(Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images for NASCAR)
At tracks like Watkins Glen International, it sometimes pays to slow down. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards pushed their cars beyond the speeds they could handle in the final laps of the race, giving Tony Stewart room to take the win with a 2.46 lead over his teammate Denny Hamlin.
Gordon might have led 51 of the 90 laps during the race, but with just two laps to go he watched his chance of winning slip out from under him. Gordon was going too fast into Turn 1, and his heavy breaking caused his car to wheel hop and spin. While he quickly got back on the track and recovered with a ninth place finish.
“I just overdrove the corner,” Gordon said. “I pushed, and I pushed too far. What happened is the team deserved to win and the driver didn’t get it done.”
“I saw Jeff lose it just like I lost it,” Stewart added, referring to his own Turn 1 wheel-hop and spin earlier in the race. “I had to keep fighting back. Jeff has won four championships and 79 races. He’s the last guy you expect to have a problem like that.”
After Gordon’s spin, Stewart took the lead with Edwards right on his tail. The battle continued with the two zipping through the turns like their lives depended on it. With just two turns to go on the final lap, Edwards’ car slid right on past Turn 10 and into the rock pit, instead of turning. Instead the car sinking, which is the safety purpose of the rock pit, Edwards catapulted his car back onto the track like a sling shot with a madness to score an eighth place finish.
“I just figured, ‘the heck with it, I’ve got one more braking zone before the end of this race,’ and I just went in a little deeper than I had and wheel-hopped it,” Edwards said.
Whether it was wheel-hopping alone, or he also got a little loose from debris left after a Turn 10 spin from two laps before, Edwards didn’t let loosing a chance at a win and falling back in final race position get him down.
“Lucky I practiced going through there in practice, you know-I went through that same gravel trap,” Edwards jokingly added. “I knew I wouldn’t lose too many spots if I did mess up, and we ended up eighth, which my guys deserve better than that, but still, a fun day and I just didn’t want to finish second.”
Jimmie Johnson laid down his second consecutive top five finish, coming in third, followed by Ron Fellows and Robbie Gordon. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Carl Edward, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.
At the start of the race the field began the race position shuffle, with stronger cars and smooth drivers moving to the front and the rest noting adjustments needed to stay competitive. On Lap 11 the shuffle was interrupted by the first caution when Ryan Newman and David Ragan slid into the gravel pit at Turn 10. The caution was a blessing for the teams already needing to make adjustments.
The second caution came out after Brian Vickers met the same gravely fate on Lap 22. On Lap 39 Edwards got into Kyle Busch, causing him to spin and bringing out the third caution. While it wasn’t worthy of a caution, Tony Stewart lost the race lead on Lap 45 after wheel-hopping and spinning in Turn 1.
The fourth caution flew on Lap 52 when Reed Sorenson couldn’t get his car fired after a spin, while elsewhere on the track Johnson spun after getting a tap from Juan Pablo Montoya. Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out the fifth caution on Lap 63. At the same time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew his engine and ending his day.
The sixth caution flew on Lap 68 with a cloud of turmoil from one end of the track to the other. Kyle Petty blew an engine, as well as flames out the sides and back of his car. Paul Menard spun in front of Matt Kenseth, with both cars receiving damage. On another part of the track Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart were racing so hard for position that all three managed to leave the track and get into the grass in the S curves at one point or another.
No caution in this race will be rememberd like the seventh. As the front of the field was getting into Turn 1, Truex Jr. got into the back of Montoya, which sent him spinning wide and into Kevin Harvick. Unable to avoid the still-spinning car, Harvick’s teammate Jeff Burton slammed into the side of Montoya. There were no injuries, but tempers certainly flaired.
Harvick climed out of his car and quickly approaced Montoya, who was still standing at the side of his own car. As Montoya started to explain what happened, Harvick got up in Montoya’s face, prompting him to try and shove him away. The two went back and forth, grabbing one another’s helmets, shoving one another until Bowyer and some race officials split the pair up before a full-blown fight could erupt.
Because of the heavy amount of oil and debris, the race was red flagged for clean-up. After the red flag and some quick repairs in the garage, Harvick was able to return to the track, but Montoya’s and Burton’s days were over.
The dreaded Turn 10 brought out the eight and final caution whan P.J. Jones slid into the gravel pit on Lap 81. One lap later David Ragan met the same fate but was able to drive out without a caution. However, digging his way out of the pit heavily littered the turn with gravel throw from his spinning tires. Ironically, it might have contributed to his teammate Edwards sliding off the track in the same spot on the final lap.