Brad Morgan · Tuesday April 16, 2013
After a week of debate centered on the NRA 500, nothing could prevent Kyle Busch from firing off the revolvers following a runaway win in Texas Saturday night. Controversy aside, Busch was one of several drivers to make headway in the Lone Star State.
As track temperatures fell, the No. 18 team was able to keep up with crucial adjustments, while other drivers weren’t as fortunate. Pit road miscues and ill-timed mechanical failures spelled disaster for several of his top rivals, leaving only Martin Truex, Jr. as the main opponent for Busch down the stretch – one he disposed of easily.
This edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not shows that while some shined under the lights, other went cold after the sun set over Texas Motor Speedway.
Everything went right for Kyle Busch at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. After starting from the pole position, Busch led 171 of 334 laps, including the final 19 circuits before capturing his second victory of the young season.
The No. 18 team chose the last pit stall along pit road after the pole-setting qualifying run, a decision that benefited him on several occasions throughout the night. After a caution with 21 laps to go, he beat Martin Truex, Jr., back onto the track after what would prove to be the final stops. He then stayed ahead of Truex after the green flag waved to claim clean air and the win.
Busch has now swept the Sprint Cup/Nationwide festivities on two separate occasions, this weekend in Fort Worth and earlier this year at Fontana. He’ll look to capitalize on this momentum next week at Kansas Motor Speedway, where he wrecked last season during the Chase.
Last year’s Spring winner at TMS, Greg Biffle didn’t make it back to Victory Lane, but he did record an impressive finish that moves him to fourth in the driver standings.
A fourth-place run didn’t come easily, however as Biffle battled from a 35th-place starting spot only to be hit with a speeding penalty once the race had commenced. Afterwards, he guided the No. 16 car back into the top 10 thanks to various handling adjustments before the checkered flag waved.
His 3M team was able to find the speed that put Biffle on top of the charts during practice Thursday, even after struggling in testing and later during qualifying. So far this season, the Biff hasn’t led a lap since Phoenix, collecting just one top-5 result but his consistency (Average Finish: 10.0) keeps him on or near the top of the charts.
Martin Truex, Jr. has been the target of a lot of negative Hot or Not criticism thus far, but his stock took a turn for the better with a much-needed, second-place finish at Texas.
The No. 56 NAPA Toyota was dominant for most of the night – running inside the top 3 – and was leading before the last pit sequence. Truex didn’t have the perfect setup to compete with Kyle Busch, after the stop but that doesn’t take much away from his best performance of the season.
After getting out of the gates very slowly, he finds himself tied for 16th in points, up nine positions from just a week ago. Truex hasn’t lacked the speed necessary to compete with the top teams in NASCAR; instead, bad luck moments have ruined some potentially good ones.
Now, Truex will have the opportunity to make up more lost ground at Kansas, where he enjoyed two runner-up results last season.
Brian Vickers has made the most of a limited slate of action this season. He began an opportunity to fill in for the injured Denny Hamlin at Texas by recording an eighth-place finish, his third top-11 result in three 2013 starts.
Vickers started 15th, then was able to keep his car inside the top 10 for much of the event. The final set of stops cemented his chances for a good finish.
The result was yet another solid run for the veteran, who is averaging a ninth-place finish this season. He’ll get another chance to better that inside a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota next week at Kansas.
Jeff Burton was close to breaking into the top 10 after the halfway point, but his chances for a good finish at Texas were undone by a late-race accident.
After Marcos Ambrose spun entering the backstretch on lap 281, Burton slammed into the rear of Mark Martin’s slowing car because his view was blocked by the No. 55 Toyota. Burton then sustained front-end chassis damage, along with minor damage to the left-rear quarterpanel after clipping the inside retaining wall.
His pit crew was able to make repairs, during several stops on pit road but the lost time resulted in a 23rd-place finish, two laps down to Kyle Busch. Now, Burton heads to Kansas where he hasn’t placed inside the top 10 since recording a seventh-place performance during the ’08 campaign. Uh-oh; Burton now has just one top-10 finish in seven 2013 starts overall.
The Buschs started alongside one another for the 500-mile event, but Kurt Busch didn’t fare as well as his brother Kyle after the drop of the green flag. He appeared to have recovered from a fiery exit from the STP Gas Booster 500 last week, but he was forced behind the wall when the No. 78 Chevrolet’s fuel injection system began to experience problems.
Two consecutive 37th-place finishes largely erase the gains of the top 5s Busch got at Bristol and Fontana, dropping him to 24th in the points.
Things don’t get easier from here. At Kansas, Busch finished 25th in the second race after joining Furniture Row Racing during the Chase last season.
Bobby Labonte knew that his stomach virus was probably severe enough to sideline him at some point during the NRA 500. His team, JTG Daugherty Racing, had planned for this type of scenario by giving Mike Bliss the go-ahead to step in for Labonte in case the veteran got too sick. The team even took time to fit Bliss for his own seat earlier during the weekend.
With everything in place, it seemed that the pieces were there to salvage a decent finish if and when Labonte was forced out. And after 40 laps, when the veteran driver had seen enough, he took the turn for pit road.
Instead of a quick driver change, though the No. 47 Toyota was left unmanned in the garage area for roughly 42 laps – while Labonte spent time at the infield care center – because Bliss was still on track driving for Humphrey Smith Racing. The team eventually handed driving privileges over to Michael McDowell, who had been forced to retire the No. 98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford due to an “overheating” issue. But after 138 laps, the No. 47 Toyota lost its engine, anyway after running down a cylinder for several circuits.
Terrible planning, rough execution, nightmarish evening. Labonte and the No. 47 team settled for a DNF and a 42nd place finish accompanying it, but they weren’t the only ones hurting: the other two drivers involved in this inauspicious triangle also had issues. McDowell was credited with a last-place finish and Bliss retired his ride after start-and-parking. He was 41st.
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