The Hot Pass: Phantom cautions have drivers livid
Kasey Kahne knows what it's like to be collateral damage.
Kahne was poised for his third consecutive top-10 finish on Sunday when NASCAR called a caution for debris on Lap 234 of 250 in the Pepsi 500.
Kahne, who was seventh at the time, never saw the debris. Instead, what he saw a few laps later was Kurt Busch bouncing off the wall and into his No. 9 Dodge on the restart, which caused a chain reaction with Greg Biffle.
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In one fell swoop, three Chase for the Sprint Cup participants were bouncing like pinballs on the frontstretch with Kahne and Biffle sliding through the grass. While Busch was able to continue, Kahne and Biffle made several stops for repairs before continuing in the race before restarting 23rd and 26th, respectively.
But as is often the case in NASCAR, cautions breed cautions.
That was the case when the fifth caution erupted on the restart as Denny Hamlin tried to block Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 190. Luckily, Hamlin just took out himself and not the whole pack of cars.
The debris caution on Lap 236 not only triggered the Lap 239 wreck between Kahne, Biffle and Busch, it consequently ignited an eight-car melee on Lap 245 that collected the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge and all three of his Richard Petty Motorsports teammates.
"We worked hard all day, got ourselves in a good position," said Kahne, who was scored 34th and fell to 11th in the point standings. "I think it was going to be a good points day, and NASCAR threw a debris caution for no debris, which caused Kurt Busch to hit the wall, which caused me to go to the grass, and Greg Biffle, and from there that caused the whole next wreck on the frontstrectch.
Hear about all the crashes at Auto Club Speedway this weekend? Check out the best images of the action here.
"It's disappointing that we had a bad race to get a caution to put a show on for the fans. That's a good part of this sport. We have to keep the fans excited, but sometimes it ruins people's days and today, it was our day. Maybe next time it won't be."
Kahne won't have a choice if NASCAR continues to race at Auto Club Speedway.
The lack of racing at the two-mile track continually forces the sanctioning body to call debris cautions simply to close the gap between the leader and the field — On Sunday, that gap grew as large as seven seconds.
It's a venue so consistently dull that even track president Gillian Zucker felt compelled to hold a press briefing in the middle of the race to apologize for the lack of fan attendance.
Maybe she thought the media had nothing better to do. The fans obviously agree.
Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson entered Sunday's Pepsi 500 with three wins each — but Johnson broke the tie with his fourth win at Auto Club Speedway and assumed the point lead over Mark Martin by 12 points.
It was Johnson's 45th career victory overall, which averages out to a win in every 6.3 races since his 2001 Cup debut.
Kyle Busch avoided controversy on Sunday.
Battling the flu, Busch didn't race enough laps to get into trouble. After starting the race in the rear because of an engine change, and racing all the way up to 17th, he gave way to David Gilliland during the first caution on Lap 61.
"The car was decent, so I'm real proud of the effort by these guys," Busch said. "I appreciate them sticking behind me. I'm sorry I had to get out.
"I'm not feeling well. I was coughing real bad out there. Maybe now, I'll go lay down and get some fluids or something and try to get better. We've been fighting it for several days."
Gilliland salvaged a 24th-place finish.