Surprising and Not Surprising: Texas NRA 500By Mary Jo Buchanan
From the agonizing delays in pre-race tech to the broom in Victory Lane, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 17th annual NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Surprising: While it might have taken a surprising twenty years of trying, Norm Miller and Interstate Batteries, thanks to their driver Kyle Busch, finally made it to Victory Lane. This was Busch’s 26th win in 300 Cup Series races and surprisingly his first win at Texas Motor Speedway in the Cup Series.
“For Interstate Batteries and Norm Miller to be in Victory Lane in Texas – there’s nothing better than putting him right here,” Busch said. “This feels good.”
In addition to the sweep at Texas, winning the Nationwide and Cup races, Busch and company also had a surprisingly stellar night in the pits. In fact, for eight pit stops, the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota team led the way statistically with the least amount of time on pit road.
“We had a great racecar, and we worked really hard all weekend, but without that pit crew – they’re the best in the business,” Busch said. “They know when it’s crunch time.”
Not Surprising: When a racer fails to win, especially after coming so close, it is not surprising that the end result is bitterness and disappointment. But for Martin Truex, Jr., the runner up run was almost unbearable, especially after losing the lead in the pits.
“Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota said. “I’m just disappointed.”
“The race was over when we got beat out of the pits,” Truex Jr. continued. “We’ve had a tough season and we had a car capable of winning.”
“I’m just tired of finishing second,” Truex Jr. said. “This is getting old. It sucks.”
Truex’s day got even worse when it was determined that his car flunked post-race inspection, being too low in the front. Any possible penalties issued by the sanctioning body may come early in the week.
Surprising: There was a surprising amount of drama prior to and after the race for team Penske. Both Keselowski and Logano had difficulty in pre-race tech, so much so that Logano almost did not make it out on the track for the start of the race.
Yet both Penske drivers managed to score top-ten finishes in spite of it all, with Logano in fifth and Keselowski in ninth.
“Shoot, I wasn’t even in the car yet,” Logano said. “It was a little too close for my comfort.”
“If you would have told me I would have finished fifth today, I would have given you a hug.”
Keselowski, however, had some harsh words for the sanctioning body after the race as a result of having to change the rear-end housing prior to the race.
“The things I’ve seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything I believe in and I’m not happy about it,” the driver of the Blue Deuce said. “You have no (expletive) idea what’s going on.”
“I feel like we’ve been targeted over the last seven days more than I’ve ever seen a team targeted,” Keselowski continued. “We’re not going to take it.”
As with Truex Jr., NASCAR will most likely assess penalties later in the week.
Not Surprising: Roush Fenway Racing traditionally does well at Texas Motor Speedway, so it was not surprising to see both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have good runs, finishing third and fourth respectively. Both RFR drivers, however, faced some significant obstacles along the way to both finish top-five.
Edwards had a mechanical issue with a cracked tailpipe and then had difficulties with his seat belts coming undone.
“That’s a gift for us,” the driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford said after the race. “I know Martin (Truex, Jr.) is not happy with second, but I’m real happy with third.”
Biffle also struggled, from starting towards the back with a 35th qualifying spot to a speeding penalty on lap 224 for too fast entering the pits.
“It was a tough night,” Biffle said. “Our car definitely wasn’t as good as it was last year, but we battled back.”
Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered his worst finish of the season in 29th after having an eventful evening. Junior struggled with seeing his pit sign, asking at one point for a deer spotlight on it, and then headed to the pits with a dead battery.
That started the perfect storm of other issues, since without the engine running the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet sped and incurred a penalty. With that poor finish, Dale Jr. dropped three positions in the point standings, down to the sixth spot.
“It has been rough but we had a really good car tonight,” Junior said. “Eventually things will turn back around for us.”
Not Surprising: While this driver may have surprised a military veteran prior to the race, Aric Almirola has been steadily gaining momentum on the track, so much so that his seventh place finish was not at all surprising.
And with that good finish, the young driver gained two spots in the point standings, up to the 14th position.
“We had a great car,” the driver of the No. 43 Petty race car said. “Todd Parrott and these guys gave me a great Eckrich Ford Fusion and I felt really good about it.”
“It was a great day, a great points day for us.”
Surprising: While not surprising to see mechanical failures in a race as grueling as Texas, it was surprising to see two of the stronger cars in the race succumb to those issues. Both Kurt Busch, in the No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, in the No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet, had difficulties, resulting in 37th and 38th place finishes respectively.
“I’m not sure maybe a burned wheel bearing or something,” Gordon said. “We’ll learn about what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“When you’re running solidly in the top-five and then to have a parts failure knock you out of contention, it’s frustrating,” Kurt Busch said. “We had a part on the fuel injection system break.”
“What’s done is done and we have to put tonight behind us and focus on getting these problems rectified sooner than later.”
Not Surprising: While many drivers had difficulty in the pits, from a fire in Matt Kenseth’s pit to Tony Stewart’s newest perpendicular approach to his pit stall, it was not surprising that the most basic issue, that of pit box color, tripped up at least two drivers on pit road.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who sports the traditional red and white colors, got a bit confused when he tried to pit in Dave Blaney’s stall, which also just so happened to be red and white for the evening.
Montoya finished 20th and Blaney ended up in the 25th spot in the race.
Surprising: While both rookies, sporting similar cowboy hats and boots, had surprisingly challenging days at Texas, Danica Patrick again beat out her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the rookie battle on the track.
Patrick finished 28th while Stenhouse Jr., after cutting down a left-rear tire and spinning, finished 40th.
“It was a tough night,” Patrick said. “The car was just kind of all over the place.”
“It’s kind of tough to go straight when you lose a left-rear tire,” Stenhouse, Jr. said. “I felt like our car was pretty good, but it was just a tough break.”
Not Surprising: With Denny Hamlin at the track and on the pit box and a fast No. 11 FedEx Office/March of Dimes Toyota, it was certainly not surprising to see Brian Vickers, who is literally competing for a ride with each race, finish eighth.
“It feels great,” Vickers said of his top-ten run. “We’re pleased but I wanted to win.”
“I guess that’s what we are here for.”