By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
The advertising slogan that Texas Motor Speedway was using for the 2011 season was ‘No Limits’. Man, oh man even if Eddie Gossage wanted to, he couldn’t have scripted a better way for a race to live up to that billing than what ensued in the AAA Texas 500.
Throughout the 334 laps the fans in attendance got to see and hear it all.
We heard f-bombs all over the radio. We also saw one finger salutes, A championship contending pit crew get benched, a fight between two of the most respected drivers in the garage, a track record for lead changes, and a heck of a shootout in the closing laps.
All week long it appeared like this race would be Roush-Fenway Racing’s to lose. On the day Roush-Fenway’s Greg Biffle led the most laps with 223, but when the race was on the line Denny Hamlin, who started from the 30th position found himself in the lead.
Hamlin came into the race just 14 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the championship point lead, and a victory would ensure that no matter what he would take the point lead.
On a restart with three laps to go Hamlin who looked to have the race won before the final caution, was passed by Matt Kenseth for the lead. Kenseth had the race in his hands, but coming off of turn two with two laps to go Kenseth slapped the wall.
Hamlin would work his way back around Kenseth and would beat him to the checkered flag by just over four-tenths of a second.
By winning the race Hamlin now moves to the point lead by 33 points over Jimmie Johnson who finished the day in ninth. But just because he is the point leader don’t expect Hamlin to change the way he races.
“Well, for me, I’m going to continue to just race relaxed, and honestly, I think back to a couple years ago, and even late in these restarts and whatnot, just — I don’t get excited anymore. I just don’t let things get to me much anymore and just race relaxed. I’m really not nervous going into races. I was more nervous at the very first Chase race in New Hampshire getting ready to start that race than I was from then to this point,” a victorious Hamlin said.
“For me we’re on the cusp of trying to get our first championship, and as long as we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we should be okay.”
Johnson has more turmoil to worry about than just being 33 points back. During the race his team performed horribly all day long, and as a result when teammate Jeff Gordon crashed out of the race, the call was made to ‘bench’ Johnson’s crew and let Gordon’s pit the car the rest of the day.
It looks like the No. 48 team which usually stays calm cool and collected began to crumble for the first time under pressure.
The driver who has led the points with two races to go has always gone on to win the championship under the current chase point system.
Matt Kenseth worked his way from a lap down early to score the most improbable of second place finishes.
“Yeah, we had a pretty fast car all weekend and got some paper or something on the grille early in the race and got it real hot and had to pit under green and lost a lap there,” Kenseth said.
“We just kept adjusting on the car, actually about the best we had it was then (on the last restart). Everything actually lined up exactly in our favor.”
Mark Martin finished third and has seen a huge turn around in his team starting with his amazing second place run in Martinsville. According to him the credit goes to crew chief Alan Gustafson.
“It was a real good run for us today. The car was stronger than we expected in practice, or stronger than I expected for sure. It was really awesome on the long runs, wasn’t quite as sharp on the restarts on new tires, and Alan made it great, great call at the end,” a very excited Martin stated.
followed by Joey Logano, and the man who dominated the day Greg Biffle.
Kevin Harvick finished sixth and now falls to 59 points behind the new point leader Denny Hamlin.
Kyle Busch started the week looking for a complete three-race weekend sweep at Texas Motor Speedway, but after his Truck Series win on Friday things went horribly wrong.
In Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Busch got spun on lap 160, which brought out the caution flag. Under this yellow Busch had a tire go flat as a result of the spin, so he had to be careful not to shred the left rear quarterpanel off of the car.
Busch made it to pit road, and beat the pace car off of pit lane to stay on the lead lap. However after further review NASCAR ruled that Busch sped down pitlane to beat the pace car, as a result he was parked for a lap.
As the NASCAR official held Busch’s car in the stall, Busch was showing a one particular finger to him.
This is the second behavioral outburst by Busch in the past two days, as he dropped a ‘F-bomb’ in his post-race press conference following Saturday’s Nationwide race.
Following the race I asked J.D. Gibbs; If this trend continues will Kyle Busch be wearing out his welcome at Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I think look over the years every driver that we’ve had has passion for what they do. They express it in different ways. You know we went through a lot of the same issues when Tony Stewart was driving for us,” Gibbs said. “I think it’s one of those things that eventually, I think he’s grown in a lot of areas and really matured in a lot of areas. I think for him when he is around that race car and things don’t go well I think there’s a little frustration there. I think that’s just something he’s going to have to work on.”
Gibbs would continue by saying, “I think aknowledges that he admits that. Right when it happens it’s hard for him to control it. I think it’s an area that in general in life he’s going to have to address. I think he knows that it’s nothing new. We just gotta make sure it happens sooner or later.”
Now had you of said going into the race that Denny Hamlin would win, or that Kyle Busch would have a temper tantrum you most likely wouldn’t have surprised anyone. Yet if you somehow predicted the biggest moment of the race then you need to open up a psychic parlor.
Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton had an argument on the track on lap 192. As Burton went to pull behind Gordon’s car to as he said “tell him he was right” the caution came out for Martin Truex Jr.
Gordon slowed down as is mandated by NASCAR rules, but Burton didn’t. As a result the two made contact and his sent Gordon’s car hard into the outside wall.
It was a severe hit, but nobody would expect what happened next.
As Gordon exited his car he walked down to where Burton’s car was stopped. He saw Burton and as soon as he got there Jeff threw fisticuffs and a fight broke out. In what looked like the 1979 Daytona 500 two of the least likely candidates were caught in a slugfest.
Officials would separate the two drivers, but what an exciting moment it was.
After they were released from the infield care center Burton owned up to the accident, and would add that he understood why Gordon was upset.
Gordon would respond saying that he had lost a lot of respect for Jeff Burton today.
“I didn’t even touch him. And I don’t know, I guess he was just really frustrated with the way his car was handling or something and he just drove into my right rear and put me in the wall under caution,” a frustrated Gordon said. “Of all the people out there, I never thought that would happen to Jeff Burton and me. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him. But I certainly lost a lot of respect today.”
This is the latest in a series of similar situations for Gordon this season. If you remember back to Martinsville he was dumped by Kurt Busch. Gordon weighed in on that incident too.
“If I could have gotten to Kurt Busch after Martinsville it would have been the same thing. I didn’t see him. And I had time to calm down,” Gordon said.
One more note on the day, Trevor Bayne who was making his first career Sprint Cup Series start came home an impressive 17th in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford
In all there were 35 lead changes on the day, which bested a previous Texas Motor Speedway record of 29.