It always seems when NASCAR comes to Texas, there is going to be a stampede of emotions. With the focus squarely on the Chase, all eyes were looking to the guys in the championship battle to do well.
Needless to say, all eyes were on the top Chase drivers, but for different reasons. This week's "Parks Race Reactions" will look at yesterday's race and look ahead to the how much the Chase to the Championship has changed.
Right away, the big story throughout the race was Jimmie Johnson. A 184-point lead when the green flag flew, and after three laps, it was gone. A little tap by David Reutimann into Sam Hornish sent Johnson sliding into the outside wall. Then, he slid back into Hornish, tearing up even more of his car.
In that instance, the entire championship hunt changed. Johnson pulled his car to the garage, not once unbuckling his belts, and just waited for his team to do the work.
It took 114 laps, and over an hour of repairs, but the Lowe's team got the car back on track and kept it fast enough to maintain minimum speed.
When the checkered flag flew, Johnson was credited with a 38th-place finish, but he actually finished the race. The team never gave up and wanted to get all the points possible.
Now, heading into Phoenix, the Chase is closer and will come even more down to the wire. Another mishap and Johnson could find himself in an unfamiliar position heading into Homestead-coming from behind to win a title.
The race itself was a boring one, especially when you have both Kurt and Kyle Busch dominating the race. Between the two brothers, they led all but 13 of the 334 laps. That is a dominating performance.
Kyle himself was the more dominant of the two drivers. He had his sights set on a complete weekend sweep, having won both the Truck and Nationwide events already.
All he really needed to do was make sure he had enough fuel to get to the finish. His final pit stop came on lap 269, 65 laps from the finish. That was outside of the expected window for fuel, but crew chief Dave Rogers decided to gamble and conserve fuel.
Looking to be three laps short, he began conserving and slowing his lap times. But, with three laps left, coming out of turn two, his car wiggles. Right then and there, his tank ran dry. That meant even conserving fuel, they were much shorter on fuel than expected.
Busch came in, got the gas he needed to finish, and came home 11th. After the race, Busch once again made a quick exit from the track, as the disappointment of missing the trifecta set in.
Kyle's misfortune would become a gift for his brother. Kurt also appeared to be low on fuel, but pitted two laps after his brother. He also had to conserve fuel, but he managed to save just enough to make the finish.
He came across the finish line to win his second race of the season and to also give a big prize to one lucky fan.
The day prior, the Dickies Hardest Working Man contest winner, Michael McGee, randomly selected Kurt Busch to win the race. If he pulled off the victory, Dickies would give him a $1 million bonus.
After Busch did his signature reverse victory lap, McGee joined Busch in victory lane and got his big payday. Not bad for a guy who just works hard for a living.
The entire Chase setting is now changed for the championship contenders. There is now a 73-point gap from Johnson to Martin. Johnson to clinch the title one of three ways.
1- Finishing fourth or better at both Phoenix and Homestead.
2- Leaving Phoenix with a 194-point lead on second place will give him the title a week early.
3- Leaving Phoenix with a 164-point lead will mean all he must do is take the green flag at Homestead to win the title.
Phoenix now becomes very important for Johnson, Martin and Jeff Gordon. The Chase will be coming down to the wire.
It will certainly be a close battle as NASCAR heads west into the desert. The Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 now becomes rather interesting. Coverage begins at 2:30 on ABC.