, with the leaders hitting pit road every few laps, mainly for new tires and adjustments to loose race cars. But, lap 68 created a bit of a problem as one of the tires that was on pit road got loose and rolled to the infield. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the team that lost it, a crew member ran out to the infield. Because of the concern for safety, NASCAR threw the caution, which gave some problems for the teams who just pitted.
Once all the cars pitted for service, the ones who hadn’t come in for service remained on the lead lap, a total of six cars. Many of the other contenders, such as Martin, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were on the tail end of the lead lap. On the restart on lap 74, Jimmie Johnson was scored the leader, however he was the ninth car in line.
Being bottled up in traffic enabled Carl Edwards to make a move on lap 80 to assume the lead. Edwards led through lap 103 as Busch once again took control of the field shortly before the caution flag flew a fourth time as Labonte once again spun his Ask.com Ford across the front straightaway.
Busch wouldn’t relinquish the lead until lap 189 during the fifth caution flag of the race, but it was only for one lap as he retook the lead following pit stops. At this point, the driver set to challenge Busch for the lead was Gordon, and on lap 206 finally put his National Guard/DuPont Chevrolet out front for the first time. Gordon led through lap 250, as Busch chewed away at as much as a four-second gap to pass Gordon and retake the lead position.
Two quick cautions on laps 260 and 267 jumbled the field again, but Busch still held his lead as new contenders in Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer challenged for the front spot. It looked as if Vickers had a car that could compete with Busch as the laps began waning down, but suddenly the complexion of the race changed as on lap 322, three laps from the finish, Robby Gordon blew a tire in his Jim Beam Toyota in the middle of turn 2. Being so close to the finish, for the first time in the 2009 season, the Sprint Cup Series went to a green-white-checkered format, aptly titled “over-drive,” as the officials will make one attempt to end the race under green-flag conditions.
The lead cars elected to come to pit road and get fresh tires for the final sprint, and Edwards elected to gamble and only take two tires, while Busch, Gordon and Vickers decided to take four. Edwards won the battle off pit road, and led the field to the final green flag of the race on lap 329. But, despite being out front, the two-tire stop bit him as Busch came around in turn two and retook the lead. Heading to the white flag, Gordon then made his way past Edwards and closed up to the rear bumper of Busch on the back straightaway, however on this day, it would be the Miller Lite Dodge of Kurt Busch taking the checkered flag.
After the race, in one of the most unique celebrations for winning, Busch got the checkered flag from the flagman and did his victory lap…in reverse.. As dominant as his car was on that afternoon, leading for 234 of the 330 laps, he could’ve won the race that way. The Sprint Cup Series has next week off before they head to Bristol, Tennessee, for some short track action at Thunder Valley.
RESULTS: 1. Kurt Busch, 2. Jeff Gordon, 3. Carl Edwards, 4. Kevin Harvick, 5. Brian Vickers, 6. Clint Bowyer, 7. Kasey Kahne, 8. Tony Stewart, 9. Jimmie Johnson, 10. Martin Truex Jr.
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr, 12. Matt Kenseth, 14, Jeff Burton, 18. Kyle Busch, 22. Ryan Newman, 31. Mark Martin, 34. Greg Biffle
CAUTIONS: Lap 2-5, 12-15, 67-73, 103-107, 157-161, 185-191, 204-208, 214-221, 260-264, 267-274, 322-328. 11 for 65 laps
LEADERS: Martin: 1-6, Busch: 7-13, Nemachek: 14, Newman: 15-17, Busch: 18-69, Johnson: 70-80, Edwards: 81-102, Truex Jr: 190, Busch: 191-205, Gordon: 206-250, Busch: 251-323, Edwards: 324-328, Busch: 329-330. 13 lead changes among 9 drivers.
POINTS: 1. Gordon: 634 points, 2. Bowyer: -43, 3. Kurt Busch: -46, 4. Edwards: -87, 5. Kenseth: -88, 6. Stewart: -113, 7. Kyle Busch: -120, 8. Harvick: -123, 9. Kahne: -150, 10. Biffle: -154, 11. Vickers: -157, 12. Reutimann: -159