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Race Rewind | What's a road race without road rage?

Looking back at the Toyota/save mart 350

- rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Jun. 26, 2011

OBSERVATIONS

As expected, Infineon Speedway tested the tempers of several drivers on Sunday. Beyond the Tony Stewart-Brian Vickers spat, Juan Pablo Montoya tangled with Kasey Kahne, Brad Keslowski got sideways with Montoya and Bobby Labonte got banged by Michael McDowell.

Asked about his late-race duel with Montoya, Keslowski said, "It was pretty obvious that it was eat or be easten adn I wasn't going to be eaten."

Montoya countered Keslowski.

"He just plain and simple wrecked us," Montoya said. "It's hard when people don't know how to race on road courses and think they do."

Nothing comes easily for Martin Truex at Infineon Speedway. Last year, Truex got caught in the middle of Jeff Gordon's messy day and it ruined his day. On Sunday, Truex found himself in the wrong spot again as he got caught whirling through Turn 11 at the same time A.J. Allmendinger was bumping Denny Hamlin from behind, igniting a spin.

While Hamlin and Allmendinger kept going, Truex wound up spinning around, losing valuable ground. But Truex kept grinding, running in the top five late in the race before settling for an eighth-place finish.

Earnhardt Jr. has an off day

Prior to Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had completed all but eight laps this season. That blew up at Infineon Raceway.

Earnhardt was cruising along in the middle of the pack Sunday when he got caught in the six-car accident on Lap 37, a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The accident punched a hole in Earnhardt's radiator and damaged the engine block, putting him out of the race before it was half over.

"They had a big old mess getting into (turn) 11 and we jumped in there and got a part of it and banged up the nose a bit," Earnhardt said. "It knocked a hole in the radiator and it ended up hurting the engine a little bit ... It has a hole in the side of it so that usually isn't good."

Asked if he had grown to like Infineon Raceway any better, Earnhardt said, "I'm not a big fan of the place but maybe one of these days."

BRIEFLY

LIKE A WIN: Considering how his car was running through much of the race, Jeff Gordon was thrilled to get away with a second-place finish that jumped him to ninth in the points race.

"I don't think we've ever struggled as much as we did today," said Gordon, who has five wins at the road course.

"It was a great effort, way to hang in there by the team. I can't believe we finished second."

Gordon had pitted shortly before the final caution came out and elected to stay out though other teams would have fresher tires. The gamble paid off.

"We made a lot of adjustments," Gordon said. "I didn't think any of those things were making a big difference but we were never in clear air. At the end, it was the furthest forward we had been all day and the adjustments did help."

THE RIGHT MOVE: Carl Edwards wanted to drive in the Nationwide series race Saturday in Wisconsin but a team decision Friday for him to stay in California to take advantage of Saturday practice time paid dividends. Edwards finished third and has a 25-point lead over Kevin Harvick in the points lead.

"It was a huge weekend for us," Edwards said. "We started terrible. We got together and decided for me to stay here and practice. That was the call of the weekend."

CHEERS: John Ratzenberger, better known as Cliff Clavin from "Cheers," was the grand marshal Sunday in part because he's also the voice of Mack the Truck in the new "Cars 2" movie. Ratzenberger said he knows racing but was never a racer himself, except for building a soap box derby-style car with some neighborhood kids growing up in Bridgeport, Ct. They never officially raced the car.

"We were just taking wheels off baby carriages and using clothesline for a steering wheel but we learned a lot about what kind of nails to use, what kind of bolts to use," said Ratzenberger, who continues to work in support of improved vocational education and manufacturing opportunities in the United States.

5 KEY MOMENTS

Lap 13

Kurt Busch gives an indication of the strength of his car, moving from 11th place at the start to take the lead.

Lap 32

Busch makes his first pit stop after building a 20-second lead on the field and staying out longer than every other car.

Lap 37

The first significant accident of the race had cars scattered as they entered the hairpin turn beofre the start-finish line. Six cars were involved -- Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. It started with Stewart running into the back of Vickers, spinning him in traffic.

Lap 87

In what was payback for the incident on Lap 37, Vickers allowed Stewart to pass him entering Turn 11 then rammed him from behind, sending Stewart into the tires at the end of the track. Stewart's car was lodged with its rear end off the ground and damaged, requiring track crews to dislodge him. Vickers, meanwhile, suffered a damaged radiator.

Lap 109

Jeff Gordon went around Carl Edwards in turn 11 to take over second place with one lap remaining. Gordon gradually pulled away from Edwards on the final lap.

NEXT RACE

Coke Zero 400

Where: Daytona International Speedway

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: TNT

Radio: MRN

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