Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2014 Duck Commander 500 at Texas

Key Moment – As Joey Logano came out of turn 4, heading to the flagstand for the white flag, Kurt Busch’s car that had lost a left rear tire began spreading debris on the track and race control called for a caution. The ensuing pit stops saw Jeff Gordon take two tires, along with Brian Vickers. Brad Keselowski was caught speeding off of pit lane and had to go to the back of the field, leaving the final duel between cars No. 22, 24, and 55 in a green-white-checkered ending.

In a Nutshell – Texas. Rain-delayed… and a bit bizarre. The race started with the cars parading around under a green/yellow scenario and wasted 10 laps before they were finally turned loose to compete. Polesitter Tony Stewart then led most of the race’s first third before surrendering to Keselowski and Gordon. Denny Hamlin then had a small window where he looked to be in contention to win but pissed that away with a speeding penalty on pit road. Over the final third of the race, it was Logano’s win to lose, and he didn’t. NASCAR tried to take it away from him with a late-race caution that created a green-white-checkered finish, but Logano passed Gordon shortly past the start/finish line on the final lap and went on to score the victory.

Dramatic Moment – On lap three of racing, lap 13 of the actual event, Dale Earnhardt Jr. dipped too low on the frontstretch, dropped his left-side tires off the track and had his splitter dig into the turf of the frontstretch infield. The damage to his car, when the splitter and other valuable parts were torn off, caused it to slide up and make hard contact with the wall. The debris that flew out behind Earnhardt’s car damaged Jimmie Johnson’s, too essentially ruining his day as well. The Daytona 500 winner pulled to the inside of the track, his car engulfed in flames but extricated himself from the wreckage safely.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Starting the race under green/yellow just might be one of the stupidest decisions ever seen from race control. It is noon on a Monday. You have lights at the racetrack and you’re going to burn up laps with the cars running around at 60 mph? For heaven’s sake, the fans who did stay deserve to be treated to a full show, not some slow speed parade. Shame on NASCAR for dragging the fans through the ringer for an entire day then giving them a “kissing your sister” start to the race.

It gets even better: during the green/yellow, cars passing the jet dryers had hood flaps and roof flaps blow up. Keselowski had actual damage to a hood hinge. At least NASCAR didn’t penalize them and make them go to the back for coming in to repair the damage. Still, there is no logical reason for a green/yellow scenario. You are either racing or you aren’t. NASCAR should refund three percent of the ticket prices for fans who stayed around and were subjected to his sham.

NEFF: More On NASCAR’s Green/Yellow Start At Texas

Hamlin screwed up leaving pit lane after leading. The result was dropping from first to 16th. The misstep put the No. 11 team behind for some time and, while he worked his way up to eighth at one point late in the race, the driver ended up 13th. It is a recurring theme with Hamlin and his team that they shoot themselves in the foot when they have a car capable of competing for the win. Is Hamlin’s confidence still shaky after that missed race at Fontana turned emotional Martinsville press conference?

The fourth caution of the race was another questionable call by NASCAR officials. Television showed Kurt Busch had a major slide out of turn 4 yet kept his car under control. In the media center, the word was that the caution was for debris but the post-race box score says it was for a spin by Busch. Whatever the case may be, there was no doubt the caution was sketchy at best. The biggest fear of this whole season is that we’ll get to Homestead, have a great championship battle through the new Chase format and a BS caution with ten laps to go will make the entire season a sham. Hopefully, that won’t be that case but that is a very legitimate fear right now.

Speaking of Kurt Busch, after notching the win at Martinsville last week, the momentum went out the window rather quickly this weekend. He managed to blow a left rear tire in practice and destroy his primary car on Friday. Monday, he lost three more left rears, the final one littering the apron and part of the track with debris that prompted NASCAR to throw the seventh and final caution of the event. The Stewart-Haas organization might have two wins, but they have had far more difficulties than success stories this season.

In a positive development for the sport, for the fifth race in a row and the sixth time this season there were no start-and-park cars in the race. While Earnhardt Jr. only put in a 13-lap day, he wasn’t planning on that. Hopefully, for the entire season, we’ll see the fields full of cars that are running the distance.

Chase Elliott has been tabbed as a future star for years. He won a race at North Wilkesboro Speedway when he was 14 years old, although most every race he has won during this developmental rise has been in the best equipment on track. Now that Elliott’s at the top levels of the sport, his equipment is equal to or worse than his competitors, creating a true test of his talent. Friday night, Elliott proved that he really does have what it takes, outrunning Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to score his first Nationwide Series win. The siren in Dawsonville, Ga. was wailing again and most likely not for the last time.

CRANDALL: Breaking Down Chase Elliott’s Nationwide Performance
CREED: Chase Elliott’s Longtime Success Story

Many fans might not realize that Logano used to be roommates with Coleman Pressley. Pressley is a racer and the son of Robert Pressley, a former NASCAR competitor. This weekend was good for the roommates, as Pressley scored the win in the X1R Pro Cup race at Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday night while Logano, not to be outdone, snagged the Cup win on Monday.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Johnson was running directly behind Earnhardt Jr. when the No. 88 clipped the grass on the front straight. The debris from Earnhardt’s car hit Johnson’s car, damaging the windshield supports along with the front of the Lowe’s Chevrolet. 2014 is starting to look like a jinxed year for the No. 48 team.

Harvick can’t catch a break since his win at Phoenix. This week, his engine threw in the towel before lap 50. Harvick left the garage without comment and was probably on his couch before the checkered flag flew. At this point, he just might be the first one to prove that a win doesn’t mean you’re automatically into the Chase. At this rate, the driver won’t be inside the top 30 in points so he won’t be eligible unless things turn around.

Keselowski was in contention for the win, coming to pit lane for the final stops before the green-white-checkered finish. Unfortunately, he cost himself a shot at the lead by speeding on exit of the pit lane. The resultant penalty dropped him to the back of the pack for the restart and he came home with a 15th-place result.

Parker Kligerman can’t catch a break. He’s had multiple issues this season that have not been of his doing and he knocked himself out of the race at Martinsville last week. This week, he was running right with his teammate Cole Whitt for the first 230 laps of the race. Then Kligerman’s car overheated and ended his day for, officially, the fourth time this season in seven races. He was technically running at the end of the Martinsville race but he was 92 laps off the pace. If Kligerman doesn’t pick up a couple of solid runs soon, he’s going to be looking for work again.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jamie McMurray was running inside the top 10 when he lost a left rear tire. He was in turn 3 when it initially let go; however, McMurray got the car slowed down and did an amazing job of getting the car to pit road without spinning out. In the end, he got back on the lead lap and wrangled a 17th-place finish.

Brian Vickers had a mid- to upper-teens car all day long in Texas. He started 23rd but was 14th by lap 60. He spent the rest of the race running in that general ballpark from 11th to 15th. During the final run before the last caution, he was up to ninth and looking at a solid top-10 finish, but then, the caution flew. When Billy Scott called for two tires, it put Vickers on the outside of the front row for the final restart. While he didn’t contend for the win, he was able to hold on for a fourth-place finish, which was far better than his run all day. Vickers definitely needs to send Kurt Busch an edible arrangement for losing the left side of his car with that final blown tire.

It is hard to categorize it as fine fortune, considering Kasey Kahne had three different incidents on pit lane where he got blocked in or slowed down by other cars. However, he didn’t make contact with any of them during the race which allowed him to cross the line in 11th, on the lead lap. After starting 32nd that was a rather fortunate result for the Hendrick star.

Worth Noting

  • Logano’s victory at Texas was his fourth win of his career in his 190th start.
  • The win is his first on a mile-and-a-half track.
  • The first-place finish is Logano’s fourth career top five in Fort Worth.
  • For Roger Penske, Monday marked his third win as an owner at Texas Motor Speedway.
  • Gordon’s second-place finish is his fourth top-two run at Texas.
  • This is Gordon’s third top five of 2014.
  • Kyle Busch’s third-place run is his fifth top-three finish in 18 starts at Texas.
  • This is Busch’s second top three of 2014.
  • Earnhardt Jr.‘s last-place finish is his first since 2007.
  • Of the 18 lead changes among nine drivers during the event there were five on-track passes for the lead.
  • This is the third race of the season with a last-lap pass for the win.

We have seven different winners in seven races so far this season.

Daytona – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Phoenix – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas – Brad Keselowski
Bristol – Carl Edwards
Fontana – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas – Joey Logano

What’s the Points?

Thanks to Earnhardt Jr.‘s early-race misfortune and Gordon’s runner-up run, the four-time champion leaves the Lone Star State with the point lead. Gordon is four points ahead of Matt Kenseth. Carl Edwards used two Lucky Dogs to scrounge out a 14th-place finish, which puts him 12 points back from Gordon in third place in the point standings. Logano’s win has pushed him up to fourth, 24 behind the leader. He is tied with his teammate Keselowski for the most bonus points in the series with 10 each. Rounding out the top five in points is Kyle Busch, sitting 28 points back and with a win already in hand.

Leading off the second half of the top 10 in points is Earnhardt Jr., 31 tallies behind Gordon. Tied with Earnhardt but technically in seventh, due to the tiebreaker of wins is Johnson. Keselowski is eighth, 10 points behind the Earnhardt/Johnson combo and 41 in arrears to Gordon. Keselowski is the last driver within one race of the championship lead. Vickers rode the wave of his first top five of the season to leap four spots into ninth in points, 54 off of the top spot. Rounding out the top 10, after his fourth top 10 of the season, is Paul Menard. He is two points in back of Vickers and 56 in the rear-view of Gordon after Monday.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – After three stellar races in a row, the odds of a fourth had to be pretty slim. While the aged surface at Texas Motor Speedway is bumpy and abrasive, and drivers were able to run from the top to the bottom, it was very hard to pass the leader on Monday. As a result, the excitement factor was off from the thrilling races at Bristol, California and Martinsville meaning this one will only receive three cold Nutty Brewnettes from BJ’s Restaurant in the Dallas Metroplex. Let’s all just hope they don’t decide to repave the track after this race…

Next Up – The Lady in Black, the Track Too Tough To Tame, whatever you want to call her, the series is headed to the low country of South Carolina to run at Darlington Raceway. The oldest superspeedway on the schedule will test man and machine but, at least for now, doesn’t look like it will test the weathermen. Catch that action on FOX at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12. You can also catch the action live on MRN.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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