Key Moment – Carl Edwards came into Texas with the most wins in the history of the Cup Series. Early in the event, he was able to get in front of Jimmie Johnson and keep him at bay for 10-lap segments. But on Lap 186, Edwards’ engine started going south and Lap 187 saw his day come to an end with an engine failure. That also put an end to anyone who truly contended with Johnson for a win at Texas.
In a Nutshell – The race in Texas started out with Jimmie Johnson in third place. It took him nine laps to get to the front. After a couple of caution periods, pit stops left him a position or two behind but he quickly worked back to the point as the tires began to wear. During a green flag stop on Lap 240, the right-front tire changer dropped a lug nut which caused the stop to last 17 seconds. As a result, he came out of the pits in sixth. It took him 16 laps to drive through the front of the field and reassume the point. From there on, it was the Jimmie Johnson show. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished second for the fifth time this season while Matt Kenseth managed a fourth-place run to stay within seven points of the lead in the standings.
Dramatic Moment – Matt Kenseth had a pit road speeding penalty on lap 173 that ultimately put him back on track just in front of the car of Jimmie Johnson. While it could have been a disastrous moment for Kenseth, he and his team maintained focus, stayed on the lead lap and battled back to a fourth-place result.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Told you before Talladega: this championship is a two-horse race. After Sunday, there is no doubt that the only two teams in this title hunt are the No. 20 and No. 48. Matt Kenseth’s team went into Jimmie’s house last week and stole the points when everyone thought Johnson would take the win. This weekend, the pundits were sure that Kenseth’s prowess this season on mile-and-a-half tracks would afford him the chance to stretch out a lead. Instead, Johnson came in and laid the smack down, dominating the race and sending a very clear message that the title goes through them. Phoenix will hold the key of whether Homestead will be a race between the two or a points race by the leader only.
Texas offered up the opportunity for tire management for one of the few times this season. It made the racing a bit sportier in the pack, and again allowed for on-track passes for the lead, even if the vast majority of them were by Johnson blowing by whomever was in front.
Last year, Johnson and Brad Keselowski put on a memorable show at Texas, trading paint and leads before Johnson ended up winning the race. A blown tire for Johnson at Phoenix then torpedoed his hopes for title number six last season. This year’s Chase run seems to be a little bit stronger for the No. 48 team, their best since 2010. That’s said despite claims Chad Knaus had on Sirius XM Radio after the race that, while he felt like the team is good, it definitely still needs improvement. Well, if the No. 48 bunch gets any better before next week, this thing could be over quickly.
Martin Truex, Jr. is going to be driving for Furniture Row Racing in 2014. It was announced he’ll be driving the No. 78, which has historically carried the Furniture Row livery. There was no mention of NAPA during the press conference, although the thought was that the auto parts supplier would be coming along. Perhaps Barney Visser, team owner, will split some of the races to finally spend someone else’s money in this racing game. If not, NAPA may go elsewhere or they may bail out altogether on the sport. Time will tell.
Texas Motor Speedway has been one of the most popular tracks on the circuit since it was constructed, especially in terms of at track fan attendance. But in what can only be described as a display of the state of the sport, the stands were ¾ full at best on Sunday at TMS. Next season, we’ll see if the addition of the giant HD screen will make a difference or if the lack of racing produced this season is just keeping people from attending these events.
While a recent national story was posted about the future of stock car racing, especially the Cup Series in terms of little to no talent coming up through the development ranks I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Attending the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway this weekend, it was quite evident there is a plethora of talent moving toward the upper divisions of stock car racing. Chase Elliott won the race and put a bow on the career Super Late Model Grand Slam. Daniel Hemric won the Southern Super Series Inaugural Championship as he prepares to make his second career Truck start next weekend in Phoenix. John Hunter Nemechek and Harrison Burton both raced on the historic track surface. Hunter Robbins had a great run for a top-5 finish. Other hot shoes that competed in the 400 included Ross Kenseth, Kyle Benjamin, Cody Coughlin and Erik Jones. There is no doubt the sport of NASCAR racing has a very bright future with all of this talent moving up.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Jeff Gordon woke up the echoes of four-time nation with his win last Sunday at Martinsville. The thoughts of a run at a fifth title went up in a cloud of wall paint dust when his tire blew in turn one on lap 73 and he pounded the wall. While the team got him back out after 184 laps, his hopes of shocking the world with an asterisk title were dashed.
Kyle Busch really didn’t get the chance to establish whether he was going to be a contender on Sunday before he lost a tire and hit the wall in turn three on lap 57. His team kept him on the lead lap and tweaked his car to get him back to a runner-up position until lap 298, when he sped on pit lane and had to pay a pass through penalty. He kept himself on the lead lap and clawed his way back to a 13th place finish.
Bobby Labonte’s career very well might be coming to an end before our eyes, one Sunday at a time. While he is one of the classiest drivers in the garage and a fierce competitor, this season has been a disappointment to say the least. Sunday didn’t help any thanks to an expired engine on lap 144. If this is the end, it was a pleasure watching Labonte win Joe Gibbs Racing’s first Cup title and becoming the first driver to win a Nationwide and Cup title in his career.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Matt Kenseth had a pit road speeding penalty that could have severely damaged his title hopes. Fortunately for him, Carl Edwards done blowed up and dropped some oil on the back straight, bringing out the caution and allowing him to catch back up to the field. Eventually, he would work the No. 20 Toyota back into the top 5 and settled for fourth place.
Speaking of drivers whose careers are winding down, Mark Martin has been less than dominant while filling in for Tony Stewart. The team has been struggling to give Mark what he needs in a car and Mark has been struggling to race what they’ve given to him. This weekend, the team built a new car for Martin and did some experimental things in the package. There was no telling if the car would even last for 500 miles, let alone be competitive. Fortunately for Martin, he made it to the end and actually came home in 11th position — his best run since Richmond in September and arguably his best since coming to Stewart-Haas Racing.
For the second race in a row, Denny Hamlin finished seventh. His recent treatment for his back pain has been relieving quite a bit of the agony and has him feeling more of what the car is doing through the seat of his pants. Whatever kind of animal sacrifices his witch doctor is doing, hopefully they’ll continue to work so that he can get back on top of his game for next season with no pain. The treatments have worked, so well the driver is even considering abandoning offseason surgery.
- Jimmie Johnson left Texas in 2012 with a seven point lead. He did not win the title. Johnson leaves Texas with a seven-point lead over Kenseth.
- Johnson’s win is his 66th of his Cup career. That leaves him 10 behind Dale Earnhardt for seventh, 17 behind Cale Yarborough for sixth, 18 back from Darrell Waltrip and 19 away from Bobby Allison on the all-time list.
- The win is Johnson’s sixth of the season, one behind Kenseth for the series lead of seven this year. The win is also Johnson’s third at Texas, which ties him with Carl Edwards for the most all-time in the series at the mile-and-a-half quad oval.
- Johnson now has 24 Chase race victories in the 98 career Chase races in which he has competed (24.5%). Tony Stewart is the only driver besides Johnson with double-digit wins, scoring 11 in 90 Chase races.
- While Johnson’s winning percentage in Chase races is impressive, he’s had 17 races where he has not finished on the lead lap. Everyone else in the series has more races where they did not finish on the lead lap, but his overall success in those races makes that statistic rather surprising.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second for the fifth time this season. His previous high water mark for runner-up finishes was three in 2003. Not coincidentally, that year was Earnhardt’s highest career points finish. Earnhardt has climbed from the bottom of the Chase standings to fifth in points with two races to go and still has a chance to finish top 3.
- Joey Logano’s third-place run was his sixth podium finish of the season. The result leaves him ninth in points and poised to head to Vegas for the banquet.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. reclaimed his rightful place as Rookie of the Race. He was 16th, two laps back while Danica Patrick finished three laps behind in 25th.
Top 10 finishes by Manufacturer
Chevrolet – 5
Ford – 2
Toyota – 3
- While everyone is grumbling about Johnson running away with the race, causing the boredom that defined this “show,” Sunday was not the worst ass-whipping in Texas Motor Speedway history. In November of 2006, Tony Stewart won the race while leading 278 of 334 laps.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson had a maximum point day while Matt Kenseth finished fourth. As a result, Johnson leads Kenseth by seven points with two races to go. The only other driver who can mathematically take the lead in points on a single race day is Kevin Harvick, who is sitting third, 40 outside the lead. 52 out and in fourth is Kyle Busch, whose difficulties on Sunday kept him from moving up to the third spot. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. booked another runner-up finish, which has him sitting 62 points behind Johnson but 22 in arrears to Harvick for third.
The second half of the top 10 is started by Jeff Gordon, sitting 69 behind the leader. The crushing day at Texas took him from potential title winner to virtually eliminated. Clint Bowyer is tied with Gordon, 21 points more than the maximum number of points a driver can earn in a single race behind the leader. Greg Biffle sits in eighth, ahead of Joey Logano and Kurt Busch, the last two drivers inside the top 10 in points.
The rest of the Chase contenders are Carl Edwards, 116 points behind Johnson; Ryan Newman, 118 points out; and Kasey Kahne, 133 points behind and last amongst the Chasers. Kurt Busch through Kahne are mathematically eliminated from the title now that Texas is in the book.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – On-track passes for the lead tend to make a race exciting. When every on-track pass for the lead that doesn’t take place on a restart is by one driver, the excitement fades. When that same driver leads 255 of 334 laps, the excitement is extinguished. Intermediate races have been snoozers for most of the year and the second-to-last one of the season was no exception. Try as we might to give this event any substantial amount of brews, we just can’t do it. One old, moldy Hudepohl is all that can be mustered for this runaway snoozefest.
Next Up — The series heads to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the 2013 season. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth head in to battle for the season title. Johnson looks to have a better result than last season while Kenseth looks to send another message and see if he can make Johnson have to race at Homestead. The race coverage begins at 3:00 PM Eastern on ESPN. For those who like to listen rather than watch, the MRN gang will be broadcasting on your local affiliate along with SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio.
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