Jimmie Johnson Wins Gatorade Duel Race 1
Jimmie Johnson took a very loose backup car to a photo finish win in the opening Gatorade Duel.
The first of the two Gatorade Duel races that determine the final grid for the Daytona 500 on Sunday was played fairly safe by all. With a mound of wrecked cars in practice yesterday, and even Jimmie Johnson having to take a grid penalty for going to a backup car, it looked like fairly conservative and clean racing today.
We saw three wide racing for the majority of the opening laps, with a long middle row, commonly called the "sucker hole" which seemed to be just that. Michael Waltrip was stuck in there with Denny Hamlin and a few others that just seemed to hold station while Mark Martin led the pack with no earnest challenges from anyone.
As the field spread out just a bit, the order reduced to the more traditional high-low side racing lines.
The go-or-go-home drivers, Waltrip seemed to have the task in hand in the middle of the running order as he led that sub-group, followed by Bill Elliott and Max Papis. Only two of the 6 would make the race.
AJ Allmendinger had a very solid race, though complained about the handling of the car, complaining about bottoming down low. He ran a strong third for most of the race, behind Kyle Busch and Mark Martin. He seemed to have the most consistent car though.
Jeff Burton blew a tire on lap 25, bringing out the caution flag, but without much worry as he is locked into the race.
Everyone except John Andretti seemed to like the timing of the yellow and dropped into the pits for a full set of tires and fuel when pit lane opened a few laps later.
Kyle Bush beat Mark Martin off pit road, with Allmendinger over shooting his pit, nearly running over one of his crew members and falling from third to 18th, but quickly working his way back into the top 10 within a few laps.
On the double file restart, Martin retook the lead momentarily before Kyle Busch pulled Jeff Gordon with him to the front on the high line. Busch took to the low line to take position in front of Martin while Gordon decided to motor on past on the high line, which seemed to be the fast way around.
The yellow flew again on lap 32 when Terry Cook took a tap our of 17th position, from Max Papis and went sliding into the infield grass. Papis was not unscathed however, taking minor damage to the left front corner. About half the driver ducked onto pit road again taking tires and fuel.
On the restart, the front two were Biffle and Gordon, with Gordon taking the point.
The most exciting part of the race was the jockeying between the go-or-go-homers in the second half of the race, nearly every one of the drivers moving into the final spot behind Waltrip. Then Sorenson and Bodine suddenly drove past Waltrip, before Waltrip went back by again.
Gordon's car suddenly went loose dropping back to 8th in matter of two laps.
As the race ran on, you could feel the tension starting to build for the last few laps, as if everyone was just waiting for it.
With 15 laps to go, it was Biffle Ragan and Harvick, with Kyle Busch lurking as usual, looking for his opportunity.
With 8 laps remaining, Busch made a move for the lead, again on the high line and Biffle slotted in behind.
The yellow came out with 7 to go and Waltrip into the wall after slowing up and getting tagged from behind by Regan Smith and Jeff Gordon, ending his hopes to make the field. It appeared as if there might have been another tire failure, as Waltrip was running really well and suddenly slowed coming off the turn.
Max Papis stayed out when everyone else pitted, moving him up into the other qualifying spot with Reed Sorenson ahead of him, and starting third in line in the restart.
With one lap to go, Jimmie Johnson, who stayed on track in the previous caution, took the lead, with Busch right behind. Martin slowed on the apron and we suspect he was letting everyone go to avoid a melee.
Harvick took a push from Bowyer to take the lead momentarily, with Johnson holding it on the low side and just inching past for the win at the flag.
After a race-long scrum, McDowell and Papis made their way into the field for Sunday's race.
And of course Max Papis cried.
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