The first Saturday night race under the lights occurred this weekend, as the Sprint Cup Series invaded Texas Motor Speedway for the 20th Annual Duck Commander 500. Everything is bigger in Texas, and Saturday night’s race was no exception. Here was what was surprising and not surprising from the event.
Not Surprising: Another NASCAR race in the books, another win for Kyle Busch.
Busch got around Martin Truex Jr. on the final restart of the night and drove away from Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win at Texas.
It’s Kyle Busch’s 36th career Sprint Cup Series victory and his second in a row. The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota has now won 161 national touring races and has swept the past two weekends at Martinsville Speedway and Texas.
It’s the seventh win for Busch since coming back from an injury last season. In 32 races since that time, Busch has led over 1,200 laps and has 22 top 10s.
Busch talked about teamwork following the race when asked how he came back so fast from a broken leg and a broken ankle.
“It’s not just me, it’s not just Samantha, but it’s Adam Stevens, it’s Coach Gibbs, it’s the organization and everyone rallying around us,” Busch said. “It’s my medical team, everyone that helped me, as well, getting me healthy, too, and forcing me to do the therapies and things like that and getting up in the morning and going and trying to get better faster.
“I think, too, things are clicking. Things are gelling, and it wouldn’t be possible probably, without the relationship that Adam and I were able to spend gathering and gaining in the Xfinity Series. If we would have come into this Cup deal not really knowing each other, it probably wouldn’t have been as good as it was. So I think that has been a huge part of it, as well, too. It’s all worked real well, and it’s been exciting to have the success that we’ve had as of late, and let’s just keep it going.”
Surprising: Texas has always been a good track for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It’s the site of his very first win and although it’s his only win, he has recorded nine top 10s in the last 11 races there.
This week was no exception, with a runner-up finish. But how he did so, by getting around Joey Logano in the last few laps, was a little surprising, to say the least. It would have been much harder to get around him just a year or two ago.
“We got lucky at the end to be able to restart on the inside,” the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet said. “The outside was kind of difficult, and we restarted fifth and were able to get up to third and raced the 22 at the end. It was fun. I enjoyed driving the car tonight. The car was very loose and very challenging but a lot of fun for me. Obviously, our car was good, so passing guys — we had a lot of passing, which with the ’14 or ’15 package, I’d have never got by Joey, so it was fun to have an opportunity to sort of set somebody up and get it by him there at the end, and that’s due to the direction we went this year with the low downforce. Pretty cool.”
Surprising: Chase Elliott has had an up and down season so far, but what at first looked like a mistake by crew chief Alan Gustafson ended up netting the Georgia driver his first top five finish in Sprint Cup competition.
With 50 laps to go on the second to last caution, Elliott was the only car that pitted and changed two tires. On the last caution with about 30 to go, Gustafson made the call to come back down and grab four fresh Goodyear Eagles.
On the ensuing restart, Elliott passed a few cars and ended the day fifth after losing a duel with Jimmie Johnson for fourth with two laps to go.
“It was just Alan’s decision to come back, and it was a quick decision,” Elliott, who is the highest rookie in points at 14th. “He didn’t have a lot of time. Once the caution came out, I think pretty much the first time we came back, pit road was open. Those crew chiefs are put in a position they’ve got to make a call in a hurry, and they have all — they definitely have my respect because I respect them for what they do because that’s a tough, tough spot to be in, but as I’ve said, we’re a team. I’m going to support his decision, right, wrong or indifferent, so I was happy we did it, and we tried to make the most of it.”
Not Surprising: Martin Truex Jr.’s run at Texas could be used as the quintessential race of his time so far at Furniture Row Racing.
Truex led 141 laps, more than anybody else, but not going in for tires on either of the last two caution breaks left him a sitting duck for Kyle Busch on the final restart. Truex hung on for a sixth place finish.
“It was Cole [Pearn, my crew chief,] who called me in at the last second,” Truex said. “Our plan was to stay out and he called me in. I didn’t want to hit the cone. It’s just the way it goes. Had we went green that next restart, we did OK. We got the lead and we drove away. We just kept getting yellows and caution laps and the tires just kept getting more air in them and more air in them. By the time we finally got moving there, we just didn’t have the grip everybody else had. Just sliding around.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s racing. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of my guys for the race car they brought. That thing was so fast all night, we did everything we were supposed to do except for that one deal there. I don’t know. It hurts, it’s tough, but we have a lot to look forward to this year. We have great race cars and we have a lot to look forward to. We’ll go back home and get to work and hopefully come out smarter and stronger.”
Surprising: It was not a good night for Richard Childress Racing. All three RCR cars ended up getting caught up in the only multi-car wreck of the evening late in the race.
Other drivers involved in the accident, which happened going into turn three, included Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth.
“We were on older tires and I was trying to get all I could there,” RCR driver Austin Dillon said. “It’s part of trying to win a race. We put ourselves in a position to be out front, thinking that two laps wouldn’t mean much, but it did. That’s part of it.
“We’ll come back next week with another fast car and hopefully, we can do the same thing we did today, and that’s run up front. It tore up a bunch of race cars. We had a good car. I just wish we could re-do it. But heck, we’re learning. We had another fast race car. We’ll go on from here.”
Not Surprising: It was a good night for Jimmie Johnson. A return to yellow numbers after running primarily white numbers the last few years on his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet netted Johnson fourth at the end of the night. But it wasn’t an easy night for the six-time Sprint Cup champion.
“We overcame a lot today,” Johnson said. “On that first pit stop, everyone was checking up and I hammered the back of the 18. We had to fix damage on the nose, and it wasn’t pretty. There’s a big hole up front and that couldn’t have been helping us at all. There’s a lot of fight in this Lowe’s team today.”
The next race on the calendar? Bristol, baby! Tune in at 1 p.m. EST Sunday on Fox for the first race at Bristol since the installation of Colossus, the Food City 500.