By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
With the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup kicking off this weekend at Chicago, the time has come to take a look back at a race from the past for this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater.” This week, we’ll go back to 2009, when Chicago was a mid-summer night race instead of the first race of the Chase and the wild finish of the Lifelock.com 400.
Red Bull Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Scott Speed would lead the field to green under the lights for the 267 lap event, with Vickers getting the jump at the start before Jimmie Johnson moved from third to the race lead at lap 10.
Though Johnson looked strong out front, it was his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Mark Martin, who would be the star of the show as he took over the lead under caution at lap 42 and proceeded to show everyone that the old man still had it. Martin would lead 179 of the next 182 laps before the fourth caution of the day flew at lap 220 for a spin involving Sam Hornish, Jr.
On the ensuing restart, Johnson would power past Martin to reassume the lead for the next 27 laps, which would include two more cautions at lap 228 for a multi-car crash that included Speed, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, and Jeff Burton, as well as a debris caution on lap 247. Under the lap 247 caution, the field made their way down pit road for service before lining up for the restart, where things would really get interesting.
Johnson and Vickers led the field back to green with 17 laps to go, with Denny Hamlin lined up behind Johnson and Martin behind Vickers for the restart. When the green flag flew, Hamlin pushed Johnson into Turn 1, causing Johnson to wash up the track and allowing Hamlin and Vickers to pass him three wide for the race lead. As a result, Johnson dropped back from the lead as he saw his chances for victory slip away. Vickers would lead the next lap before sliding up into Hamlin in Turns 1 and 2 and giving Martin the path he needed to drive right past both of them back into the lead.
While Martin was setting sail in the lead, Johnson and Kurt Busch were having a tussle of their own behind the leaders as the two bounced off of each other a handful of times, giving Busch a tire rub on his No. 2 car. Needless to say, there was no love lost between the two post-race.
Though the win looked well in hand for Martin in the closing laps as he was pulling away from the rest of the field, the final caution of the night flew with just seven laps to go after Kyle Busch blew an engine and put fluid down on the track, setting up a restart for all the marbles with three laps to go.
On the final restart, Martin, who had been the strongest car throughout the night was just too fast for the rest of the field as he easily went on to win the race, which was his fourth win of the 2009 season. Following Martin to the line was Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin to round out the top-five.
“That was fun. That’s what life’s all about right there. These guys deserved to win. We could have parked the car yesterday with an hour left in practice. I knew it was awesome. The best car doesn’t usually win. The double file restarts are to mess the best car up so he doesn’t win to make it good for the fans and it did, but luckily we pulled it off anyway,” said Martin.
While Martin was celebrating his win, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch had some words for each other after their late race contact. Johnson would finish the race in eighth, while Busch finished 17th.
“I felt like we had a good eighth to 12th place car, that’s where our car has been running, just needed to work on it to get it better. The 48, we got run into at Sonoma, and we got run into again. I’m starting to lose faith in his ability to be a three-time champion on the track. I’m disappointed. I gave him room and we got pounded into the fence and had a left-rear tire rub. Luckily, we got a yellow and got it fixed and finished 17th. Couple of runs that were spoiled by the 48 car, so I’m not digging it,” said Busch.
“I don’t even know. I think the 24 got inside of me and got me loose because he was on new tires and the 2 and I touched and he body slammed me after that. That was the least of my problems, the bigger problem was when I was leading and the 11 pushed me all the way through (Turns) 1 and 2 and eventually, I lost control of the car and that’s what put me back there. Just hard racing, it was one of those days I thought we had this thing won at one point and then that restart didn’t work out so well for us. Everybody was out of control back in there, racing and body slamming. The 83 and 11 went at it for a little bit. We were bump drafting down the straightaways. That was some wild racing. I didn’t think we could race like that on a mile and a half,” said Johnson.