For the first night race under the vast Texas lights, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 19th annual Duck Commander 500.
Surprising: This race featured a surprising number of penalties for driving through more than three pit boxes, surpassing the previous most popular penalty in the season to date for uncontrolled tires. There were a total of four such driving through pit box penalties, including ones for Denny Hamlin, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Larson and Casey Mears.
Hamlin was able to rebound to finish eleventh, Bayne took the checkered flag in the 18th position, Kyle Larson finished a disappointing 25th and Casey Mears ended the race in the 27th spot.
“To be realistic, we need stuff to go our way,” Hamlin said after the race. “We need cautions and track position. We just can’t drive through the field like that – what those guys are capable of – and we’re a work in progress.”
Not Surprising: After waking up with a cold and practically no voice, it was not surprising that Jimmie Johnson needed a little assist from Willie Robinson from Duck Dynasty, title sponsor of the race, to lift high the massive Texas trophy.
“Just a great, great race car,” Johnson said. “We just kept plugging at it and I think the off-week was good for us to sit down and relax, reboot and come back to the track. They brought me a fast race car that was good all weekend.”
The win signified Johnson’s fifth victory at Texas but his first ever win in the spring race and was also his 72nd victory in 478 Cup Series races.
Surprising: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne had something in common that they both most likely wished they did not share. Both had a whole lot of shaking going on, with vibrations and loose wheels abounding.
Yet in spite of all that shaking and vibrating going on, both drivers managed good finishes, with Earnhardt in third and Kahne finishing eighth.
“It’s good to get a good finish in the bank because these last few weeks have been pretty rough, but we know what we are capable of,” Junior said. “Greg (Ives, crew chief) and I are just getting started here and we are right there on their heels man. If we ever get this thing figured out – it’s going to be tough.”
“There were times when I felt really competitive with the leaders and other times more like a fifth-place car,” Kahne said. “We just left too many wheels loose throughout the race. I think three; you can’t run well when you do that.”
Not Surprising: While Brad Keselowski had a close encounter of the cone kind, he was able to rally back to score a top-five finish for Team Penske.
“I was trying to make my mind up and chose poorly,” Keselowski said when asked about the commitment cone violation. “But it was still a great day for the Miller Lite Ford and we have a lot to be proud of.”
Keselowski’s Penske teammate Joey Logano also had a strong run, finishing fourth in his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford.
Surprising: Oops, he did it again. Yes, Kevin Harvick again finished in the second spot in the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet. In fact, this was the eleventh time that Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have finished one/two in a race and it was also Harvick’s seventh top-10 finish in 2015.
“I just got behind there and Jimmie was fast for those last couple laps and got around us,” Harvick said. “I got loose coming off four and I got in the wall and just was trying to hang on to where I needed to be. We just raced as hard as we could and it was a lot of fun.”
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards finally got he wanted and expected after leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing this season. He got his first top-10 finish with his new No. 19 Stanley Racing For A Miracle Toyota.
“I wanted to make a statement,” Edwards said. “It’s not a win, but for us it is our first top-10 and we dug hard all day, and we had a lot of fun. It’s a good race track.”
Surprising: Aric Almirola, who did double duty at Texas racing XFINITY and Cup, may have finished 19th but he has managed to stay firm in his top ten ranking in the point standings.
In fact, the driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports famed No. 43 held steady in the ninth spot of the point positions and would be considered a Chase contender if that competition started after this most recent race.
Not Surprising: A two tire gamble was the key for many of the drivers who rounded out the top-ten in the finishing order.
Jamie McMurray, who finished sixth; Jeff Gordon, who finished seventh; and Martin Truex, Jr., who kept his top-10 streak alive with a ninth place run, all took just two tires at the final stop of the race.
“We did two (tires) two other times in the race and it worked out really well for us,” McMurray said. “When I cleared the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) I thought we had a legitimate shot at winning. But once the guys with four tires got clear their cars were a little better than ours and they had better tires. You just can’t hold them up here.”
“Yeah that was a great gamble, great call by Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and we saw early some guys take two tires and made it work for a short period of time,” Gordon said. “Alan made a great call there at the end to take two tires and that is what got us to seventh.”
“At the end we had to start doing some strategy stuff to get our track position back and probably gave up a few spots doing it,” Truex Jr. said. “I think it was the right call. We’re taking some gambles and they’ve been paying off.”
“It was still a top 10, so all in all, it was a good night for us.”
Surprising: Both Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney checked into the engine heartbreak hotel, finishing respectively after having engine issues.
“We broke a water hose, I guess,” Menard said after being sidelined with mechanical issues as lap 222. ”The main line that goes in the motor just broke. It pushed a bunch of water out. No warning. The temperature gauge never moved. I was coming down the backstretch to pit and was slowing down and it broke. We popped the hood but couldn’t see anything. So, we went back out but then had no power.”
“The bright side is I feel like we had a really good car,” Jeremy Bullins, crew chief of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion driven by Ryan Blaney, said. “Obviously, something happened with the engine. I’m not sure exactly what because it’s hard to tell what happened first, so we just got to the point where we couldn’t keep going.”
“It’s unfortunate. We’ve got a lot of power, so we won’t complain and we’ll go on and get ready for the next one.”
Not Surprising: David Ragan continued his run as the happiest replacement driver on the race track, bringing his usually driven by Kyle Busch No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota to a 13th place finish after qualifying 30th.
“Our overall race was really good considering where we started at,” Ragan said. “We didn’t have the best pit stall selection, we were having to drive around cars all night. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and our Interstate Batteries team did a really nice job adjusting on our Camry and I felt like we had a chance at a certainly a top-10 or maybe even a top-five if the cautions would have fell right.”
“We just weren’t at our best the last 50 laps,” Ragan continued. “I think we learned a few things and certainly overcame a poor qualifying effort.”
“Not too excited about our finish, very pleased with our race.”