NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Lessons We Learned at Texas
The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway ended with two drivers battling it out not only for the win, but for the points lead as well.
Throughout the race though, there were several lessons that we learned as the NASCAR 2012 season continues to come to a close.
Johnson and Keselowski battled it out at the end, but Johnson proved that he is the one to beat.
Texas ended with excitement but didn't start out that way. It proved to be an important race in the Chase, as it narrowed down the possible championship winner to just two drivers.
The NASCAR season is continuing to come to a close, but who will be the one to win the Chase?
Texas turned out to be an important stop before the final race at Homestead, and showed that this Chase season is going to come down to the very last lap.
Here are 10 lessons we learned at the AAA Texas 500.
10. Skydivers Can Be Dangerous
How unlucky can you be?
How unlucky can one driver be, to have a skydiver hit into your parked car? Rest assured, the diver is fine, as a sandbag that is used as a weight hit into Kevin Harvick’s 29, not the skydiver himself.
While Harvick hasn't done anything stellar this season, having a skydiver hit into the side of your car adds insult to injury.
Who knows how much damage was actually done to the 29, besides banging up the hood and left side of the car? Luckily for Harvick, NASCAR let the 29 team bring the car into the garage and fix the damage.
Harvick’s bad luck continues, even with only a handful of races left.
Harvick managed to walk away with a ninth-place finish at Texas, which seems to be the story of his year.
He has still yet to win a race, but now at least, he is the only driver to take damage to his car from a skydiver.
9. Texas Went from Boring to Exciting
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The AAA Texas 500 didn't start off as an exciting race. In fact, the race started off like almost every other 1.5 mile track:
Dominated by one driver.
This time. Jimmie Johnson dominated early, like he tends to do at these cookie cutter tracks.
The race started out boring to say the least. It's hard to see why NASCAR would want to even go to so many 1.5 mile tracks in The Chase, because of the general lack of excitement. There were few cautions, and green flag racing that seemed to never end.
Until the race started to come to a close.
As both Keselowski and Johnson battled back and forth on the closing laps of the AAA Texas 500, we saw one of the most exciting finishes to a NASCAR race this year. It was tough racing, and both drivers managed to avoid wrecking one another, with Kyle Busch lurking right behind and set to try and take the lead.
The AAA Texas 500 looked like it was going to be dominated by Jimmie Johnson, and lots of green flag racing. Johnson did end up winning, but the battle at the end made this race very exciting.
Texas turned out to be an example of how The Chase should be.
8. Kahne Couldn't Get It Done
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Before the race at Texas this Sunday, Kahne was still somewhat in The Chase. He was sitting close enough to the leaders that he had a chance to move up some spots in The Chase if he managed to win the Texas race, or even place in the top five.
Kahne would do neither, and instead he now sits 58 points behind the leader Jimmie Johnson.
As The Chase started to come closer to an end, Kahne had been slowly working his way into the top of the standings, and had finished solid throughout several races. Texas was a chance for Kahne to make a big move, and looked like he had a decent chance stay in the running for the championship.
In the earlier race at Texas this season for example, Kahne and the 5 team managed to get their first top 10 of the season here.
This time Kahne and the 5 team wouldn't be able to get anything done, and Kahne ended up taking some late race damage toward the end of the AAA Texas 500, as Jeff Gordon got into the back of the 5 car.
Taking damage at the end of the race didn't help Kasey's chances of running up front, but with everything on the line and a need to run well here, he couldn't get it done at Texas.
With only two races left, Kahne has no chance of winning the championship after his 25th finish at Texas.
7. Neither Could Clint Bowyer
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Bowyer finished in sixth at the AAA Texas 500, but like Kahne, Bowyer's performance simply wouldn't be enough to keep him in the running for the championship.
He now sits 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the standings. He is still in third place, but with only two races left in the season, Bowyer won't be able to catch up to Johnson or Keselowski.
The only real way he could win The Chase is if both Keselowski and Johnson made huge mistakes and so far that hasn't happened, and looks like it won't happen as the season comes to a close.
It's hard to make any ground when the competition in front of you is finishing in first and second, and the only way Bowyer had a chance to move up in the standings would be if he managed to win the Texas race.
“It's just unbelievable," Bowyer said over at SBnation.com. "You keep having these top-10 runs and flirting with the top five, week-in and week-out, and unless you're winning these races every week, you just can't gain points."
A sixth-place finish is usually a positive way to end a race.
With the chase being so close, and Keselowski and Johnson running well, 6th place just wasn't enough for Bowyer, and now The Chase looks like a two-man race.
6. Jimmie Johnson Is the Man to Beat
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Jimmie Johnson proved with his win at Texas Motor Speedway that he is the man to beat this season.
Johnson just recently gained the lead in The Chase with his win at Martinsville, but backing up last week’s win with a win this Sunday only adds to how good a driver Jimmie Johnson is.
He managed to increase his point’s lead on Keselowski, and if Brad wants to catch up and pass Johnson, he's going to have to beat him.
Johnson was quoted after the race by ESPN.com as saying:
"It was an awesome race. It's a great way to do it when the gloves are off and it's bare-knuckle fighting. I got a great restart and got by him. I knew we had the speed if I could just get by him."
Last season Johnson struggled a bit in the chase. Clearly it was only a one-time thing, as Johnson has shown he never lost his touch.
Texas was an exciting race, and Johnson showed why he is a five-time champion. Keselowski raced Jimmie hard at the end of the race, and Jimmie pushed right back. He got a great restart after the last caution, raced his way past Keselowski.
Johnson dominated, and is still the man to beat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
5. Brad Keselowski Raced Hard, Not Dirty
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Brad Keselowski wasn't going to make it easy for Jimmie Johnson to pass him at the end of the AAA Texas 500.
He raced Johnson hard, and the two traded paint before the final caution of the night came out.
Keselowski raced Johnson hard, like he should. They are battling for a championship after all. He managed to avoid wrecking with Johnson, and eventually had to settle for a second place finish. Brad's two tire pit decision wasn't able to hold back the 4 with four new tires.
Still, Keselowski managed to race Johnson hard, without racing him dirty.
"I raced hard, and I'm sure someone would say dirty,” Keselowski said over at AOL. “Hell, anytime you run close to certain guys you're racing them dirty according to some people."
Even Jimmie Johnson didn't feel like Keselowski raced him dirty.
“To his credit, he did a nice job of getting it right to the edge and we brought home racecars,” Johnson said over at AOL. “We weren’t wadded up looking like a bunch of fools over there and handing the (other contenders) a big gift.”
Jimmie Johnson ended up winning in the end, and is clearly the man to beat, but Keselowski raced him hard, and proved that he won’t make it easy for Johnson to gain a lead on him as they head into these last two races.
After the race at Texas this Sunday, expect Johnson and Keselowski to battle once again before the season is over.
4. Danica Finished on the Lead Lap, but Still Wasn't Impressive
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Danica Patrick finally finished on the lead lap of a Sprint Cup Series race.
Her Sprint Cup career-best 24th-place finish came with the addition of new crew chief Tony Gibson. She finally managed to finish on the lead lap, but she still wasn't impressive.
In fact, Patrick might have gotten in the way of the 2 car at one point.
Keselowski lost a couple of spots in a pit stop during the Texas race. He locked his brakes when he entered his pit stall, over shot it, and had to be pushed back into the stall.
With Danica parked in the way.
Danica and the 10 team had the pit stall in front of the 2 team, and both Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolf felt that Danica didn't make their lives any easier.
"It was probably a little bit of both and starting on my side," said Keselowski over at USAtoday.com. "I've got to take the blame where blame is deserved, and I felt we could have gotten a little more help from (Patrick). In that particular case, it probably wouldn't have made a significant difference, but it would have made a difference."
Patrick managing to finally finish on the lead lap in a Sprint Cup Series race might look like progress, but if she manages to get in the way of the drivers who are actually running a full-time Sprint Cup Series circuit, let alone those in The Chase, how much progress did she really make?
She managed to finish on the lead lap, but a 24th-place finish is still nothing impressive.
3. Kyle Bush Isn't in the Chase, but Looks Like a Title Contender
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Somebody forgot to tell Kyle Busch that he isn't in The Chase.
Throughout the end of the season, Busch has constantly been in the running, and even going for the win week after week.
Texas would be no different for Busch. Kyle ran up front for almost the entire race, and ended up finishing in third place.
"We knew we were going to have to deal with these guys [Sunday night], and we did," Busch said over at NASCAR.com. "They were right up there all night long, and we were right there pressuring them. I felt good about our run."
Busch was waiting and ready to make his move this Sunday, especially if Keselowski and Johnson took each other out during the late race cautions.
He didn't get his chance, but he battled Keselowski until the very end for the second-place finish. He couldn't pass the Blue Deuce, but he pushed both Johnson and Keselowski to their best.
"I just wish I had a couple better restarts there at the end of the race," Busch continued over at NASCAR.com. "I [wanted to be] a little bit closer to those guys when they were going at it. Brad was pushing Jimmie up the track, and I thought I could have squeezed in and got underneath them. I just didn't have quite enough there. I was a little too loose on the last couple of restarts."
Busch has raced these past weeks like he is fighting for the lead in The Chase. Texas is just another example of how in the chase or not, Busch continues to push for the win week after week.
2. Denny Hamlin Continues to Spiral Downward
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Martinsville last week, turned out to be a nightmare for Denny Hamlin. At a track where Hamlin is one of the best, his car would suffer from engine problem, and Hamlin ended up dropping in the Chase standings.
Hamlin was quoted over at SBnation.com as saying:
"I've been in these Chases for seven years and I've had my fair share of electrical issues and motor issues and things like that. All I can do is just drive my heart out, and if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. We'll have our time, it's just our time is not now."
Texas is a track where Hamlin has had success, and he seemed like an easy pick to win the Sunday race. With nothing to lose, and focusing on winning instead of points, Hamlin should have easily gone to the front at the AAA Texas 500.
Instead Hamlin continues to spiral down.
He finished 20th on Sunday, and dropped two spots in The Chase. Sure, Hamlin might have been out of the running anyway, but it seems like Hamlin has all of a sudden given up.
His finish at Martinsville ruined his Chase hopes, but is that any reason for Hamlin to seemingly give up before the seasons over?
Hamlin was a non-factor at Texas, and looks like he was never ready to make a serious title run.
Texas was a chance for Denny to rebound and end the season on a positive note. It seems like he will continue to spiral downward instead.
1. ...And Then There Were Two
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Two races remain in The Chase, and the field has narrowed down to two drivers.
Matt Kenseth has won two races in The Chase, but because of his poor start, his wins weren't enough to put him in title contention.
Biffle and Gordon failed to get their act together, and did nothing significant in the Chase.
Defending champ Tony Stewart looked like he was ready to push forward in the chase, until he wiped out most of the field at Talladega.
Hamlin had engine problems at Martinsville, which cost him his third-place spot in the standings.
The Chase looked like it was coming down to Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and possible Kasey Kahne.
After Keselowski and Johnson continued to dominate this week, finishing first and second, anything Kahne or Bowyer were hoping to do wouldn't be enough. They too have dropped behind Johnson and Keselowski and have no chance to make a comeback, especially with only two races left.
There are just two drivers remaining after Texas, and it’s going to come down to the last race at Homestead.
Will Johnson be able to win yet another title?
Or will Brad Keselowski pull off a major upset and beat his much more experienced opponent?
Texas was just a preview of what to expect at these next two races in The Chase. Both Johnson and Keselowski raced hard, and now that there are only two drivers left who have a shot at winning the championship, expect a battle until the very end.