I love Foreigner. Who doesn't? Only one of the biggest selling rock bands in the world, with 70 million albums sold, they're a staple of classic rock radio—and of every NASCAR fan's music collection.
Well, Texas Motor Speedway's Eddie Gossage must love Foreigner too, because the zany track promoter made sure to bring in lead singer Kelly Hansen to perform the national anthem for the AAA Texas 500. No, Hansen isn't the original lead singer, but does it really matter? The idea of it was really cool.
Plus, it gives me a theme for this week's power rankings, heading into the penultimate race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Phoenix. I'm going to pair Sprint Cup drivers with the Foreigner songs that best reflect their respective weekends at Texas. Ready?
Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, purposely picked the pit stall directly in front of championship rival and points leader Jimmie Johnson. While the No. 48 team and crew chief Chad Knaus may not admit that Ford's decision threw them off, they did have significant pit problems that led to Johnson's pit crew being replaced mid-race.
Hamlin then went on to win the race, taking a 33-point lead in the standings with two races to go. No driver has ever won the Chase without leading the points with two races to go. In fact, the last time it happened in Cup racing was 1992, when Bill Elliott lost his lead to Alan Kulwicki.
Harvick came into Texas only 38 points back of the lead. A strong Texas performance and a little bit of luck would have given him the Chase lead, to go along with his massive lead in the traditional standings (which, if you're interested, would now stand at 300 points exactly). But he had to capitalize at Texas.
It didn't happen. Harvick wasn't able to lead a lap until very late in the race, brushed the wall in the final 20 laps, and was only saved by a Patrick Carpentier spin that allowed him to pit. His sixth-place finish was good—more than good under the old format—but not good enough in the Chase.
Perhaps Jimmie's day would have been more befitting of a Replacements song, since that's what happened to his crew. A series of sub-par pit stops led to crew chief Chad Knaus making the tough decision to swap out his regular crew for that of Jeff Gordon, who had been taken out of the race.
Johnson finished ninth and lost 47 points, and subsequently the Chase lead, to Denny Hamlin. He now enters the final two races of the season in a radically different position than he's been in the past few seasons—as the hunter instead of the hunted. And while Johnson may have no problem winning at Phoenix—he won this race last year—Hamlin is about as good as it gets in the final few races of the season. Johnson had better heat up again quickly.
Edwards won his third race of the season at Texas, keeping him second in points. After his traditional victory back flip, he climbed through a hole in the catch fence and began running up the grandstands, posing for pictures and high-fiving fans...
Wait, that was in the Nationwide race. My mistake.
Edwards could only muster a 19th-place finish in the Cup race, but misfortunes for his competitors meant that he actually gained two spots in Cup points. He's way out of the battle for the championship, but in fourth place, he is the best of the rest.
Kenseth barely sneaked into this year's Chase, hadn't done much in it for the first half or so, then quietly began to piece together better and better results. However, he was still missing that all-important first win of the season.
It nearly came at Texas, where he had a chance on the race's final restart to get by Denny Hamlin. It wasn't meant to be, of course, but it was a nice step in the right direction.
Jack Roush must have been pleased to see two of his Roush Fenway Racing cars running up front at the end. Kenseth may have come closest to the win, but it was Biffle who dominated much of the event.
Biffle led a dominant 224 out of the race's 334 laps, giving up the lead for the final time at lap 301. Unfortunately, a handful of other strong cars got by him, and he had to settle for a fifth-place finish. But after some of the struggles that Roush Fenway has seen this year, particularly caused by some less-than-effective front-end geometry, it was something positive to build on for the future.
After getting spun out, The Artist Formerly Known As Kyle went to the pits for a quick repair job. He managed to beat the pace car off of pit road by a nose, retaining his lead lap status.
But wait, there's more.
NASCAR officials decided that Kyle was speeding off of pit road, and assessed him a one-lap penalty. He subsequently gestured to his pit official that NASCAR was "No. 1," so to speak, and got himself another two laps in the sin bin. (For those of you who wanted to see, no, I couldn't find a picture of it, and yes, I looked. Sorry.)
Well, you would be too if you got wrecked as hard as Gordon did under somebody else's caution.
Burton, to his credit, was looking to apologize to Gordon for making a stupid mistake. That's why he's known as "The Mayor," and that's why he's so well respected in the garage area. But Gordon, of course, was not quite ready to see eye-to-eye with his Chase competitor after such a hard hit.
The subsequent fight won't do for NASCAR what Yarborough vs. the Allisons did at Daytona in 1979, partially because it was broken up so quickly. But it did, at the very least, show us all that Gordon still has the fire in him, something that has occasionally come into question over the past few years.
Plus, these guys used to be the answers to the question, "Which NASCAR drivers do you think are least likely to get into a fight, especially with one another?" Until last weekend.
Started 11th, finished 11th, no laps led, nothing special of note yesterday.
Smoke even lost a spot in the standings after the rise of Matt Kenseth.
It's going to be a fight to the finish for everybody in the bottom half of the Chase standings if a solid 11th-place weekend isn't enough to at least maintain your position.
It's tough to stay on top, eh?
Clint may have won last weekend, but he wasn't even able to lead a lap this time around.
The seventh-place finish did finally get him out of that 12th-place hole in Chase points, though.
The older Busch brother hasn't finished any better than 16th in the past five races and now finds himself only 38 points out of last in the Chase. To say that it's been a struggle lately may be an understatement.
That's all for this week. Enjoy the race at Phoenix!