Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Mark Martin: As the Wheel Turns in Texas

David YeazellSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2009

Jimmie Johnson mistakenly decides to race. Hendrick Motor Sports makes it clear who it wants as champion, and it’s a different race, same result, for Kyle Busch.

As the Wheel Turns is an irregular publication that tries to answer questions, solve conundrums, and extricate quagmires occurring on race day and throughout the racing community.

While I try to cover all the bizarre strategies by drivers or crews, and sometimes aberrant decisions by NASCAR, there are times when one event may take up the main focus of an article.

This is not one of those articles.

Given the drama that unfolded on lap two at Texas Motor Speedway this past Sunday, it would be easy to devote an entire article to how Johnson’s Texas Two Step with Sam Hornish Jr. could have cost him the championship.

Actually, it was bad, but not the worst.

Johnson did lose a considerable amount of valuable points. How many points actually depended on how the drivers below him in the Chase standings finished.

NASCAR’s point system rewards drivers not just for winning, but for where they finish the race. Laps down make no difference in points being awarded; it’s just what position you finish.

The next five in points would have had to finish the race one through five for this unfortunate event to have maximum effect.

For every position out of the top five they lost, Johnson actually gained back points.

Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart, the next three in points behind Johnson, left a combined 100-plus points on the table Sunday.

When the dust settled, all was not lost at Texas.

Johnson earned $151,901 for his efforts. Not bad considering a 38th place finish, barely three hours of work, and only 205 laps run.

Johnson’s pay day was more than the next 24 drivers who finished ahead of him, and better than the eighth place finisher, Greg Biffle, the 10th place finisher, A.J. Allmendinger, and the 12th place finisher, Ryan Newman.

If there was ever a question of who the favorite son at Hendrick Motor Sports is, it was answered Sunday.

Within moments of Johnson’s car arriving at the garage, a call out was issued for all available personnel to come and lend a hand.

It’s kind of understandable that Jeff Gordon’s team would lend a hand. Gordon is, after all, part owner of the No. 48 car.

On the other hand, Gordon is also sitting third in points with a legitimate shot at catching Johnson.

What’s hard to understand is that every Hendrick team below Mark Martin in the points pitched in to help. Where does this leave Mark Martin in the whole scheme of things?

Sitting second in points, this was actually a plum for Martin, a chance to close the gap on Johnson.

How does Hendrick make a decision to pull all available resources to help one driver when doing so will hurt another, or even two?

Is it possible the decision was made at the beginning of the chase which Hendrick driver would receive the hardware in Las Vegas?

Once again despite dominating the majority of an event, Kyle Busch came up a few gallons short of quenching his thirst for first at Texas.

Making the decision to pit two laps before co-leader Kurt Busch, new crew chief Dave Rogers gambled on fuel, and lost.

This is not the first time Busch has been snake bit. It is, however, the first time with Rogers.

What the future holds for Rogers and Busch is uncertain, but what the present is showing is no different than what the past has held for Busch.

Under crew chief Steve Addington, Busch experienced the same type of turn of events a multitude of times.

If Rogers knew Busch was going to be two or three laps short on gas, then why not pit at the same time that front runner, and eventual winner, Kurt Busch, pitted?

Busch insisted on a crew chief change, and the change was swift, no doubt a bargaining chip used in recent contract extension negotiations with JGR.

Photo Credit: David Yeazell

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