All times Eastern
Gordon gets a great restart, but Busch blocks and then goes around Edwards for the lead.
With Busch leading, Gordon and Edwards go side by side and fall back entering the final lap of overtime.
Gordon breaks away and gives chase to Busch, but doesn't have enough left.
But now there's a bit of question whether Busch will make it on fuel. Probably wishful thinking on the radio from Vickers' crew.
Now, a caution with 321 laps down, four to go.
Kurt Busch is pitting, and Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers are coming with him. Astounding. Just about everybody here thought Busch would stay out -- maybe to become a sitting duck to those who pitted.
Carl Edwards is out of the pits first, because crew chief Bob Osborne called a two-tire stop.
Could there be one of those close Atlanta finishes after all? Vickers is shaving the margin at about one-tenth a lap. Now with 12 laps to go, Busch's lead is less than half a second.
Jeff Gordon is fading in third, more than 3.6 seconds back.
How weird can this race get? The first 14 are on the lead lap, there are no cars one lap down, positions 15 through 18 are two laps down, 19 through 27 are three laps down, and the rest are four laps down or worse.
Proof positive of the old line that cautions breed cautions: On the restart, rookie Scott Speed gets caught up in the craziness and smacks the wall to bring out the 10th caution of the day.
The top five don't pit under this one, probably because their tires are still fresh and their fuel cells are still full.
Getting ready for the next restart, Kurt Busch still leads, followed by Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. Next five are Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., href="http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/driver?seriesId=2&driverId=150">Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Harvick is the only one of the group who pitted to top off his gas under this caution. That could matter later on, when the fuel gets close toward the end.
Restart with 274 down, 51 to go.
The sorely needed debris caution comes out with 259 down, 66 to go.
Brian Vickers has had the fastest car on the track the last few laps, moving up to fourth.
Pitting under caution, Jimmie Johnson is caught speeding on pit road and forced to drop back to the rear of the longer line.
Restart with 264 down, 61 to go.
Tony Stewart is now on the lead lap, in 12th.
Gordon is trying to block, but Busch blasts back in front on Lap 251.
And now, with 70 laps to go, everybody's tires falling off, Busch running in clean air and pulling away, where is a NASCAR debris caution when we need it?
Restart with 221 laps down, 105 to go.
On Lap 234, Busch takes second place away from Johnson and is beginning to reel in Gordon for the lead. He's cutting at the rate of four-tenths of a second a lap by 236, with Gordon's lead down to 3.6.
After 243 laps, Busch isn't closing as fast, but Gordon's lead is down to a little less than two seconds. Busch's tires now have apparently fallen off as badly as Gordon's.
Restart with 209 down.
That's why I'm an advocate of dropping the archaic notion of lapped cars on the inside on restarts. Harvick hasn't gotten his lap back and has caused Gordon to heat up tires, so Harvick might as well have waited for the next lucky dog in the first place.
Gordon is now out in clean air, though, and trying to accumulate a full one-second lead over Kurt Busch.
Gordon has just built a nice lead when Hendrick teammate Mark Martin spins to bring out a caution on the 216th lap. A right-rear tire appears to have blown on Martin's car.
That's all we need: tire failures to go with everything else here today.
The leaders pit under caution. That's pretty easy, considering only 11 cars are on the lead lap. Plenty of room between stalls. The lapped cars now pit, and that's a much more crowded scenario.
Busch's teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., smacks the wall on Lap 204 to bring out a caution.
Tony Stewart is the biggest beneficiary, having passed Kurt Busch to climb back to only one lap down, but being short on fuel. Now Stewart gets to fill up with fuel and return to the track just one lap down, and contend with only four other cars for lucky dog on the next caution to get back onto the lead lap.
Gordon says his car is still loose, but whose isn't today? Most drivers are as sideways as dirt trackers coming off the corners.
Gordon wins a three-abreast race off pit road, with Kurt Busch out second and Mark Martin out third.
Running order for the restart: Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer.
Leave it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to loosen things up with one of his classic radio complaints to crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
While they were pitting, Earnhardt said to the crew via radio, "If my wheel comes off and I hit the wall real hard, I get to whack every damn one of you with a hammer."
Restart with 191 laps down. Kurt Busch still leading. His crew now reports that the car had been getting looser and looser, so he may have scraped the wall on his own, without any liquid on the track. The only damage to his car though, was a scrape on the right-side paint.
With 195 laps down, 130 to go, Busch is still cruising comfortably, nearly two seconds ahead of second-place Jeff Gordon.
In what may be the most dramatic announcement of the day, NASCAR has just named the crewman who ran out into the tri-oval grass to cause the third caution, totally screw up the field and get himself suspended for the day.
Jimmy Watts, gas man on Marcos Ambrose's No. 47 car, was the guy.
And now Ambrose's team may have more impact on the race! Leader Kurt Busch slides up and scrapes the wall, possibly due to oil dripping from Ambrose's car, and brings out a caution on Lap 185.
But, typical of this race, Busch's lead was so big that he could scrape the wall, pit for tires and minor repairs, and still come out in the lead.
On Lap 188 Kasey Kahne gets the lucky dog, and we now have -- are you ready? -- 11 cars on the lead lap! Oh, be still, my drumming heart!
The next five cars are one lap down, positions 16-22 are two laps down, positions 23-34 are three laps down.
At least at Le Mans you can have crepes with Grand Marnier poured over them, and a glass of white wine, when things get to dragging this badly on the racetrack.
But Gordon might make a race of it yet; he's the biggest threat to Busch lately, "only" half a second back with 172 down.
Now Gordon is actually challenging for the lead. They're side by side on the 173rd lap. Busch holds him off to lead Lap 173, but Gordon won't back off.
Busch holds by a nose at the end of 174, and now Gordon is slipping backwards by about 10 car lengths.
With 177 down, Gordon's tires appear to be used up, and Busch's lead is back to more than half a second.
Everybody back to your naps.
Leader Kurt Busch has rebuilt his lead to 1.7 seconds over Carl Edwards with 119 laps down. Previously they were playing an accordion game, with Edwards closing in the corners and Busch pulling back ahead on the straights.
Jimmie Johnson hangs on in third, followed by Clint Bowyer and the suddenly mysterious Jeff Gordon. Although Gordon reportedly is having clutch problems, they must be affecting him only as he pits. He has crept up to fifth place but is a hefty nine seconds behind the leader.
With 125 laps completed, there's little hope of anything better than follow-the-leader today. Kurt Busch's lead is now more than three seconds over Carl Edwards, six over Jimmie Johnson, seven over Clint Bowyer and 10 over Jeff Gordon.
Everybody's tires are falling off quickly, with the exception of Kurt's – or might it be the paint? You know, the environmentally friendly, "waterborne" paint his team is using, rather than oil-based paint?
Might it be lighter?
No, that's absurd. But when you see a race this boring, your mind starts to wander. Maybe I'll get a rumor started. Maybe I'll pass around word that NASCAR is going to inspect Kurt Busch's paint after the race is over.
Nah, on second thought, there are members of this media corps who come up with absurd enough stories on their own, without getting any encouragement.
I'm just glad I have to live blog. Otherwise, it would be almost impossible to fight off sleep.
There are now 15 cars two laps down. Seven are one lap down.
Yessirree, I've definitely seen more excitement before the sun sets at Le Mans.
Now we'll see whether they can get a real race going, or get all strung out again.
NASCAR has announced that the crew member who caused the caution by running after the rolling tire has been suspended from the remainder of today's race.
NASCAR also announced Brian Vickers was caught speeding on the pit road and will start at the back of the longest line.
Restart with 106 laps down. Now, for a change, the leaders at least have clean air in front of them. Kurt Busch jumps out to a .777-second lead over Carl Edwards with 109 down.
With 100 laps down, 225 to go, nine cars are on the lead lap, but three of those are still hanging on near the tail end of the lead lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th, has dropped to a full lap down.
With 84 down, Kurt Busch has moved past Johnson into third.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has moved up another notch from 11th to 10th but is still on the tail end of the lead lap, a whopping 32 seconds behind the leader.
But a whole bunch of drivers on the tail end of the lead lap will restart in front of the leaders.
On a track this slippery, with tires wearing this fast, at speeds this high, it'll be a borderline miracle if they can restart cleanly without causing another caution immediately.
Restart with 73 laps down. Leader Jimmie Johnson is tiptoeing through the middle of the pack. This is a classic example of why many want NASCAR to change the rule about cars starting ahead of the leader.
TV is reporting Jeff Gordon has a clutch problem. He's currently running ninth, at the tail end of the lead lap, 29 seconds behind the leader.
Carl Edwards is third, but it's hard to say he has "moved up." It's more that Mark Martin backed down to fourth. Edwards is 13 seconds behind Busch, Martin is nearly 15 seconds behind and Jeff Gordon is more than 15 seconds behind the leader.
Big news for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans! Bulletin! He's moved up from 12th to 11th, just 22.5 seconds behind.
Everybody's loose. Everybody. Most are sideways through the corners, and these corners take up more of the circumference of the racetrack than at most tracks. So it's a sideways race all around.
Third caution is a lulu! On Lap 67, a crewman for Marcos Ambrose runs out into the tri-oval grass to retrieve a rolling tire. It's an "unapproved area," so NASCAR throws the caution.
Edwards was on the pit road when the caution came out, but crew chief Bob Osborne waved him on through, and Edwards now pits under yellow on Lap 68.
Edwards and Gordon, fourth and fifth, are actually gaining a couple of tenths of a second on the leader on some laps but losing it back on others.
Now the field is really getting strung out on the hot, abrasive track. With 35 laps down, Kurt Busch's lead is now more than four seconds over Denny Hamlin, more than seven seconds over Mark Martin and nearly 12 seconds over Greg Biffle.
The good news for Carl Edwards fans is that he has moved up to fifth. The bad news is that he's nearly 13 seconds behind the leader.
Indeed, Kurt Busch leads Lap 17 in a breeze.
Denny Hamlin moves into second on the 19th lap, but by Lap 24, Busch has extended his lead to nearly a full second.
Reed Sorenson tells TV reporters in the garage that "it went straight into the wall," and that "the speeds are so high here" that even a scrape "really hurts the car." So he doesn't know whether he'll be able to return to the race.
On the second caution with 11 laps complete, Bobby Labonte spins in Turn 3 and says almost immediately to his crew on the radio, "It's soooooo loose!"
There could be much more of this slipping and sliding to come, with the sun beating down on a surface that's so abrasive that the tires fall off quickly. Ambient temperature is listed at only 70 degrees, but out in the sun, it feels much hotter.
Almost all cars pit with 12 laps down to change tires. That's less than 20 miles on these tires.
One lap, then one caution. Reed Sorenson's car no sooner settles onto its bump stops entering Turn 1 than it starts to skid like a sliding brick and skates up into the outside wall, bringing out the first caution on the second lap.
With just minutes before the green flag, I've walked the length of the grandstands from the pit-row side and eyeballed virtually every section, even the smaller, separate stands over in Turn 3.
I estimate that right by the start-finish line, the expensive sections are maybe half full. Back to either side of the flag stand, the expensive seats get more and more empty, with some sections only about 10 percent full.
The end back toward Turn 4 appears more than half full, but the end toward Turn 1 might be 30 percent full, tops.
By my estimate, with all stands taken into account, the average is one-third full. So, sadly, my original estimate of 40,000 this morning holds, at least for the grandstands.
Hard to tell about the infield, but infields always are terribly deceiving. The late track superintendent Alf Knight once told me, "If you can get more than 5,000 people in this infield, I want to see how you do it."
And quite a few more buildings are in the infield now than there were a few decades ago.
Interestingly enough, the Turn 3 stands are most densely populated of all, maybe half full. When AMS was reconfigured in 1997, the old backstretch became the frontstretch, and the massive new grandstands were built there.
And, oops! The only trouble with the new stands is that they all face into the afternoon sun, with a sunset that's virtually blinding. Spectators don't like that.
The Turn 3 stands are already in the shade, facing away from the sun. That's why they're relatively well populated.
When, in '97, I pointed out to AMS president Clark that the new stands were built backward, facing into the sun instead of away from it, he quipped that with the weather they always seem to have here, the days would be cloudy anyway, so it wouldn't matter.
And then they get beautiful days like today. See what I mean when I say this place is star-crossed?
I'll bet you one thing, though: Enormous Lake Lanier, 60 miles to the north, is packed with sailors, motorboaters, water-skiers and jet skiers, to the point that it looks like a traffic jam on water.
That's Atlanta on a day like today.
Just talked again with AMS president Ed Clark, who provided some interesting economic insight into the makeup of today's crowd -- whatever size it may be.
Clark expects that the most expensive seats, up high and near the start-finish line, will be the least populated.
Meanwhile, "the ends will be full," Clark said -- that is, the cheaper seats near the ends of the grandstands and down low.
It's just another sign of the economic times, Clark said. When people buy anything, they buy cheaper items. It's sort of like how Wal-Mart sales are good while Saks Fifth Avenue sales are hurting.
Martin Truex Jr. is feeling much better this morning after passing a kidney stone last night, according to his spokesperson.
Truex began experiencing sporadic pain during final Cup practice Saturday and was taken by ambulance to Spalding Regional Medical Center in Griffin, Ga., Saturday afternoon.
Truex was given fluids, examined and released about 5 p.m. He passed the stone at about 10 p.m. Saturday.
They're green in the sense of the buzz word for environmentally friendly.
Penske Racing and PPG announced this morning that the Penske cars will be "going green" with a new type of waterborne paint, believed to reduce by up to 80 percent the emissions of traditional oil-based paint.
The Busch and Hornish cars will carry the greener blues today, and the entire fleet of Penske cars is scheduled to be using the new paint by the end of this season.
Today's Kobalt Tools 500 is the 100th Cup race run at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I think I've covered something close to 65 of them, and no matter how you dress it up, this is still a star-crossed place.
On a springlike day in metro Atlanta, there'll have to be quite a walk-up crowd to prevent the usual embarrassing, huge gaps in the grandstands here.
Speedway president Ed Clark is optimistic: "It's a beautiful spring weekend in Georgia," he said. "Just about perfect weather for coming out to a race."
I drove from my hotel at the Atlanta airport to the speedway in 29 minutes this morning, a personal record for someone who's been coming here since 1974. Granted, that was at 8 a.m. for a 1:30 p.m. start, but traffic is usually jammed getting into AMS, even on light-crowd race days.
On heavy-crowd days, it can take as long as two to three hours just to negotiate the 14 miles of U.S. 19-41 after you turn off Interstate 75 south of Atlanta. There's a relatively new Georgia Route 20 that takes you into the track, but I doubt that has helped enough to account for the light traffic today.
So you have to wonder just how many will show up. I'm guessing maybe 40,000 in a facility with a seating capacity of 124,000.
I hope to write later that I was badly wrong.
The biggest trouble is that Atlanta is a uniquely difficult ticket sale.
The spotty grandstands here always look bad for NASCAR. People think if you can't sell tickets in Atlanta, the biggest city in NASCAR's cradle Southeast, something systemic must be wrong with NASCAR.
But this is not remotely an indicator.
Atlanta is a very jaded, blasé city whose residents have a lot more to do than to go to a NASCAR race at a track that, on the extreme southern end of the metro area, is a difficult drive from just about anywhere in town or in the affluent northern suburbs.
NASCAR fans in this area often opt to spend their ticket dollars at Talladega, which is 120 miles away but a straight shot in and out on Interstate 20.
When this was called Atlanta International Raceway and I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I used to refer to Talladega as West Atlanta International Raceway.
Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns AMS, has vowed he'll fill up this place for the Labor Day weekend race in September.
I'll believe it when I see it.
But none of this is to say there aren't some wonderful memories around this place, which opened in 1960. Here from day one was the indomitable track superintendent, Alf Knight, a former railroad-switching-yard engineer who'd turned promoter of short tracks in the area.
Once, promoting a dirt-track race in Macon, Ga., Knight had to deal with a big argument among Lee Petty, Buck Baker and others over who deserved what share of the purse. Disgusted, Knight turned the strongbox upside down, dumped the cash on the floor of his office and said, "All right, you sonsabitches just fight over it."
There ensued quite a scramble as the NASCAR pioneers wrestled for dollars, Knight recalled.
In the early '60s, at the crescendo of the civil rights movement, Knight got word that an African-American family he knew and had invited to the race, was surrounded and being threatened by a group of white toughs in the infield.
Knight took off marching into the infield. Along the way, he tore a huge pine root out of the ground with his bare hands to use as a club.
When Knight reached the trouble spot, he didn't say a word -- he just began swinging that pine root left and right, knocking bad guys every which way until the hooligans dispersed.
Also in the '60s, when Knight and his maintenance crews had to repair tornado damage to the grandstands on deadline so that a race could go off as schedule, he worked his men almost 24 hours a day for nearly a week.
"Aw, just give a man a drink o' liquor and let him lie down and doze for 10 minutes, he can work another day for you," Knight once told me.
An unknown peanut farmer and his wife would come from south Georgia to work in the ticket booths in exchange for admission to the race. Their names were Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
Knight befriended them long before Jimmy was elected governor of Georgia. Even after Carter was elected president, Knight would sit in his kitchen and joke that "me and Jimmy have drunk a bunch of liquor in this kitchen."
"Alf has a lot of friends," his wife, Madelyn, used to say with a sigh. "From bootleggers to the president of the United States."
When Knight died in 1984, a dozen Georgia Highway Patrol cars led his funeral procession with their blue lights flashing, for a man who was well known to relatively few people.
By my count, more Georgia patrol cars led Knight's procession than the number of Alabama state police cars that had led Bear Bryant's funeral procession from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham the previous year. And Bryant's actual funeral procession, in terms of civilian cars, was probably 10 times as long as Knight's.
Somebody wisecracked this morning in the media center that, troubled as this place has been throughout the years, it must have been built for the sole purpose of the 1992 Hooters 500.
Petty crashed and caught fire but walked away. Gordon, barely noticed, just crashed out.
Davey Allison came in leading the points but was wrecked out early by Ernie Irvan, and Alan Kulwicki went on to nip Bill Elliott for the championship.
I was here for that race. As profound as it always has seemed in retrospect, it didn't seem that dramatic as it unfolded that day. The primary thought at the time was, there sure are lots of story lines to cover today.
My favorite memory here -- although it was no fun at the time -- was a race in 1978 in which Richard Petty was flagged the winner. But Donnie Allison drove into victory lane claiming that he was the winner and that NASCAR scorers -- who kept track with their eyes, pencil and paper back then -- had missed a lap of his.
There was confusion until darkness fell, and Allison finally was summoned to the press box for the winner's interview. Then NASCAR scoring officials changed their minds, and Petty was summoned for another winner's interview.
While Petty was answering a question, somebody whispered something in his ear. He threw up his hand and said, "Well, they tell me we lost the race," and then he left.
Allison already had left the track believing he'd been robbed of the win and didn't find out until the next morning.
Who straightened out the whole matter? Why, a 15-year-old kid named Brian France, who'd been assigned by his parents to work in the scoring stand that day, to learn something about that part of the family business.
Brian noticed that the woman who was supposed to be scoring Allison was a Petty fan whose eyes kept drifting to her beloved No. 43. While she was cheering for Petty to make a pass in Turn 2, Allison was coming past the start-finish line in the pits, and the scorer missed Allison's lap. That's where the discrepancy was discovered.