There was a shoot out on and off the track at the OK Corral, otherwise known as Texas Motor Speedway. Here are the surprising and not surprising moments from the AAA Texas 500:
Surprising: Two well-known veterans of the sport took each other out on the track, off the track and perhaps even in the ambulance ride back to the care center. From Jeff Gordon’s perspective, Jeff Burton just wrecked him, driving him hard into the wall. “I never thought that would happen,” Gordon said. “I’ve lost a lot of respect for Jeff Burton.” Burton, on the other hand, took the blame, saying “I wrecked him under caution. I don’t have a bit of problem with what he did.” No matter the rhetoric afterwards, Jeff Gordon got out of his decimated car, took a long walk to find Jeff Burton, and started swinging. After both drivers were restrained by the NASCAR officials, they were loaded together into the ambulance, where Gordon emerged still fuming. Burton was able to return to the race, albeit in a badly damaged car, to finish 36th, while Gordon officially retired from the race, ultimately finishing in the 37th spot.
Not Surprising: Kyle Busch, known for antics of his own, got into big trouble with none other than NASCAR itself. On lap 159, Busch wrecked and headed to the pits for repairs. NASCAR determined that Busch was too fast out trying to beat the pace car and ordered him back to his pit stall to be held for a lap. While sitting on pit road, Busch decided to take his frustrations out on the NASCAR official, giving him the middle finger salute. NASCAR ordered Busch to be held two more laps for his indiscretion, which left him several laps down, finishing in the 32nd position.
Surprising: With Joe Gibb’s good guy image, it was surprising to see the Coach in a black hat. But there he was in Victory Lane after his driver Denny Hamlin drove like a demon, beating out Matt Kenseth for the checkered flag. Hamlin not only performed the Texas sweep, he also claimed the points lead, now 33 points ahead of former point’s leader Jimmie Johnson. “My goal was to win the race, nothing else,” Hamlin said simply, notching one more win on his Chase belt and moving ever closer to his championship dream.
Not Surprising: Both Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick had decent finishes, with each one overcoming challenges of their own. Johnson had all kinds of problems on pit road, from losing a tire to poor pit stops by his crew, while Harvick slapped the wall in the waning stages of the race. Johnson finished ninth and lost the points lead, falling to an unfamiliar second place in the Chase. Harvick finished sixth and is now 59 points back in the standings, but still within striking distance of the championship.
Surprising: Speaking of Johnson’s pit road struggles, crew chief Chad Knaus took some swift action to resolve the issues. Knaus summarily relieved his own struggling pit crew and swapped them out with Gordon’s No. 24 pit crew, who almost immediately began pulling off improved pit stops. Johnson’s former pit crew members were left to wallow in their indiscretions as they handled the task of disassembling the No. 24 pit box.
Not Surprising: During an interview after the race, Chad Knaus, looking a bit more rattled than usual, nevertheless took full responsibility for making that most difficult call to swap out the pit crews. “It was sad we had to do that,” Knaus said. “But it was in the best interest of Hendrick Motor Sports.” Knaus reaffirmed that the “4-8 and 2-4 teams are one,” making his decision a bit easier, at least in his eyes.
Surprising: There were some surprising drivers finishing in the top five at Texas. Probably most surprising and surprised, however, was Joey Logano. Sliced Bread admitted that he was not fond of the track, but still went out to lead laps, ultimately finishing in the fourth position. “I never thought we’d be in front here,” Logano said. “This is fun!”
Not Surprising: While Greg Biffle may not have had as much fun as Logano, especially after having transmission problems late in the race, he still managed a top-five finish. Biffle inarguably had the most dominant car of the race, starting from the outside pole and leading the majority of the laps. “It was really tough,” Biffle said. “We had bad drive train vibration problems and today it bit us.” With his solid run, however, Biffle jumped two spots to ninth in the Chase standings.
Surprising: Probably most surprising was the driver who finished in the runner up spot, Matt Kenseth. At one point, Kenseth was a lap down, however, he rallied back to give Hamlin a run for his money on the final laps. “That was disappointing I didn’t finish it off there,” Kenseth said. This was the fourth time that Kenseth finished second, but his bridesmaid run hoisted him from eighth to fifth in the point standings.
Not Surprising: David Ragan, under the tutelage of crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, had a great run deep in the heart of Texas. The young driver, who has not had the best of seasons, started in the fifth position and finished in the eighth spot. He most likely would have finished even higher had not he too had problems in the pits, in his case a loose lug nut issue. “That goes to show you how good of a car we had today,” Ragan said. “It was a good job by Drew and our UPS team, but we just need to get better on pit road.”
With the “No Limits” experience at Texas Motor Speedway in the rear view mirror, the Cup Series will head for the next-to-the last race of the season at Phoenix. The Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will run on Sunday, November 14th at 3:00 PM on ESPN.