Who’s in the headline – After Martinsville two weeks ago, there was all kinds of talk about snippy radio chatter between Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. It wasn’t the first time fans have heard the two snark back and forth when they were having a less than average day. At times, just like a happy marriage, their relationship contains its share of rough patches.
More times than not, the pundits and fans get fooled, writing off the most successful duo in the last seventeen years as on their way out. Instead? The team uses it as motivation, coming back with a strong run or a dominating victory. Saturday night was no exception, as Johnson and Knaus tuned on their machine to near-perfection until the end of the race. Then, Johnson took advantage of traffic that played into his hands at exactly the right time to grab the lead and run to another triumph.
What happened – Kevin Harvick led the race nine different times from the first lap to the 310th circuit, looking poised to score his third win of the season. However, Jamie McMurray slipped up as Harvick attempted to pass for the lead on lap 321. Harvick checked up briefly and that allowed Johnson to sweep to the bottom, wresting the point away from both drivers and never looking back over the final 14 laps. Harvick was making a push for one more run at Johnson with three laps to go and bounced his car off the outside wall at the exit of turn 4. That contact killed his shot at a win, but didn’t keep him from out-dueling Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the runner-up spot. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished fourth and fifth but never really put serious pressure on the Chevrolets that dominated the event. Further back, Carl Edwards was the highest-finishing Toyota in 10th.
Why you should care – A second win for Johnson now assures he will be in the Chase for the Cup provided he is physically capable. Harvick showed he is still the class of the field even though he didn’t score the win, spending the entire race inside the top five. The run Harvick is on is reminiscent of the dominant drivers in the history of the sport who were the car to beat every single week once they showed up at the racetrack. Earnhardt continues to get used to his new crew chief and they are making their car very competitive at the end of races. The Penske teams are still in contention on a weekly basis but they aren’t the fastest every week as they were last year and much of the beginning of this season. The Toyota cars are still a beat slow compared to the Chevrolets and the Roush Fenway Fords made some strides during the off week but have some work left to do.
What your friends are talking about – Jeff Gordon was rather vocal about timing lines on pit lane after he was busted for speeding at Martinsville. He didn’t deny he was speeding; he just pointed out that there isn’t a need to use timing loops at this point in the game. With the technology at NASCAR’s disposal, they should be able to gauge the speed limit throughout the pit lane instead of using the ‘average time over distance’ method that they currently use. There have been GPS devices on cars for years that provide the speed numbers that are utilized on television that should certainly be able to calculate speed on the pit lane as well. With all of the other electronic monitoring in place on pit road these days, the speed limit should be receiving the same attention.
The folks at FOX have given up on trying to show debris on screen when the caution flies for rubbish on the track. NASCAR threw two cautions for cars spinning and not making contact with anything, three for debris and one for an “accident” with the No. 47 that made Kyle Larson laugh compared to how he practically beat the wall down at Eldora last summer. We all know that the folks in race control try and manufacture good races but it is disappointing when the fans watching on TV can tell that everyone involved is not even trying to disguise it anymore.
The appeal for Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 team will be heard this week on the 16th. The problems that were found with the tires on the car have not been disclosed but the rumor is that pin holes were drilled in the sidewalls to allow the air pressure to remain more constant. The fine and penalty issued is a P5 because it is very difficult to try and explain how physically altering a tire is inside the gray area of the rule book. Richard Childress Racing is hoping to reduce the severity of the penalty this week, a topic whose results will spark a long conversation at Bristol.
Erik Jones‘s victory on Friday night in the Xfinity Series has accelerated the discussion about the youngster moving into the Cup series. Kyle Busch does not have a date set for his return at this point so there is some possibility that Jones could jump into Busch’s car if team owner Joe Gibbs decides he wants to give the young phenom a shot. Rob Kauffman, meanwhile has stated that he would be interested in putting Jones in an Michael Waltrip Racing ride if Gibbs doesn’t have a seat for him at JGR. While the idea of giving the youngster experience is a great idea, the MWR cars aren’t exactly showing the kind of strength that you would want for Jones, one of the sport’s hot young talents. Expect him in a JGR car over time.
Steve Byrnes tweeted a picture this weekend that he was completing the paperwork to get out of the hospital and watch the race from home Saturday night. Byrnes continues to battle cancer and the public nature has brought even more awareness of the terrible disease that is already prominently on the minds of so many. Byrnes’s FOX broadcasting family, NASCAR, and Bristol Motor Speedway are working together to name next Sunday’s Cup series race the Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer. Hopefully, the fact that Byrnes is out of the hospital is a piece of good news and means he is on his way back to broadcasting the sport we all love.
Who is mad – Logano led Harvick into the first corner after the final restart and tried to hold his line at the bottom of the track. Harvick gave him two shots in the back bumper, the second of which sent him up the racetrack and almost into the outside wall. Logano dropped from fourth to eighth but kept his car in one piece. He rebounded to a fourth-place finish. After the race he chalked it up to good, hard racing and said he would have done the same thing to Harvick. Keep in mind Logano has several drivers who run him hard on a regular basis, including Harvick. The reigning champ has pushed Logano hard ever since the famous firesuit incident at Pocono. If Logano had hit the wall he might have felt a little different. We’ll see when they get to Bristol and Richmond just how much Logano feels like this really was just good, hard racing.
Ryan Blaney is only running 18 races this season for the Wood Brothers. When you only get to run half of the season you want to make the most of every opportunity presented. Unfortunately for Blaney he was just 71 laps into the race on Saturday night when his engine decided it was done for the night. Blaney is being groomed to most likely run an eventual third team for Team Penske and any experience he can accumulate will prepare him for that time. However, running less than a quarter of the laps Saturday had to be a major disappointment for the young driver.
Very early in the race Saturday night Justin Allgaier got into the back of Clint Bowyer as the field entered the back straight. The contact sent Bowyer, not anticipating it, across the track and in front of multiple competitors. Fortunately, he saved the car and was not contacted by anyone which let him complete the event. Unfortunately, his poor start to 2015 continued with a 22nd-place run. Bowyer has one top 10 and only two results better than 21st this year. After three wins in his first year with MWR, Bowyer has only managed 15 top fives in 79 starts. With Joe Gibbs Racing putting three cars in the top 13 and looking like they are picking up momentum the Emporia, Kansas driver has to be getting frustrated.
Who is happy – After making the move to JGR this season, Edwards has hardly set the world on fire. He’s had several finishes in the teens but Saturday night was his first top 10 under the JGR banner. The organization has been less than dominant this season as well so Edwards can’t feel totally out of sorts. But the pressure had to be mounting as Edwards went one-quarter of the way through the regular season without a top 10. Now that he has that task out of the way, he heads to the scene of his first win of 2014 looking to put a top-five trophy on his Joe Gibbs mantle.
Sometimes, you have to roll the dice to score a strong finish and Jamie McMurray did it twice on Saturday night. His new crew chief, Matt McCall made two different calls for two tires to get his driver near the front of the pack. The end result was a sixth-place finish with nine laps led at Texas. It was McMurray’s second-best run of the season, only trailing his runner-up at Phoenix earlier this year. The elder statesman at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates had seven top fives in 2014, the most since his three-win season of 2010. If the confidence in McCall’s calls continues to grow the duo might start making some magic soon.
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, has to be smiling quite a bit these days. Chevrolet has won the manufacturer’s title the last 12 years in a row and they are heading toward a 13th. The brand has not only won four of the seven races this year, but they had seven of the top-10 performers on Satruday night. Between the Hendrick Motorsports cars and their satellite organization Stewart-Haas Racing, the dominance of the Bowtie Brigade is looking solid. If RCR and CGR can make some small gains they’ll be in contention to add to the Chevy dominance before the season is over.
When the checkered flag flew
Johnson took the win for the 72nd time in his career. It was his 478th career start. This victory is Johnson’s second win of 2015. The first was at Atlanta. Johnson is still eighth on the all-time win list, now four victories behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. for seventh.This is Johnson’s fifth victory at Texas, but the first time he’s won the spring race. As a result, he is the 10th different winner in the last 10 spring races (Greg Biffle won at the track in 2005 and repeated in 2012). Johnson now has five or more wins at five racetracks on the schedule. There are only four tracks on the current schedule where he does not have a victory: Chicagoland, Homestead, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.
Harvick’s runner-up run was his second consecutive top two at Texas. He has six runs of first or second in 2015. Harvick has 35 career seconds now, which ties him with Harry Gant for 18th on the all-time list.
Earnhardt Jr.’s third-place finish was his fourth top three at Texas Motor Speedway, where he scored his first career Cup victory. This is Earnhardt’s third finish of third place this year. Earnhardt has 82 podium runs in his career, which puts him 28th on the all-time list, right behind Harvick.
Brett Moffitt was the Rookie of the Race with a 29th-place finish.
Logano finished fourth and Martin Truex Jr. finished ninth to join Harvick for their seventh consecutive top 10s to start the season.
Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson and Denny Hamlin all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 7 races without wins and their standing in points:
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $3,600,301, while the last-place finisher has taken home $688,600.
In the Xfinity Series, it has been $528,796 for the winners and $109,671 for last place.
After three Truck races, the winner has $188,425 and the last loser has banked $30,813.
What is in the cooler – We’ve seen for several years that mile and a half tracks can be good, bad or indifferent. Texas had the tire fall off that we love and a handful of passes for the lead on the racetrack. Drivers ran from the top of the track to the bottom for most of the event and passing cars took some time, but was possible. The race was set for a fantastic finish until Harvick bounced off of the wall with a couple of laps to go. In the end, it was a slightly above average intermediate race so we’ll give it four cold Texicans from Bearded Eel Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The gladiators of the Cup series head to the Last Great Colosseum in Bristol, Tenn. next weekend. They will start the heated action at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 19th. The action can be seen on your local FOX affiliate. It can also be heard on PRN and NASCAR Sirius XM radio.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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