Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Driving a Sprint Cup racecar is difficult on a good day. They’re difficult, temperamental, mercurial. The track surface at Texas is aging and teams had a hard tome keeping up with it Sunday. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Kevin Harvick had to race the closing laps with one hand. Harvick’s car wouldn’t stay in gear, and he had to hold the shifter with his right hand to keep it from popping out, while steering with just his left. If Harvick hung on for a mediocre finish, it would have been understandable under the circumstances. But he didn’t. Instead, he finished third. A mediocre finish would have left Harvick below the cut line in the Chase heading to Phoenix and made his job there that much more stressful. But instead, he heads there needing merely to maintain, and at a track where he’s been dominant in recent years. He may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when talking about title favorites recently, but maybe he should be.
What… is on my mind at Texas?
It’s a bit ironic that Jeff Gordon is poised to be on the storybook ending to his legendary, Hall-of-Fame-worthy career. Leading the points heading to Phoenix, he’s the only one of the Chase drivers still standing who already is secure in making the championship race. It’s ironic because Gordon, who would in all likelihood have a record tying seven Cup titles if not for the Chase, is only in position to win his fifth because of it. Gordon would have been long since eliminated under a non-Chase system, but he’s in contention due to the very system that cost him so dearly in years past. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Brad Keselowski did everything right on Sunday, and he dominated the race, leading 312 of 334 laps. Keselowski drove a hard, clean race at the end, but it wasn’t enough. He finished second… and now almost certainly needs to win at Phoenix if he hopes to compete for his second career Cup title this year.
Jimmie Johnson’s title hopes are already over, thanks to the failure of a $5 part at Dover, and his No. 48 team has struggled for speed for most of the second half of the season. Johnson, who had three wins in the last three fall Texas races, led just six laps all afternoon — but the one that mattered was the last one, and Johnson wielded the winner’s pistols for the fourth time in a row in this race and the second time this season at Texas.
When… did it all go sideways?
For many teams on Sunday, “tire” was definitely a four-letter word as tire issues, from cording to outright failures, ruled the day. Joey Logano was the first victim, but tire woes also bit Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Larson, among others. One theory was that holes drilled in the racing surface to let rainwater drain prior to Saturday’s Xfinity Series race affected the wear. The tire Goodyear brought was multi-zone, designed to wear heavily but not to blow out at the sidewall. Excessive camber may also have played a role for some teams as well, but whatever the case, the issues definitely affected the racing, and not in a positive way. Surely there exists a balance between the rock-hard Fred Flintstone tires that don’t wear and require little actual strategy from teams and ones that wear to a degree where they’re dangerous. We used to have that, and it needs to make a return.
Why… did Jimmie Johnson win the race?
When Johnson gets good at a track… he gets really good. And he’s good at Texas. On Sunday, he didn’t have the best car all day, but he had a good car, and he took care of it all race long. And when it counted, he was in position to capitalize. Johnson and Keselowski waged a battle royale in the final laps, and Johnson showed why he had 74 wins entering the weekend. He didn’t bump Keselowski out of the way, but he did read him supremely well in the final laps, and that was all Johnson needed to do to take away Keselowski’s line and make the winning pass… and once he did, he drove away for his fourth straight win in the fall race at Texas and the season sweep at the track for 2015. He didn’t win because of anything but his ability to read Keselowski and to drive by him (throwing out the theory held by some that it’s not good racing if there’s no contact), and the win is the 75th of his career, one shy of Dale Earnhardt’s 76 wins that stand seventh all time. He’s also one of just three drivers entering the sport after Earnhardt to win more than 50 races.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Martin Truex Jr.; Furniture Row Racing: Truex had a solid race and was in position to race for the win at the end. Thanks to power steering woes, he wasn’t able to make a winning pass, but Truex has shown such remarkable consistency in 2015 that unless he misses the final cut for Homestead (and the race is tight), he’s really hard to count out for the title before the checkers fly.
AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing: The weekend didn’t start out the way Allmendinger and Company would have liked it to, but by the end, it was a solid effort. The smaller teams do take pride in their own points race, and Allmendinger gained a little ground on Casey Mears for those honors. He’s 16 behind Mears with two races to go, so it’s a pretty decent battle going on for bragging rights. Allmendinger was easily the best in this group in 2014.
Landon Cassill; Hillman-Smith Motorsports: A top 25 for this team is a big deal. A switch to ECR engines for this season has paid off, and Cassill has driven well. They’ve had some bad luck, but all in all, have grown leaps and bounds over the last couple of seasons.
All the rest:
|78||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row Racing||Furniture Row Chevy||23rd||8th
Didn’t blame Keselowski for late contact; said he had power steering issues and couldn’t make the pass
|33||Brian Scott||Circle Sport||Shore Lodge Chevy||21st||14th
RCR entry with Scott
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Kroger/Scott Products Chevy||30th||17th
Improved as race went on; strong when it really counted
|40||Landon Cassill||Hillman-Smith Motorsports||CRC/O’Reilly Auto Parts Chevy||36th||25th
Really solid finish for a team this small
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||17th||26th
Best start in this group; loose wheel left him three laps down; reported a bad vibration late; OK finish all things considered
|35||Cole Whitt||Front Row Motorsports||Moen Ford||39th||27th
FRM’s top driver in 2015
|51||Justin Allgaier||HScott Motorsports||Texas Lottery Chevy||43rd||28th
Started last; made up a lot of ground on track -impressive
|38||David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops Ford||41st||29th
Overall, team has stalled out a bit; need a little momentum; good gain on the day, though
|34||Brett Moffitt||Front Row Motorsports||Visit Dallas Ford||35th||30th
Still looking for 2016 ride
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||37th||31st
Racing Allgaier’s backup car after hauler fire destroyed both of his Texas cars
|23||Jeb Burton||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper/Estes Toyota||40th||32nd
Is it the driver or the car? My vote is car
|26||JJ Yeley||BK Racing||Overture Promotions Toyota||34th||33rd
Tough season all around for BK racing
|95||Michael McDowell||Leavine Family Racing||Tommy Williams Drywall Ford||33rd||34th
Had some overheating issues early and what team thought was a mechanical failure that affected handling later
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Dustless Blasting Toyota||38th||35th
31.9 average finish and just one DNF make him his team’s best driver in 2015
|98||Ryan Preece||Premium Motorsports||Xyience Ford||42nd||36th
Needs seat time before we can see how he handles the Cup cars after running modifieds
|7||Alex Bowman||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Nikko/Toy State Chevy||31st||41st
Engine failure ended a day that the team sounded happy with
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Snap-On Tools Ford||25th||43rd
Lap 26 crash ended his day; had been running in top 10
|32||Joey Gase||GO FAS Racing||Zak Products/Donate Life Ford||DNQ||—||—||N/A|
|62||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||Toyota||DNQ||—||—||41st|