By Toby Christie (Originally Appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
The Samsung Mobile 500, I believe was well worth the wait. We saw one amazing race Monday afternoon. We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. show that he indeed hasn’t lost the ability to lead a NASCAR race. We also saw teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson bump and nudge each other in a thrilling battle, and we saw a driver never give up in an unpredictable finish.
The race was a relatively clean one, in fact we were on pace to break the race record, until we saw a huge crash with 18 laps to go that took out many of the contenders.
In all we had 29 lead changes, which ties the track record at Texas Motor Speedway. Twelve drivers led in this 501 mile event, with Jeff Gordon taking the nod for leading the most laps throughout the day.
This race looked to be between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. The two fought hard all day long, but with 99 laps to go Tony Stewart would win the race off of pit road. All of a sudden the pole sitter, who was making his 400th career Sprint Cup Series start, looked like maybe he had a car capable of winning the race. Stewart would lead 18 laps at this point before Jeff Gordon would re-assume the lead on lap 253.
It was during his run to the lead where Gordon made contact with Jimmie Johnson, the contact would lead to Johnson coming to pit road with 62 laps to go with a tire rub. This seemingly eliminated Johnson from contention, but as we know Johnson is never out of a race.
Jeff Gordon looked as though he would not be denied on this day. He led 124 laps on the day, and looked poised to cruise to his 83rd career Sprint Cup Series victory, but when David Reutimann blew a motor with 24 laps to go, all bets were off.
Under that caution Jeff Gordon was shuffled back on pitstops, which mired him back in the running order. He tried to feverishly make it to the front, but contact between he, and Tony Stewart started a chain reaction that would ignite a huge pileup. Among those caught up in the “big one” were Gordon, Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Juan Montoya (who in my opinion had the hardest hit of anyone). The race would then go under the red flag for just over 20 minutes.
Carl Edwards explained how things unfolded from his perspective.
“Tony was on two tires. Jeff was on four and Jeff kind of got Tony started down just a little right there and that’s all it took. It’s just really hard racing,” Edwards said following the incident.
After the carnage was cleared, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Greg Biffle were left to battle it out for the win… and what a battle we saw.
Immediately things got crazy on the restart, as we saw three wide multiple times. Through all of the great racing, Denny Hamlin was able to nab the lead. Hamlin was able to hold off a hard charging Jimmie Johnson for his second win of the season, and his 10th career victory.
After the race Hamlin felt this race was very familiar.
“It was one of those days where I felt like it was my rookie season. Everything just kept getting better through the course of the day. Our car got a little bit better every run, we gained three or four spots every run,” Hamlin said, “Just one of those days where the pieces of the puzzle came together.”
Jimmie Johnson was extremely close to winning the race, and had it not been for the contact earlier with his teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson may have won. Johnson told everyone not to worry about the contact between he and Gordon.
“I am pretty disappointed in how he was racing me today, but we will get to the bottom of it and sort it out. No need to play it out in the press and we’ll get it taken care of at the shop and during the week and come back to the next race and do it again,” Johnson explained, “I think we are both pretty frustrated with how we have been racing each other. There was some things today I wasn’t real pleased with so when I had a chance to express myself, I kinda did. We’ll get it all sorted out. We don’t need to drag it out and make too much out of it. We will get it sorted out during the week.”
Kyle Busch finished third, and felt fortunate with his finish.
Following the race Busch said, “Well there was a lot of work that went into that one for sure. We never gave up on pit road, the pitstops were flawless, and Dave made some good calls for us to try to get us back in position and get us up there.”
His brother Kurt was right behind him in fourth. Kurt was content with his finish.
“I felt like we had a nice conservative race today. We put four tires on at the end and I think that was the right call for us. I don’t think that we quite had the speed like we did here last fall,” Busch said, “I’m real happy with my guys. The pit stops were great. I’d be running 12th and they got me out seventh. We’ll take this fourth-place finish in our Miller Lite Dodge.”
Kasey Kahne, who was the focal point of the NASCAR world all week with the whole “defecting to Hendrick Motorsports” story, came home fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 45 laps on the day, and was in contention late, but after getting loose while battling Jeff Burton for third, Earnhardt would finish eighth. Earnhardt says his team isn’t quite there yet, but they are getting there.
“We have a lot to work on still. Right there at the end, I just couldn’t hold them off. The new tires were coming. I tried to pinch everyone down and they just run me up into the fence off the corner and I drove it into the fence once myself,” Earnhardt said, “We’re getting better, but we still have a lot to work on to get better. AMP Energy and National Guard, I appreciate their support. We are a good team. We can be a great team and we just have to keep working.”