Logano's afternoon delight in Texas and an ode to Chase Elliott
In a Nutshell: Seven winners, seven races. Yikes. Could a win really not guarantee a driver a team a Chase spot? Probably not - but the possibility is intriguing. Nevertheless, Joey Logano at least very much helped his No. 22 Penske team's chances at a second-straight NASCAR playoff berth, by winning Monday's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Delayed already one day by rain, Logano had to wait just a bit longer to take his first checkered flag of 2014 and second as a Team Penske driver. A caution brought out by former Penske B.M.O.C. Kurt Busch just before the white flag erased Logano's several-second lead, took all teams to pit road and made for an exciting green-white-checkered fight to the finish.
On that race-ending pit stop sequence, Jeff Gordon's No. 24 team and Brian Vickers in the No. 55 (both looking for their first 2014 win) went for two tires, while Logano started 3rd on four fresh Goodyears. Gordon held Logano off for the first lap of the GWC, but Logano then passed him and went on to win. Gordon was 2nd, Kyle Busch 3rd, and Vickers 4th (his first 2014 top 5). Impressive rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top 5. The rest of the top 10 were Greg Biffle (ran in top 10 most of the day), Matt Kenseth (recovered from poor starting spot, but had quiet day), Clint Bowyer (struggled with handling some of the day), Paul Menard (quietly had another consistent run), and Tony Stewart (started on pole and led 74 laps early). Heavy rain and weepers postponed the race from Sunday and track drying continued even after the race started, as NASCAR had teams run the first nine laps under yellow. Things got very bizarre, as the air from the jet dryers blew near the cars and buckled some drivers' hoods. Brad Keselowski pitted several times during the nine laps to get his hood taped down. Jamie McMurray (17th), Jimmie Johnson, and several others also pitted with the same problem or at least to get it checked. NASCAR allowed teams to assume their original starting positions and the race went green - but not for long.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (43rd) clipped the tri-oval grass, careened across the track, and destroyed his No. 88, which also went up in flames. The grass flew back and heavily damaged teammate Johnson's grille and windshield, forcing them to make multiple yellow flag pit stops and then one under green that put them laps down. Johnson finished 25th. Kevin Harvick set the track record in round 1 of Saturday's qualifying and was a favorite to win, but a busted oil pump killed the No. 4's engine and he finished 42nd. Brad Keselowski was running 2nd before the last yellow, but sped on pit road on the last stop and finished 15th. Denny Hamlin (13th) led some laps early, but also sped on pit road under green and never really recovered. Last week's winner Kurt Busch had tire issues and twice brought out the yellow, the last of which ending his day and dooming the No. 41 to 39th.
RaceTweet: NASCAR and Joey Logano cure a case of the Monday's at Texas. Hey @DaleJr - don't do that grass thing again.
Handsome Boy Modeling School "Stud of the Race": Joey Logano - The best car ending up winning the race, despite the questionable caution just before the end. Logano didn't fold his table when he lost the lead. He stood on top of it and jumped up and down, passing both Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers. A move like this could win the championship at Homestead.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - That fast No. 4 Chevy lasted 28 laps. Harvick showed up to a racetrack yet again with another fast car and fell victim to bad luck. The oil pump/engine problem was the latest freak instance that has doomed that team to its fourth finish outside the top 35 this season. (And he messed up my fantasy team badly, by the way).
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Ryan Newman - His 16th-place finish isn't much to write home about, but Newman pitted twice under green and had cautions come out just afterwards. The No. 31 should have finished multiple laps down, but was so fast it stayed on the lead lap and placed 10 spots higher than luck said it should have.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jimmie Johnson - He was just riding along when his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sod swipe heavily damaged the nose and windshield of the No. 48. His 25th-place finish was his worst of the year. Outside of it and the tire problem-plagued finishes of 19th and 24th at Bristol and Fontana, Johnson has run very well. Look for the 48 team to get some good luck going with their great racecars soon.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Aric Almirola - Yet again, Richard Petty Motorsports quietly impresses at Texas Motor Speedway. Marcos Ambrose was a dark horse pick for some to run well at Texas, based on past success there. But leave the good run to his teammate Almirola, who placed the No. 43 Eckrich Ford in 12th. Almirola's good runs in 2014 now are no longer confined to short tracks.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - All drivers make mistakes and driver 88 made a king-sized one. He had a run on Aric Almirola's No. 43, cut inside, and ate the heavy, wet grass. It might as well have been a wall. Moves like this are the reason I still have doubts about Dale Earnhardt Jr. being able to outlast a Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, or Tony Stewart on a championship run. We'll give him a mulligan on this one - but that was ridiculously bad.
An honorable mention in this category goes to NASCAR for inexplicably throwing a yellow flag just before the end of the race (Kurt Busch was able to safely get off the track) and for even starting the race at all under yellow. NASCAR's inability to be consistent is going to show as a huge weak spot with the championship boiling down to one race.
NNS RaceTweet: Chase Elliott makes a big boy pass of Kevin Harvick at Texas to win his first NNS race in his 6th start. Take that, Cup guys!
Georgia On My Mind: The line above really says it all. Chase Elliott has impressed at every level of his racing career, except for maybe his two years in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. His ambitious jump to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the JR Motorsports NAPA No. 9 Chevy caused some, even me, to raise our eyebrows a bit. But Elliott has done nothing but show he belongs there and his run Friday night at Texas sealed that notion. Elliott ran up front all night, restarted 2nd on the final restart, and then passed teammate Kevin Harvick with 16 laps to go. He chased him down, tried him on the inside, and then made his car stick on the outside. He didn't get his win with fuel mileage, by a lucky caution, by rain, or at a plate race. Elliott may be in the best equipment in the series, but he is racing Cup drivers or former Sprint Cuppers, who are in the same stuff - and he has now beaten them. Kyle Busch chased down Elliott in the closing laps, but never caught him. And, by the way, Elliott now leads the NNS points standings by two over teammate Regan Smith. Ryan Sieg's full NNS schedule has been solid, so far, with two finishes of 22nd being his worst results. he placed 17th at Texas, just one lap down. Considering the funding and the small effort, that is not a bad result. In the Sprint Cup Series, Georgia drivers Reed Sorenson and David Ragan finished 33rd and 35th, respectively, both six laps down. The smaller teams got eaten alive Monday. Ragan was in a backup car, after damaging his car in the grass earlier in the weekend.