The Texas Motor Speedway is quad-oval 1.5 mile track really similar to the Atlanta Motor Speedway as well as Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Texas is banked 24 degrees in the turns.
As the Texas Speedway aged it lost its title as the fastest non-restrictor plate track to Atlanta, but speed is definably still a factor at Texas as by Lap 276 only fifteen cars were on the lead lap.
However, the real story at Texas on Sunday was fuel millage. The leaders were driving on vapor, for some this gamble equaled victory for other disappointment.
Ranked 12th – Denny Hamlin (No. 11)
Change in Standing
Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team brought Chassis JGR 204 to Texas, the same chassis that brought them third places at Atlanta, so what happened?
A perturbed Denny would tell a reporter from FedEx.com:
“We definitely fought a car that was really hard to drive all afternoon. We just didn't get it figured out. The FedEx Office guys tried almost everything they could and we just couldn't get it right. We were loose on exit, tight in the center; we couldn't put the throttle down. There was no reaction out of the front end - you say it, it happened to us”.
Denny’s handling problem were evident early in the race as on his first pit, Lap 50 the No. 11 team made a wedge adjustment and added a spring rubber. The changes regrettably, didn’t improve the handling issues, evident as Denny fell deeper back in the field. By Lap 287 he would be off the lead lap.
The No. 11 car fought coming off the corners for grip, but as Denny would say over the radio “We just can’t put the throttle down”. By Lap 113 Denny was at 26th.
As Texas is a speed track, the leader, Carl Edwards make quick work of catching Denny. On Lap 132 Edwards knocked the No. 11 team off the lead lap. Denny would fight the rest of the day in hope of the luck dog position, however, despite his efforts the No. 11 team would finish were they started at seventh.
After Atlanta it looked that the No. 11 team had gotten their second Chase wind. Texas wasn’t the race we expected from the No. 11. However, looking at the positive with a dreadfully handling car, Denny was able to pull off a top twenty finish.
If the No. 11 team can fix the handling problems, look for Denny to move up after Phoenix.
Ranked 11th – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)
Change in Standing
Minute yet track position consuming issues would plague Dale Jr. through out the first half of the race. He made a charge to the front but a loose wheel would cost him a few spots by Lap 58.
Although, the No. 88 team had smooth pit-stops, handling issue would drop Dale Jr. to sixteenth by Lap 117. Quickly putting him in danger for dropping off the lead lap as only the top eighteen cars were on the lead lap at this point.
Dale Jr. would fall a lap down, however, with fresh tires by Lap 297 the No. 88 team was back on the lead lap and at seventh. By Lap 324 Edwards was leading Dale Jr. by 10.659.
The No. 88 teams, as well as the No. 24 choose to take the fuel millage challenge with Edwards and stay out. However, at Lap 328 then second place Dale Jr.’s luck with his fuel would run out.
This gamble would cost the No. 88 team one spot in the standing. However, I think most would agree it was be right choice for the No. 88 team, had it paid off the Dale Jr. would have moved up. Furthermore, being in the Chase bucket dropping one spot isn’t as dramatic a lost as if he was in the top five.
Sidebar: Edward fuel millage choice; Edward’s last fuel pit was on Lap 264. There would be four more laps under that caution, thus giving him an extra four laps of fuel millage as the general rule is two yellow laps to one green. At that point there was 70 Laps to go, on average a tank of fuel last for 30-40 laps. Taking in account for the caution, to go to the end he would have to squeeze out between 36-26 Laps, or pit around Lap 310. However, it seemed cars were squeezing out above average fuel millage at Texas. Therefore, on Lap 315 with only 19 Laps to go the No. 99 team takes the gamble to stay out. It absolutely paid off.
Ranked 10th – Kyle Busch (#18)
Change in Standing
Prior to Texas Kyle Busch told SceneDaily.com last Friday “I wish it was over with and done with after the third race of the Chase”. However, he didn’t drive at Texas like someone who had filed this season away.
Whether you love or hate the MM, one thing most won’t dispute is Kyle Busch has a gift for seeing the wholes in traffic. He made quick work of the 24 cars ahead of him to enter the top five at Lap 207. By Lap 218 he would be riding Jamie McMurray’s bumper for third.
After a quick wedge adjustment and four tires Kyle would pass David Reutiman on Lap 247 for second. It looked like the pre-Chase Kyle had found his way back into the No. 18 car, as by Lap 263 Kyle was 1.756 of Edward’s lead. Kyle would slip down to at Lap 276 seventh after pitting.
Yet, again in typical Kyle fashion he was charging back though the field. It looked like a top five finish was possible.
However, as the rest of the field tried to squeezes out fuel mileage the No. 18 went with a different strategy, one which would cost them a top five finish. On Lap 314 Kyle got fuel and new right side tires, assuming that as others began to run low on gas, the fresh tires would give him the competitive edge.
It wouldn’t be enough.
The Chase is coming to an end. With just a couple of races to salvage a little pride, will we see more gambles or will some drives just want the 2008 season past quietly? I will predict that those drives at the bottom of the Chase bucket aren’t the quite type.
Well until next time, happy cheering for the bottom of the bucket!