Key Moment – On the first green-white-checkered finish, Jeff Gordon chose the outside line to lead the field to the green. He drifted wide as the field approached turn 1, opening the door for Brad Keselowski to try and shoot through the middle in an effort to go for the win. Gordon came down and made contact with Keselowski. The result was a flat tire that ruined Gordon’s night and led to a full on brawl on pit road after the race.
In a Nutshell – The event at Texas was a tale of two races. The first 250 laps was a Jimmie Johnson parade broken up by five debris cautions. The caution that flew for debris on lap 253 changed the entire complexion of the race. Brad Keselowski stayed out on eight-lap old tires and was able to maintain his position among the top 5 until the next caution flew 28 laps later. From that point until the end, people took chances on older tires, and the intensity ramped up due to the cars on different tire strategies. The end result was the field shuffling significantly over the final 44 laps, including the green-white-checkered finish that spawned round two of WWE meets NASCAR. When it was all said and done, Johnson won at Texas for the third straight fall race.
Dramatic Moment – After the checkered flag flew at Texas, Gordon pulled up next to Keselowski’s car on pit road. Members of Gordon’s crew helped him exit his car quickly and the four-time champion immediately rounded the 2012 champion’s car to confront him about his driving. Member’s of Keselowski’s crew attempted to prevent Gordon from getting to Keselowski. Words were exchanged and Kevin Harvick approached Keselowski from behind and pushed him toward Gordon. That change in proximity was enough for Gordon to get a hand on the collar of Keselowski’s driving suit and from that point, the scrum was on. People from both sides exchanged blows, grappled and flailed at each other with both drivers ending up with abrasions.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
For the second time in four weeks NASCAR is in the tough situation of deciding what discipline to hand out to former champions who were involved in a post race altercation. The new Chase format is resulting in harder racing with much more take and much less give. At Charlotte there was vehicle contact on pit road which made their job easier. This time around you have people brawling on pit road but there was no contact with vehicles off of the race track. Boys have at it has gone to a new level and it involved three of the eight drivers still eligible for the title. One of the combatants is already on probation. Keselowski didn’t appear to throw a punch so he should be free from fines but the wheels of NASCAR justice can spin in interesting ways. The best thing that the sanctioning body can do is implement a policy like the NHL. If two drivers want to scrap then let them go at it if no one else is involved. They can duke it out until one of them hits the ground, then the officials break it up. It will prevent grudges from being developed and festering.
This is a drum that is beaten frequently here in Thinkin’ Out Loud but once again, Goodyear brought a tire to the track that wore out and gave up grip. Shockingly, the racing was great when the money was on the line. Cars were running all over the track, strategy came into play with people short pitting and forcing the hand of the leaders. Next year, with a low downforce package on the cars, there is a decent chance that Goodyear will err on the side of a harder tire. Maybe that won’t be the case, although the tires will probably be abused more since a lack of downforce will allow them to slide across the track more.
Team Penske discovered early this season that flaring out the side skirts in front of the rear tires adds a large amount of downforce to the cars. Jason Ratcliff touched on it in Tech Talk this week. It is not allowed based on the rules so the teams have to bend the skirts out during pit stops to achieve the desired effect. The folks in race control or the NASCAR trailer need to make a decision on whether the adjustment should be allowed or not. If they are going to allow it then let the cars go through tech with the skirts flared. If it isn’t allowed then black flag the cars and pull them in to fix them.
Another aspect of the flared side skirts is the ease of tire damage occurring when cars make contact on the track. The sharp edges of the side skirts sticking out at a level where they can easily make contact with tires is resulting in more cut tires than we have seen in the past. The heightened intensity of Chase this year is leading to more aggressive racing which means more contact. That means there should be even more pressure on NASCAR to enforce the rules as they are written and put a stop to skirting them (no pun intended).
Speaking of items that need to be teched more closely, for the second week in a row we had grill inserts flying out of Ford noses. If the grill isn’t functional why does it need to be a piece of plastic? If it can’t be a decal then it needs to be secured with more than Velcro or whatever they are using to attempt to hold them in place. Once is a problem, twice is a pattern, three times is a trend. Either use a decal or put some serious screws through the insert so that it won’t fly off and bring out a caution during these important races.
At Texas this week Richard Buck, the managing director of the Sprint Cup Series told Popular Speed that the technical inspection process after the race at Homestead will be just as stringent as any other race to ensure the series champion is in full compliance with the rules. The series has actually allowed the teams who are still eligible for the title to have their cars pre-checked before heading down to Homestead-Miami Speedway. While that sounds like a great plan, there is no chance that Tuesday the series will announce that the winner of the title has been penalized for a post race technical inspection infraction. Most likely the pre-race inspection will be extra stringent but there is no way in hell the person who sprays the champagne during the post race interviews as the champion will not be at the head table in Las Vegas.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Kasey Kahne didn’t make it to this round of the Chase. He was a top pick for many pundits for the win at Texas but that went wrong late in the going after looking strong early in the race. He got into an accident with Marcos Ambrose on lap 314 that damaged his car extensively. He attempted to re-enter the race, but three laps after the restart he made contact with Trevor Bayne, pounded the backstretch wall and his night ended on the apron with a car that wouldn’t roll. With so much discussion circling about Kahne’s future when Chase Elliott is ready to move up in 2016, the frustration has to be mounting on the No. 5 team.
Foul fortune seems like too mild of a term for the ending to Jeff Gordon’s race. After running in the top 5 for the vast majority of the first 335 laps, the contact with Keselowski on the first GWC resulted in a flat tire and spin that ultimately cost Gordon a lap and eventually led him to a 29th-place finish. Gordon went from being a virtual lock for Homestead on points to one marker ahead of fifth place heading to Phoenix. The randomness of this Chase format could be tested once again in the desert southwest next weekend.
Gordon is one position ahead of Matt Kenseth, who was also running near the front of the field for the first 242 laps of the race. During pit stops on the fifth caution of the race Kenseth’s crew had an issue and he came out deep in the field. Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief, made the call to keep him on the track during the eighth caution of the night. Unlike the success that Keselowski had when he stayed out, Kenseth fell back into the field. When he restarted deep in the field on the first GWC finish he made contact with Ryan Newman, sustained damage and had to return to pit lane before the final GWC, eventually coming home with a 25th-place finish.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Kyle Busch started the day looking for a three race sweep on the weekend. His car was ill handling early in the race and he eventually went two laps down. He lost a tire to bring out one of the early cautions. He flat sided his car with two different contacts with the wall but eventually took a wave around and then received a lucky dog. After all of the late race cautions and adjustments by his team, Busch clawed his way to a restart from third place for the first GWC and ultimately scored a fourth-place finish.
Kyle Larson started the race in 17th position and for the vast majority of the race was a non-factor. As the racing wick was turned up in the final laps, Larson was able to make moves, take advantage of others’ misfortune and came home with a seventh-place finish.
Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray had an even better result than Larson. McMurray spent most of his race near his teammate before he surged toward the front over the last 20 laps. Similar to Larson, McMurray made some aggressive moves on the high side of the track, passed several cars during the hectic closing laps and crossed the finish line in fifth position.
Jimmie Johnson’s win was his third straight victory in the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson has four career wins at Texas and they are all in the fall race.
This win is Johnson’s 70th of his career in his 469th career start.
Johnson leads all drivers in wins at Texas.
Johnson’s triumph is his 25th in Chase races in his 108 career starts in the final 10 races of the season. He is 14 wins ahead of Tony Stewart.
Kevin Harvick finished second for the first time in his career at Texas.
Harvick’s runner-up finish was his ninth top 2 of the 2014 season.
Brad Keselowski rounded out the podium Sunday for his second top-3 run at Texas.
Keselowski has 14 top-3 finishes in 2014.
Kyle Larson was the Rookie of the Race with a seventh-place finish.
Trevor Bayne won the Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap of the Race award
What’s the Points
The points matter now that the Chase for the Sprint Cup has begun. Up to three drivers can advance to the next round by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the four who make it to the final round will do so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after the eighth race of the Chase, the second of the third segment. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson did not advance to this round of the Chase so no one is assured of moving on to Homestead after Martinsville and Texas. With one race left in the segment at least three drivers will transfer on points.
- 1. Joey Logano 4072
- 2. Denny Hamlin 4072
- 3. Ryan Newman 4070
- 4. Jeff Gordon 4060
- 5. Matt Kenseth 4059
- 6. Carl Edwards 4059
- 7. Brad Keselowski 4055
- 8. Kevin Harvick 4054
- 9. Kyle Busch 2270
- 10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2234
- 11. Jimmie Johnson 2234
- 12. AJ Allmendinger 2228
- 13. Greg Biffle 2209
- 14. Kurt Busch 2192
- 15. Kasey Kahne 2179
- 16. Aric Almirola 2144
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Usually judging a race is pretty straight forward. While some might dispute a can one way or the other, most fans tend to agree with how the Cup races rate. There are the handful of people who will completely disagree and that is the beauty of being fans of a sport. This week’s race is difficult. The first 250 laps of the race were worthy of two beers tops. Jimmie Johnson was running away and there wasn’t much movement at the front of the pack. Then came the lap 253 caution. Keselowski stayed out and proved that, no matter how much the tires were giving up, clean air still mattered. Once that stop didn’t happen, the intensity picked up with people taking chances and different strategies resulting in three and four-wide racing and very aggressive moves being thrown by people all through the field. The final three restarts were all out battles with people pushing, shoving and showing no courtesy to their fellow competitors. Throw in the post race shenanigans between the thirty or forty people who mixed it up on pit road and you have a five cold Texas Red from Rahr and Sons Brewery race.
Things are going to heat up in the desert next week for the final race in the third segment of the Chase. Fortunately it is a dry heat. To catch the action for the Cup race at Phoenix Internaitonal Speedway, tune into ESPN at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday Nov. 9. You can also catch the action on your local MRN affiliate and NASCAR Sirius XM Satellite Radio channel 90.