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Late-race caution wrecks three drivers' chances

July 15, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Late-race caution wrecks three drivers' chances

LOUDON, N.H. -- Caution flags always seem to create chaos, and Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 was no exception. A late-race caution for David Reutimann's smoking car wound up adversely affecting every car running in the top three before that moment.

Second-place Jimmie Johnson and third-place Kyle Busch just had pitted under green on Lap 232, two laps before Reutimann's engine gave out. Reutimann quickly turned his No. 10 Chevrolet down out of the racing groove and toward the garage, but NASCAR officials felt there might have been enough fluids dropped on the track to warrant an inspection.

"[Kyle Busch] had every right to get frustrated at the car, and he never did. He did a great job of keeping his emotions in check and driving with the talent he has."

--DAVE ROGERS

Video: Ill-timed caution hampers Busch, Johnson

The unfortunate timing of the yellow flag put Johnson and Busch a lap down, although Johnson received the Lucky Dog and Busch took the wave around. But losing that much track position eventually doomed both drivers' chances.

Johnson worked his way back to seventh by race's end and then attempted to keep a stiff -- and closed -- upper lip when asked his feelings.

"I'm going to keep my mouth shut on that caution," Johnson said. "Anyway, we had a great race car, a lot of speed in the car. It was the Gibbs cars and the Hendrick cars. And at times, I was the best Hendrick car running in the top three.

"Then [came] that caution. I was mired back in traffic, and we still got back there decent, but I'm just going to be quiet."

Busch had battled back from two gaffes on pit road. On his first stop, he was dinged for a speeding violation. Later, he slid through his pit stall and had to be pushed back, losing several seconds in the process.

Video: Busch suffers double whammy on pit road

Still, Busch made up considerable ground when crew chief Dave Rogers elected to gamble by keeping him on the track following a caution for debris on Lap 189.

Rogers elected to pit on the same lap as Johnson, knowing Busch could then make it to the finish. But Reutimann's blown engine blew that strategy to bits.

"When you play catch up, you often gamble," Rogers said. "So we took a gamble there. It seemed to work out initially, where we stayed out. Then we pitted and the yellow came out, and that pretty much ended our day."

It was probably the best stop all day for the No. 18 Toyota but was all for naught. Stuck in traffic, Busch never was able to fight back, winding up 16th.

"We had a good pit stop and made the right adjustments there at the end so that it could be ever better than a top three," Rogers said. "When the caution came out, it just ended it for us.

"... [Kyle] had every right to get frustrated at the car, and he never did. He did a great job of keeping his emotions in check and driving with the talent he has -- it just didn't pay off today."

Reutimann's engine also led to the fateful radio conversation between Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb that led to a four-tire stop when the rest of the leaders took two tires, placing Hamlin deep in the field. He rallied to finish second but lamented giving up precious track position.

Related: Dominant Hamlin grins and bears second place

"I think the [new] tires helped us 50 percent and I think the other 50 percent was us making up all that ground [because] our car was just that fast. Between those two, that's where we made up all that ground."