After Texas had to postpone both NASCAR races slated for this past weekend, Monday rolled around with fans waiting to see their heroes go at it in the Lone Star State.
The skies were overcast, but no rain was expected. It was time for 43 drivers to duke it out, southern style, in the Samsung Mobile 500.
Pole sitter Tony Stewart brought the field to the green flag, nearly 24 hours past the original start time. The No. 14 Office Depot Chevy got a huge jump on the field and got out front quickly. Soon after, it was Greg Biffle making the charge and he would pass Stewart on lap 16 to take over the top spot.
Biffle would hold his position until the race’s first caution on lap 26. This would be the competition caution that NASCAR instituted because the teams had no practice on Saturday, again due to rain.
The lead cars took this opportunity to hit pit road so the teams could change tires, refuel and make adjustments. Stewart would be the beneficiary as he would regain the lead for the ensuing restart.
While Stewart may have taken the lead, the cars on the charge were Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson finally made the pass on lap 48 to take the lead for the first time on the afternoon. As he continued to lead, another Hendrick car was making a move to get to the front. With Gordon caught in traffic, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made strong progress and soon found himself closing in on the four-time champion.
That closing rate was enough for Earnhardt Jr. to get the lead on lap 76, just before the race went back to yellow. This time it was for Brian Vickers, who had a tire go down and cause him to spin out on the back straightaway.
Pit stops again were the plan, and for the second time it was Stewart getting the advantage off pit road due to a great stop by his team. Earnhardt Jr. would come out in second.
The race would resume at lap 83 with Stewart out front, and he would hold that spot until lap 101. Vickers again had a tire go down, this time in turn 3 and caused him to spin out a second time.
Some strategy was in play on the next round of pit stops, as there was only 18 laps of racing between the two yellow flags. Some drivers elected for two tires, while others went with four. This time, the two tire stop of Earnhardt Jr. would get him back in the top position.
Once again, it would be a case of quick jump and a slow down, as the race went green on lap 104, but then went under yellow at lap 113. This time it was Sam Hornish Jr, who qualified on the outside-pole, spinning out in turn 4.
This time, the lead cars didn’t pit, while positions 12th on back came in for some minor adjustments.
The field went green on lap 116, and it was Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray swapping the lead following the restart. This would begin the long green-flag run that usually will occur at this track.
Meanwhile, behind these two, the car on the move was Gordon. Just 14 laps after the restart, he was passing McMurray for the runner-up spot. Another seven laps later, Gordon put the DuPont/National Guard Special Forces car at the head of the field.
It would soon be time for a round of green-flag pit stops as some of the leaders would come in for new tires and some needed adjustments. As the field cycled through the five-lap run of stops, it was Earnhardt Jr. getting the top spot. But, because Earnhardt Jr. came in earlier than Gordon, his tires were older, meaning he wasn’t as quick.
Only time was keeping Gordon from the top spot, and on lap 182, he made the pass for the lead yet again.
While Gordon was leading, teammate Jimmie Johnson was coming up and wanted to make his claim for winning the race and he began an intense battle alongside Gordon. Even with lapped traffic, the two were side-by-side, swapping the lead and looking for the best position on the track.
Even after another round of green-flag stops, the Hendrick team was still out front, whether it was Gordon, Johnson or Earnhardt Jr. But, a caution for Juan Montoya’s wreck would slow the field down once more.
After pit stops, Stewart once again found himself at the head of the pack.
However, Gordon once again proved his car was still strong enough to get to the front. Once Gordon got the lead, he would go on to hold the position for a majority of the next 60 laps. But, soon the course of the race would change.
On lap 312, the engine in David Reutimann’s Toyota went up in smoke and then caught on fire. The field was close to being near the end of the race, so some teams decided to go for a gamble. A lot of cars that were running well, just not near the front, elected for right side tires only.
Among those taking two tires were Stewart, Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin. The lead would go to Jeff Burton as he also took just two tires. Gordon and Carl Edwards, who was coming in a hurry, went with four tires.
The race went green on lap 316, and the action intensified in a hurry. Burton got a good jump, but behind him the field was all over one another. And then, it happened.
Coming out of turn 4, Stewart and Gordon made contact. Both recovered, but Stewart got loose and got back into Gordon, who hit the outside wall. The field then began stacking up behind them, and when the smoke finally cleared, eight cars were involved. McMurray, Montoya, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard all received damage in the aftermath.
Gordon was obviously angry at what happened, and went to confront Stewart. He met him at his car, but instead of getting in a shoving and shouting match, Stewart put his hand on Gordon’s shoulder and the two walked off. They were going to discuss the incident like men.
Stewart would then take responsibility for the wreck, something that really spoke volumes for how far he’s come in this industry.
After the track was cleared, Burton was still the driver at the front of the pack. The field went green for the final time on lap 322, but Burton did not have the best restart. This allowed Hamlin a chance to get the top spot and he would pull out to a strong lead.
Behind him, the driver making a hard charge was Johnson. The No. 48 was coming quickly, and Hamlin knew it. But, the laps were winding down and he figured there would be enough time to hold him off.
Johnson took the runner-up position with three laps left, holding a lead of 1.1 seconds, but Johnson was closing in a hurry. He was working into the gap, closing it down to under a half-second by the time the white flag came out.
Hamlin held his position and ran the final laps with a lot of tenacity. Coming out of the fourth turn, Johnson was at the bumper, but not enough time to get the win. Two weeks after surgery on his torn ACL, Hamlin held off the No. 48 to get his second checkered flag of the season, winning the Samsung Mobile 500.
As Hamlin came around for the cool down lap, his radio communication gave one of the greatest quotes to this point of the season.
Crew chief Mike Ford said, “Not bad for a handicap!”
But Hamlin then came back with a classic, saying “One-eyed spotter, one-legged driver and a half-brained crew chief.” That summed up the final 21 laps perfectly. Very well done by Hamlin.
Next week is going to be a tough task for every driver. Following the rumble in Texas, it will be chaos at Talladega. The restrictor plates go back on the cars, a slightly taller spoiler and drafting will be the name of the game.
I will be in Talladega, in the infield media center, getting an inside look at the largest, highest-banked and possibly the most frightening track on the circuit. The Aaron’s 499 will go green next Sunday, on my birthday, at 1 p.m. ET. For me, it will be at Noon CT.
It will be a wild ride, that’s a guarantee.
RESULTS: 1-Hamlin 2-Johnson 3-Kyle Busch 4-Kurt Busch 5-Kahne 6-Martin 7-Harvick 8-Earnhardt Jr. 9-Truex Jr. 10-Biffle
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Burton 20-Kenseth 28-Logano 31-Gordon 32-Stewart 33-Edwards
CAUTIONS: 7 for 32 laps. Lap 26-32 (competition), 79-83 (#83 spin-BS), 101-104 (#83 spin-T3), 113-116 (#77 spin-T4), 234-237 (#42 wreck-T2), 312-316 (#00 engine), 319-322 (#1, #14, #20, #24, #33, #42, #43, #98 wreck-FS)
LEADERS: 29 lead changes among 12 drivers. Stewart 1-15, Biffle 16-28, McDowell 29, Stewart 30-47, Johnson 48-75, Earnhardt Jr. 76-79, Stewart 80-101, Kvapil 102, Earnhardt Jr. 103-116, McMurray 117-126, Earnhardt Jr. 127-136, Gordon 137-165, Montoya 166-167, Earnhardt Jr. 168-181, Gordon 182-204, Johnson 205-209, Gordon 210-218, Earnhardt Jr. 219-220, Johnson 221-225, Gordon 226-233, Earnhardt Jr. 234, Stewart 235-252, Gordon 253-285, Stewart 286, Kurt Busch 287-288, Johnson 289, Gordon 290-311, Earnhardt Jr. 312, Burton 313-322, Hamlin 323-334.
TIME OF RACE: 3 hrs. 25 mins. 34 secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 146.230 mph
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.152 seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1-Johnson, 1248 points 2-Kenseth, -108 3-Biffle, -128 4-Harvick, -141 5-Gordon, -220 6-Kyle Busch, -228 7-Earnhardt Jr, -235 8-Burton, -243 9-Kurt Busch, -249 10-Martin, -254 11-Hamlin, -275 12-Logano, -307