Race Capsule: Johnson returns at Texas, so does 'Bad Brad'
Flag to Flag: I'll be honest - I went to a funeral and then taught my 8th grade boys Bible study for 90% of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 - the best was for last. Each of the eight remaining Chase drivers were looking for some, ahem, "insurance" with a Texas win heading into Phoenix next week. Instead, Jimmie Johnson, cut from the Chase after Talladega, got his mojo back and dominated to the Texas victory, his 4th of the season. Chase driver Matt Kenseth (25th) started on the pole and spent some time out front, including leading late on a gutsy call to stay out when others pitted. But he and fellow Chaser Ryan Newman (15th) damage in the crazy late stages of the event and fell from sure-top 10s. The race was dominated by Johnson early and he lapped most of the field under long green flag runs. But a few late cautions and some bottled up intensity, along with some tire failures, caused caution after caution in the late going. There was a 129-lap green flag run from laps 47 to 175 of the scheduled 334. There wasn't another green flag run of more than 27 laps the rest of the race and none more than six laps after lap 291. There were six cautions in the final 50 laps. The lugnuts came off of Joey Logano's (12th) tires during the lap 297 caution period, when teams pitted for tires just laps after NASCAR had permitted teams to purchase another set of tires from Goodyear. The crew was rushed and there was an issue with the glue. The lost track position mired him in traffic and then contact with Marcos Ambrose (27th) cut his tire and he spun to bring out the yellow on lap 305. But Logano had plenty of yellow flags to catch up. Just six laps in to the next green flag run, Kasey Kahne (38th) shot up the track, into Ambrose, and into the grass to bring out another caution. Then Kahne spun again, collecting Trevor Bayne (39th) and finally ending both their days to cause another yellow on lap 321. Jeff Gordon (29th) seemed to have the race in hand, but Clint Bowyer (28th) hit the wall and brought out the caution with two to go. That setup up the contact that would define the night. Johnson, Gordon, Kevin Harvick (2nd) and Brad Keselowski (3rd) each had passed several cars that had not pitted and gotten ahead of them. On the first green-white-checkered restart, Gordon restarted on the outside of Johnson and as the two dove into a turn, Gordon arced high. Keselowski, who started 3rd, stuck his nose in the hole between the 48 and the 24 and got three-wide as Gordon swerved down to close back to Johnson. The contact he and Keselowski made cut a tire on the No. 24. Gordon dropped back through the field and then spun to bring out the final caution of the night. Gordon then lost a lap in the pits and could never recover. He confronted Keselowski on pit road after the race and the two crews brawled in front of a raucous Texas crowd. The final restart saw Johnson, who had maintained the lead, scoot away from Keselowski and Harvick, who raced hard for the 2nd spot and never could get to the front. Johnson, meanwhile, got his first win in 18 races - since the June Michigan race. The top 10 were Johnson, Harvick, Keselowski, Kyle Busch (was lapped at one point, but came to life at the end), Jamie McMurray (gained track position by not pitting and stayed in contention), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (passed about 10 cars in the last two restarts), Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch (led late by staying out the pits, had to pit eventually, and drove back into the top 10), Carl Edwards (stunk all day, but finally got on the lead lap with all the cautions and passed some cars), and Denny Hamlin. Everything is up for grabs next week at Phoenix, as the points are unbelievably close. Hamlin and Logano are tied for the points lead, Newman is -2, and then Gordon is -12 in the 4th-place cutoff spot. Then Edwards of all people (remember, he was 25th almost the entire race), is only one point back in 5th and tied with Kenseth. Keselowski is 17 points from the lead and five points behind Gordon and Harvick is just one point behind Keselowski. And none of them has a win. Essentially, Phoenix is going to be the Homestead before Homestead, as the points are virtually tied. The racing action at Texas was tepid until tires started failing and bringing out cautions to bunch the field. Then the pent up intensity and desperation bred great racing action and anger. In the end, this middle race of the segment shaped up just as Charlotte and New Hampshire did before it - wild.
RaceTweet: Johnson spoils the Chase party and wins Texas. Keselowski and Gordon tangle and brawl. And none of the eight Chasers are safe at Phoenix.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - The 48 team finally found speed. Johnson led 191 of 341 laps and had to poach the lead from his teammate Gordon in the closing laps. Chad Knaus' calls to keep pitting for tires proved the winning strategy, leading Johnson to win for the first time in a half season. The strategy may have been right, but Johnson proved just how clutch he was in the hard racing with Gordon and Keselowski and all the cars he passed to get there.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kasey Kahne - There's just the feeling that the No. 5 has been chasing its tail all season, save that spectacular win at Atlanta Motor Speedway two months ago. Kahne almost literally chased his tail Sunday, wrecking twice and flopping out of contention. As the narrator in "The Big Lebowski" said, "Sometimes you eat the bar and, well, sometimes the bar eats you."
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Carl Edwards - This was a tough call. So many crashes and cautions created many chances for many drivers to move up and down through the running order. Edwards is one of them and was two laps down and outside the top 20 for much of the race. Then Edwards finally found something in his third-to-last race in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and drove through the field to finish 9th. That isn't impressive, but it was potentially Chase-saving, as he sits tied with Kenseth for 5th in points, instead of a half-race's worth of points out of that spot. The season started anew again for Edwards, who has won before at Phoenix. Good diggin'.
Ghost Driver: Aric Almirola - He proudly made the Chase and was a contender for the title for about two-thirds of a race. And since that Chicagoland engine failure that took Almirola from a strong top 5 to the garage, that team has laid down. He sits 35 points behind 15th-in-points Kahne. He's struggled each week. That's not to lay it all on the driver or the team, but whatever magic the Richard Petty Motorsports bunch had in early September has fallen like October leaves.
Never Fear, Underdog Is Here: A.J. Allmendinger - He was involved in a couple of cautions and is a good candidate for the "Comeback" award, but Allmendinger and the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty team, unlike Almirola and Kahne, have stayed alive after being cut from the Chase. Allmendinger used those last, frantic green-white-checkered finishes to place 14th, instead of 20th-something. That team has been the leader of the B or C teams in NASCAR this year.
Wheel of Misfortune: Trevor Bayne - He cut a tire and wrecked while leading the Nationwide race, in what has been a frustrating 2014 season. Then Sunday, Kahne collected him in the closing laps and caused yet another DNF for Bayne in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford. After missing the Charlotte race three weeks ago, Bayne has to be wondering when he is going to catch a break, before suiting up for his first full-time Sprint Cup campaign in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford next season.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: That whole post-race fracas. I was honestly disappointed in myself for how carnal I got about wanting to see some people fight. And I was charged up: "Gordon's gonna get him! Get him! Get him!" Then the whole thing seemed tame. It was almost over. Then Harvick comes over and pushes Keselowski close enough to Gordon for the angered driver to grab Keselowski's suit. The fight was dangerously on after that with Gordon and Keselowski falling to the bottom of the pile with innocent reporters, photographers, non-involved crew members, and race officials swept into the fray. NASCAR may be forced to discipline all three drivers, as this fight was extremely dangerous, drew blood, and could have seriously injured some people in the crush. Some takes:
- Why did Harvick have to escalate it? It's fitting he started a fight in his 500th-career Cup start. He didn't get wronged by Keselowski. In fact, he seemed to defend Keselowski's actions on the track, but took offense to his crew surrounding him. The thing is, that's none of Harvick's business and Harvick has been accused of having his crew protect him in the past (when Logano went after him at Pocono in 2010, for instance). Keselowski wants to fight with racecars and not fists and his team backs him up. Leave that to Gordon to take offense to. Without Harvick, this brawl maybe doesn't happen.
- Keselowski defended his move saying he is racing for the win all the time. In defense of Gordon, Keselowski went for an opening that had at least a 50% chance of ruining the day of one, two, or all three drivers (Johnson, too) in the gaggle. Gordon had every right to be mad, but Keselowski had every right to go for the win. Three weeks ago at Charlotte, Kenseth went for a hole that Keselowski closed and Kenseth hit the wall. They each had a different view of that. For all of those that are staunchly on one side of the issue or the other, just remember that at the end of the day, it was a racing deal. Yes, it was a racing deal that Keselowski caused, but it was a racing deal. This new points system lends itself to that kind of conflict.
- Keselowski seems to be looking to re-shape the gentlemen's agreement on the track. Whether you agree or disagree, it's hard not to respect the "win or go home" attitude he has. It's reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt. He had many naysayers over the years. Richard Petty was much more of the cloth that Gordon and Johnson are cut from, regarding the gentleman's agreement. Drivers like Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip came on the scene to try and turn that tide and re-define the racing scene. Keselowski seems on the same track, but right now, not many drivers or fans are on board. His unwillingness to fight afterwards resembles Kyle Busch's way of handling it. But it is hypocritical, when he is willing to ram cars on pit road. If Keselowski wants people on board (which he probably doesn't care either way), then he needs to stay above reproach. Don't ram cars after races (Charlotte in October, Richmond in May) and don't complain when other people race you the same way (Keselowski whined about Kenseth putting him in the wall at Richmond in May). If he stays above contradiction, he won't just be "Bad Brad," but may be part of the spark that that re-fires some passion about this often over-refined sport.
NNS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch does what he does best at Texas - win in the minor leagues. Good racing amongst NNS regulars behind him. Elliott getting closer to title.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch does what he does best at Texas - win in the minor leagues. Red Horse Racing teammates wreck. ThorSport Racing teammates almost fight in pits.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott raced conservatively and finished 4th in Saturday's Texas NNS race, further extending his points lead over teammate Regan Smith (11th). Elliott leads by 48 points, so he is in a great position with only two races left to capture his title in his rookie season. Other Georgia drivers in the race struggled. John Wes Townley finished four laps down in 23rd and Ryan Sieg crashed to a 33rd place DNF. The Sprint Cup race saw David Ragan and Reed Sorenson finish 32nd and 33rd respectively. They got eaten alive during the long green flag runs early in the event. Friday night's Truck race was a strange one for the Georgia gang. Townley inexplicably slowed a bit on the exit of a turn, caused Tayler Malsam to check up and dodge him, and both wrecked. Townley finished the race one lap down in 20th. Then just eight laps later, Georgia driver Max Gresham was struggling in the top 10 on older tires and caused the same kind of thing. Johnny Sauter was three-wide and dodged Gresham's slow truck. But as he did, he drove across ThorSport Racing teammate Jeb Borton's nose and spun out. Gresham was unscathed and finished 7th - his first top 10 in only five 2014 races. And Sauter, who found out after the race that his dad and former driver Jim passed away, confronted Burton after the race in typical Sauter fashion.