Sunday, November 7, 2010

Texas-Sized Tempers for Some, Denny Hamlin Wins AAA Texas 500

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR

With 6 of the 10 races completed in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, a close three-way title fight finds Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick facing off in the Lone Star state. Running the NASCAR Sprint Cup's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, this race will be the last time this season that Sprint Cup cars will run 500 miles. The desire for a lot of teams are to win this final longer distance race for 2010.

Expressing importance through qualifying, a strong Ford brigade arose with Elliott Sadler taking the race's pole in surprising fashion. While this pole sitting performance served as a pleasing action during Friday and Saturday for Sadler and the #19 Richard Petty Motorsports team, the race immediately displaced the achievement. Before Elliott Sadler's Ford had an opportunity to lead a single lap, Greg Biffle blew by to lead lap 1 of the AAA Texas 500. Driving the #16 Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing, Biffle would be the class of the field in front for 224 laps at Texas Motor Speedway.

Former driver for Jack Roush, Mark Martin drove his #5 Chevrolet to the front leading on 4 occasions early in the event. With Jimmie Johnson in the thick of the Chase, the performance of Hendrick Motorsports overall had varied. While Martin and Johnson were able to maintain themselves as top-10 cars, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr spent the Texas event chasing the setup.

While last week's race at Talladega occurred on Halloween day, this Texas Motor Speedway event seemed to have brought out some of the drivers' inner demons. Started on lap 160, the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch appeared to have been helped into a turn 1 spin. Suffering no noticeable damage from other cars or the wall, Busch hurried to pit lane for the of his Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew. As the pit stop service was underway, the Chevrolet Camaro pace car was dangerously close to lapping the #18 Toyota. Needing to pass the pit-out line ahead of the pace car, Kyle Busch flew down pit road beating the caution vehicle by a slight margin. 

Celebrating the fact they had appeared to have beaten the pace car, NASCAR passed word to the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Wally Rogers that their Toyota Camry was detected to be too fast leaving pit road. This penalty erased the lap Kyle Busch and crew thought they had retained with beating out the pace car. Commended lately on his more mature manner, this AAA Texas 500 race would see the easily-angered Kyle Busch of old return.

Pitting to serve the NASCAR-levied penalty on pit road, Kyle Busch vividly displayed an obscene hand gesture (known as 'the finger') to NASCAR official supervising his car on pit road. On returning to the race track, Kyle Busch was told he was now being penalized two more laps by NASCAR for unsportsmanlike conduct in relations to that gesture when serving the previous penalty. While Busch tried to argue "freedom of speech" on radio communications, his crew was less than impressed with their driver's judgement. Recovering one of the three laps lost, Kyle Busch finished 32rd in the event.

Just as the Kyle Busch saga ended, another show of emotions manifested on lap 192. This caution fell on the field for a 7th time in the AAA Texas 500 for a single-car accident for Martin Truex Jr's #56 Toyota (the 3rd and final time in the race for the #56 car). While Truex's part in this NASCAR Sprint Cup race effectively over, this caution bred a situation which resulted between in the eventual retirement of two different cars.

In a bizarre incident, veteran and chase drivers Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon collided on turn 2 after the caution period. As the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars slowed, Gordon's #24 Chevrolet slowed but the #31 Chevrolet of Burton did not sufficiently drop speed. Saying in post race that he wanted to drive aside of Gordon to communicate in regards to an earlier incident, Jeff Burton miscalculated his speed and drove into the right rear of the #24 car. Locked together, Jeff Gordon was propelled into the outside wall causing massive front end damage to the Hendrick Motorsports Dupont machine. Jeff Burton also sustained damage as he passed the #24 Chevy as Gordon's car sliced into the right side of the #31 Chevy like a can opener. As both cars lay stricken with drivers stepping out onto the Texas Motor Speedway oval, Jeff Gordon got out of his Chevrolet highly frustrated. So angry, Gordon stormed towards the Richard Childress Racing driver. Once together, Jeff Gordon grabbed and shoved Burton in an aggressive physical display rarely seen from the four-time NASCAR Cup champion. Requiring two NASCAR officials to keep the dueling drivers apart, they both got into the same Ambulance for the customary check-up after an accident.

Photo Credit: NASCAR Media with no photographer named

Emotions continued as reporters were finally able to get accounts from both drivers on the crash. "I honestly don't know what happened. It was my fault, 100 percent it was my fault. Once we were together, I couldn't get off of him" Burton said on camera for ESPN afterwards admitting responsibility for the accident. Jeff Gordon said "With all the people out there, I never thought it would happen with Jeff Burton." expressing he has lost respect for the #31 Chevrolet driver. Jeff Gordon added "Thankfully I had a long walk down to him, because I think I did the least amount I wanted to do". Burton finished 36th while Gordon placed one position lower in 37th place.

Having been so dominant at Texas Motor Speedway this race, Greg Biffle's performance hit a snag late when the #16 Ford developed an possible gear problem which caused acceleration difficulty on restarts. As the field was slowed two more times for caution, the restarts cost Greg Biffle a chance to bring home his effort with 3rd win of the season. On lap 301, Biffle was past by Mark Martin's Chevrolet who would hold the lead for a short amount of time. Emerging at the right time, Denny Hamlin's #11 Toyota, fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, took the point on the 306th lap. Hamlin survived a potential charge from a late-race caution to win the AAA Texas 500, the #11 Toyota driver's 8th win of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Coming from a 30th place starting spot, Hamlin almost repeated has spring Texas performance where he won after rising from 29th position.

By taking victory, Denny Hamlin also retook the Chase points lead building a 33-point cushion on Jimmie Johnson. Johnson experienced a second fall race in a row at Texas Motor Speedway which ended poorly for him and the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Lowes team. Experiencing inconsistent pit stops early in the Texas race, crew chief of Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevrolet Chad Knaus was so upset with the crew members' work that he ordered #24 car pit team (out for work for the day as their car was retired) to replace the regular #48 guys. While the stops improved, it leaves to be seen if this move will have lasting effects on the #48 team. Johnson finished 9th on the day losing ground late when he needed to react to Biffle's slow-starting car on the lap 331 restart.

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR 

Third in the Chase and closing after the AAA Texas 500, Kevin Harvick finished 6th in the race just ahead of teammate Clint Bowyer. Harvick now stands unofficially 59 points back heading into Phoenix.

Honourable mentions in the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup event goes to David Ragan who delivered another classy performance in the #6 UPS Ford in 8th place. Paul Menard also gave Richard Petty Motorsports another gasp of life by rounding out 10th on the field. Finally, NASCAR Nationwide series standout Trevor Bayne had a very respectable first outing in the big league Cup series. Driving the #21 Wood Brothers Ford, Bayne remained on the lead lap in 17th place.

With the championship in hot contention between three drivers and three teams, the second to last round in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes on Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday.

2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup
November 7, 2010
AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway
Race Results

  1. 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Office Toyota
  2. 17 Matt Kenseth Crown Royal Black Ford
  3. 5 Mark Martin CARQUEST / Chevrolet
  4. 20 Joey Logano Home Depot Toyota
  5. 16 Greg Biffle American Red Cross Ford
  6. 29 Kevin Harvick Shell / Pennzoil Chevrolet
  7. 33 Clint Bowyer Cheerios / Hamburger Helper Chevrolet
  8. 6 David Ragan UPS Ford
  9. 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet
  10. 98 Paul Menard Quaker State / Menards Ford
  11. 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot / Old Spice Chevrolet
  12. 47 Marcos Ambrose Tom Thumb Toyota
  13. 83 Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota
  14. 43 A J Allmendinger Valvoline Ford
  15. 00 David Reutimann Aaron's Outdoors Toyota
  16. 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / Arctic Cat Chevrolet
  17. 21 Trevor Bayne Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford
  18. 77 Sam Hornish Jr. AAA Dodge
  19. 99 Carl Edwards Aflac Ford
  20. 39 Ryan Newman Tornados Chevrolet
  21. 9 Aric Almirola Budweiser Ford
  22. 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
  23. 19 Elliott Sadler Stanley Ford
  24. 2 Kurt Busch Operation Home Front / Miller Lite Dodge
  25. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard / AMP Energy Chevrolet
  26. 13 Casey Mears GEICO Toyota
  27. 82 Scott Speed Red Bull Toyota
  28. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Lysol Chevrolet
  29. 38 David Gilliland Taco Bell Ford
  30. 10 Bobby Labonte Gander Mountain Outdoors Chevrolet
  31. 26 Patrick Carpentier Air Guard Ford
  32. 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Toyota
  33. 12 Brad Keselowski No. 12 Penske Dodge
  34. 71 Andy Lally Chevrolet
  35. 7 Robby Gordon MAPEI / Menards Toyota 
  36. 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet
  37. 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chevrolet
  38. 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts / Susan G. Komen Signature Toyota
  39. 66 Mike Bliss PRISM Motorsports Toyota
  40. 09 Landon Cassill Phoenix Racing Chevrolet 
  41. 34 Travis Kvapil Long John Silver's Ford
  42. 37 Dave Blaney A&W All American Food Ford
  43. 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota

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