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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Busch Triumphs In Texas For First 2018 Win

Who’s in the headline

After three seconds and a third in the last four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, Kyle Busch finally put it all together Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Holding off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick down the stretch, Busch became the fifth MENCS winner of 2018 in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Busch led the most laps during the race and also won the second stage.

Harvick led the second-most laps, scored a playoff point for a first-stage win and had the fastest car most of the day. A combination of pit road miscues led to poor track position that kept the No. 4 from a fourth win in seven races.

Thanks to Busch’s victory, three of last year’s Championship 4 drivers from Homestead-Miami have won in 2018 (add Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.)

What happened

Racing was full of fits and starts at Texas, where tire problems created eight caution flags (tying a season high). Just three laps into the race, Alex Bowman lost control out of turn 4 with his No. 88 Chevrolet. The wreck collected Daniel Suarez and Paul Menard, beginning what was a long day for all three of them.

Their crumpled sheet metal set the tone. The next two cautions, the first of which included the end of stage one, involved blown right fronts for Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Both race cars were completely destroyed in the incidents.

LUNKENHEIMER: LARSON, TRUEX WRECK OUT EARLY

But the biggest wreck came at the start of the final stage. Denny Hamlin got loose under Aric Almirola in turn 3, losing control of his No. 11 Toyota. The ensuing carnage included six other cars and resulted in an 11-minute red flag. Among those included in the disastrous melee were Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon.

Three more caution flags before the end of the race dwindled down the top contenders. But through it all, Kyle Busch and Harvick remained in a class by themselves in terms of speed. Early on, it was Harvick out front until pit road problems reared their ugly head. Lagging stops led to tire troubles as crew chief Rodney Childers blamed NASCAR’s pit guns for causing problems.

BOWLES: TIRES TAKE TOP BILLING AT TEXAS

Yellows falling at the right time finally got the No. 4 car back on the lead lap after an unscheduled green-flag stop for a loose wheel. Harvick charged through traffic and it looked like he’d take his second straight Texas trophy.

But on the final restart of the race, it’s the No. 18 who scooted ahead. Busch then held off Harvick for 30 laps on even tires to grab the victory.

Why you should care

As much as the Ford camp has been the toast of the MENCS this season, Toyotas have been right on their back bumper. On the last two tracks over a mile in length, the Camrys of Truex and Kyle Busch have led the most laps and both grabbed victories.

It’s clear Chevrolet still has a lot of catching up to do. But the Ford and Toyota camps should feel good, positioning their top teams to have multiple victories and contend for the championship later in 2018.

What your friends are talking about

Harvick and his team were tremendously vocal during post-race interviews about NASCAR’s pit gun failures. The noise over the guns had died down recently but pit miscues made things very difficult for Harvick on Sunday. This race isn’t the first time the guns have made things hard for him, either with a pit crew struggling over the change. Fortunately, the first couple of incidents for Harvick didn’t cost him victories. This one did, angering crew chief Rodney Childers to the point he called out NASCAR on national television demanding the pit guns get fixed.

The irony of the noise from Harvick’s camp is Stewart-Haas Racing was one of the teams quite vocal about the rising expenses of these guns. They were looking for NASCAR to rein in costs; now, they’re paying a different price.

But Harvick had a couple of other issues Sunday that cost him on pit road. In a fluke incident, he had a lug nut fly into the jack which resulted in the mechanism not being able to fully lower. The end result was the car having to be raised a second time in order to remove the nut, which ended up costing Harvick somewhere around seven spots on pit road. In all honesty, the team could also have been called for a tire penalty on their final pit stop, a mistake NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller admitted to after the race. One of their tires escaped beyond an arm’s reach from a crew member, violating the letter of the rule on controlled tires.

But Harvick wasn’t alone in his disgust over the pit guns. Coach Joe Gibbs also chimed in. “I don’t like things not in our hands,” he stated, referring to NASCAR’s control over the equipment. “To be quite truthful, I’ve taken a stand on that. That’s something I hope we continue to really evaluate.” There is no official documentation of Gibbs’ stand. However, it is a safe bet he is all about returning the guns to team control since his organization developed the fastest ones. “We’ll continue gathering information on the pit gun’s performance like we do after every race,” Miller said after the Texas event. “It is too early to make assumptions without all the facts. It’s also important to remember that this [gun switch] is a collaborative initiative with the race teams.”

This week, NASCAR released the 2019 Cup Series schedule. In a truly expected development, not a single race was changed from 2018. While fans would like to see different venues and dates for some tracks, the simple fact is the five-year deals the sport made with track owners prevents them from significant change. Until the next television contract, there is little to no chance of a major adjustment to the schedule.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward’s family have settled the wrongful death civil suit that was scheduled for court on May 7th. On April 12th, there will be a court date to enter terms of the settlement into the public record. A jury has now been prevented from having to decide which experts to believe on whether Stewart intentionally swerved into Ward and killed him. It’s a sad situation, one where a trial would have resulted in renewed grief and scrutiny on all sides. After years of struggle surrounding the tragedy, hopefully this development will bring closure to everyone involved.

Who is mad

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has multiple reasons to be a bitter man these days. Roush Fenway Racing has been horrible this year, leaving the No. 17 team without a top-10 finish through six races. But for most of the race at Texas, a decent result looked to be within his grasp. In fact, both of RFR’s cars were running inside the top 15 at one point. Unfortunately for Stenhouse, he had a vibration after his final pit stop of the race and wound up hitting the outside wall. Suspension issues, likely from extensive wall contact officially knocked him out with 19 laps to go. It’s going to be a very long 2018 season for RFR unless this team can find a way to scrape out a victory in the restrictor plate races.

Ryan Newman‘s crew chief Luke Lambert made a strategy call late in Sunday’s race to keep the No. 31 out for a long run as the laps were winding down. Newman was running in the top three when his right front tire came apart and he pounded the wall on the frontstretch. Newman came on the radio and sarcastically said, “That strategy didn’t work.” The team meeting should be tense this week after the decision backfired during a race where multiple cars experienced right front tire issues.

Who is happy

Texas marked the easiest choice in some time for this category. Jamie McMurray has been struggling for awhile to get back inside the top three at a non-plate track. His last podium finish on one was Martinsville in the fall of 2015. But the No. 1 car came close to pulling a stunning upset Sunday, running third behind the Busch/Harvick duo while holding up the banner for Chevrolet. There’s no question McMurray is feeling the pressure with teammate Kyle Larson running so well over the last few years. Perhaps this performance could jumpstart his 2018 season?

GABLE: A TALE OF TWO CHIP GANASSI CARS AT TEXAS

Also grinning widely after Sunday was the pilot of the No. 43, Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace has struggled since his runner-up finish at Daytona that raised eyebrows. Ever since, he’s posted a string of finishes outside the top 20. But Sunday, thanks to pit strategy, Wallace ended up with a lead-lap, eighth-place performance. It’s the best career result for the rookie outside of a restrictor plate track.

When the checkered flag flew

  • Kyle Busch scored his first victory of 2018 Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s Busch’s 44th career win in his 469th career start.
  • Busch has three career MENCS triumphs at Texas.
  • On NASCAR’s All-Time win list, Busch is now tied for 16th with Bill Elliott.
  • The runner-up at Texas was Kevin Harvick. It’s his fourth top-two run of 2018.
  • Harvick has four career top-two finishes at this track.
  • This run marked Harvick’s 51st second-place finish of his career. That ranks him tenth on NASCAR’s All-Time list.
  • Rounding out the podium was Jamie McMurray. McMurray’s third-place performance was his first top three of the season.
  • At Texas, McMurray has three career top-three runs.
  • Thanks to his 30th career podium finish, McMurray is tied with Dave Marcis for 65th on NASCAR’s All-Time list.
  • Darrell Wallace Jr. finished eighth to claim the Rookie of the Race award.
  • For the year, Wallace has won Rookie of the Race three times to William Byron‘s four.

O’REILLY AUTO PARTS 500 UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

Austin Dillon, Harvick, Truex, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch have won MENCS races thus far in 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. Harvick is locked into the playoffs thanks to two victories assuming he attempts the remaining events in the regular season. (His third doesn’t count for the playoffs due to a post-race penalty).

Here are the remaining drivers who would qualify for the MENCS playoffs after Texas and their associated playoff points.

2) Joey Logano – 0

3) Ryan Blaney – 2

7) Brad Keselowski – 1

8) Kurt Busch – 2

9) Denny Hamlin – 1

10) Kyle Larson – 0

11) Erik Jones – 0

12) Aric Almirola – 0

14) Alex Bowman – 0

15) Chase Elliott – 0

16) Paul Menard – 0

MENCS STANDINGS AFTER O’REILLY AUTO PARTS 500

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

Depending on what you look for in a race, you might have been thrilled with Texas. Eight cautions for 48 laps, tying a season high were paired with an 11-minute red flag. If you were looking for a single-groove racetrack with minimal passing for the lead then you were probably ecstatic.

But for most of the fans of the sport, it was far from enthralling. The race barely moved the needle for me, earning two lukewarm Hands Up Pale Ales from Chimera Brewing Company.

How many beers would you give Sunday's race at Texas?

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Where you point your DVR for next week

The series heads to the Last Great Coliseum, Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 15th. It’s the second short track event in three races with coverage on FOX starting at 2:00 p.m. ET. It can also be streamed on the Fox Sports Go app.

If you’d like to listen to the race, you can hear it on your local PRN affiliate. You can also listen on www.goprn.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
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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8 comments

  1. Well this has absolutely nothing to do with NASCAR or the Texas race but Mike Neff you brought it up (not sure why you needed to): Kevin Ward’s family settles lawsuit with Tony Stewart. The Ward family shows it true colors: the lawsuit had nothing to do about “justice” for their son but had everything to do with making (alleged legal extortion?) some cash. RIP to Kevin Ward and rest in peace to Tony Stewart who can hopefully move on.

  2. It’s ironic that with all of Harvick’s bitching, he was the beneficiary of the biggest snafu of the race, when NASCAR failed to call a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on his last pit stop. Harvick should not have even been in position to challenge Busch for the win. Seeing the official celebrating the no-call with Harvick’s crew also calls NASCAR’s integrity – whatever is left of it – into question. If NASCAR is going to prevent cars from qualifying or strip points days after a race for nitpicky issues, what are they prepared to do when one of their own mistakes alters the outcome of a race? Apparently, nothing!

    • Just out of curiosity what do you think they should have done after the fact? I mean we see similar missed calls in all other sports as well and it’s kind of just part of the deal. I thought NASCAR muffed the call as soon as I saw the replay but what’s done is done. Maybe they should fine themselves 🙂

  3. While fans would like to see different venues and dates for some tracks, the simple fact is that the five year deals that NASCAR made with the track owners prevents the series from moving events to other tracks or dates. Until the next television contract there is little to no chance of any real changes to the Cup schedule.

    No, the simple fact is that the track owners are ISC/Nascar and Bruton Smith/SMC. They aren’t about to give up a race date to someone else. The contracts with the trracks are just noise.

    • Absolutely. Its also just noise listening the fans complain about the schedule. As Russ said, there isn’t going to be any new tracks unless they’re owned by one of those two. Would you prefer the race dates themselves be jumbled up each year?

    • After reading Russ, it made me think, Texas would be a great track for the last race of year. So much more could happen during this race.
      Miami-Homestead should be the first or second race in February. Then take a week off and go out West.
      Save Martinsville and Atlanta for warmer months.

  4. I’ll just say that with all the attrition during the race, it wasn’t boring. On the other hand the racing itself was definitely lacking…. not a lot of passing. Clean air was king as usual. Whoever got out front was superman.

    • i agree about the 500 miles and the tire attrition – i enjoyed the race – yes, 1st was superman, but maybe they’ll bring the x-3 to a track one day…..it’s like the phantom car that never existed. And – as much as y’all hate him Harvick put on a show over the last 100 laps – he made it look easy to getting within .5 a second of KB. ANd to Tom’s point above – Texas would make a good series finale track, but it would HAVE to be a day race.