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Carl Edwards got a third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night – despite his mother's cooking – and moved back into the Sprint Cup Series points lead (Kyle Busch had been the previous points leader).
"Third was about the best we could hope for," Edwards said afterward. "Coming out of here with the points lead and a teammate (Matt Kenseth) in Victory Lane is a good trip to Texas for us."
Kenseth had the best trip of all. Not only did he win the Samsung Mobile 500, but his victory resulted in a six-spot jump in the point standings – all the way to third.
Runnerup Clint Bowyer was the evening's other big gainer, as the Richard Childress Racing driver moved up four spots to 12th.
The race wasn't so good for Mark Martin, who was caught up in a crash and dropped a series-high five spots to 15th. Other big losers included Kevin Harvick (ninth) and Martin Truex Jr. (21st), who fell four spots apiece.
Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after the Texas Motor Speedway race:
Jack Roush wore a cowboy hat and a grin into the Texas Motor Speedway media center on Saturday night, which is a pretty good sign his Roush Fenway Racing team had a great race.
"I'm really proud of what we've been able to do in 2011," Roush said, crediting his team's engineering, new Ford nose and FR9 engines.
Roush's memorable evening resulted in an average finish of 3.75 for the team's drivers: Matt Kenseth won the race, Carl Edwards was third, Greg Biffle was fourth and pole-sitter David Ragan finished seventh.
Here's how the three other major multi-car teams fared Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway:
Richard Childress Racing (average finish 9.5)
Clint Bowyer was clearly the second-best car all evening, and finished right where he should have – in second. His strong run moved him up four spots to 12th in the point standings.
Paul Menard had another top-five run. The fifth-place finish was Menard's second top-five of the season, but only the fourth of his career. His potential breakout season seems as though it will continue, and he moved up to 11th in points.
Kevin Harvick had won the last two Sprint Cup races, but faltered with a 20th-place finish on Saturday. Crew chief Gil Martin said the team's fortunes were bound to change at some point.
"We've had a good race every race this year," Martin said. "Sooner or later you're going to have a bad one. We'll bounce back from it."
The news was a bit better for teammate Jeff Burton, who has struggled with bad breaks this season but finished 11th at Texas.
Hendrick Motorsports (average finish 19.0)
Though it was a decent day for Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both had top-10 finishes), the results were weighed down by Mark Martin's wreck and Jeff Gordon's misfortune.
Gordon ran out of gas at the end of the race and finished 22nd; Martin's 36th-place result dropped him five spots in the standings, all the way down to 15th.
Joe Gibbs Racing (average finish 18.3)
Oh boy. This just hasn't been a good season for JGR as a whole.
Joey Logano (24th) had another sub-par race, Kyle Busch's loose wheel left him 16th and Denny Hamlin – who swept both Texas races last season – was a disappointing 15th.
Busch is still in good shape, sitting second in the points. But Hamlin (20th) and Logano (28th) may be wondering what the heck is going on with their teams with this rough start to the season.
Is it time for Hamlin fans to panic?
Nancy Sterling, the mother of NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, was just trying to be nice. She cooked up her son a rice and beans dish on Friday night, and Edwards ate it on Saturday morning before the Texas Motor Speedway race.
Without going into too many details, it didn't go so well.
Edwards, though, felt fine after the initial wave of stomach illness, and figured he'd be OK to race on Saturday night.
But about 50 laps into the Samsung Mobile 500, the Roush Fenway Racing driver started feeling sick again. At one point, while driving at 200 mph, Edwards was literally gagging and trying everything he could to "keep everything in."
The team gave him Tums, Pepto Bismol and an anti-nausea pill to help with his stomach issues – and it worked. He eventually came home with a third-place finish and recaptured the Sprint Cup Series points lead from Kyle Busch.
Toughed out a race on a night where he felt sick instead of climbing from the car for a relief driver should help Edwards' image. The reputation of his mother's cooking, though, took a hit.
"My mom made a little dish," he said afterward. "I think one of the ingredients might have been bad; I think it might have been her first attempt at it."
Nearby, runnerup Clint Bowyer chuckled and responded: "I'll cook for you next week!"
"Yeah, I'll bet," Edwards said.
Edwards joked that his white firesuit – unstained – was proof that he was able to, in fact, keep it all in. But it was close, though he added he preferred "not to talk about the details."
"I've never had that (happen) before," he said. "I remember when Tony (Stewart) was sick at Watkins Glen, and he ran really well. There have been a lot of guys who have felt a lot worse than I did today, and they ran really well. I wasn't going to quit, but I was just complaining a little bit."
Ho-hum. Another race, another top-10 finish for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, marking his sixth straight result of 12th or higher. That's the longest such streak of consistent finishes for NASCAR's most popular driver since he had seven in a row during March/April 2008 – his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
The results that were once hard to come by for Earnhardt Jr. – he only had nine finishes of 12th or better all of last year – are now seemingly routine.
"That's how good the team is," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We just ain't made any real big mistakes."
Earnhardt Jr. moved up two spots in the Sprint Cup Series point standings – to sixth – and is now closer to the championship leader (-21 points) than the Chase bubble (+26 points).
"We had a much better car tonight (than ninth)," he said. "We had a terrible pit stop at one point, lost a bunch of track position. The last two runs, we made some adjustments that didn't suit the car too well. It was too tight, and then we jumped back over the fence and it was too loose. Still a good car; happy with the way we ran."
Sitting on the pit wall after the race, Earnhardt Jr. was drenched with sweat and held a cool rag to his neck. He had told his team during the middle portion of the race that he was extremely hot inside the car on a steamy Texas evening.
"I was OK near the end, but that long green-flag run in the middle was getting hu-mid!" he said. "But we cooled off there under them cautions, and everything was fine there toward the end."
When Earnhardt Jr. got out of the car, he and David Ragan (who finished seventh) had a brief chat. The two had raced hard on a couple different occasions during the race, and Earnhardt Jr. at one point had mentioned wrecking the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
"I was getting frustrated there, but he was doing what he was supposed to do," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I was mad, but I want the spot, man! The hell with running behind him. My car was way faster than his, but I just couldn't get by him. He was running a good line, and I was loose on the bottom."
So based on the way he's running lately, would anything but a top 10 be a disappointment at this point?
"Well, every week that I've ever ran, if I don't run where I think I should, it's a letdown to me," he said. "So I'd say yeah."
Matt Kenseth had what appeared to be the best car at Texas Motor Speedway and it paid off as he came around to take the checkered flag during Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500. Kurt Busch was forced to pit with just 15 laps to go, clearing the way for Kenseth down the stretch. An extended green-flag run to end the race led to problems for some, including pit road problems for one potential leader.
Clint Bowyer finished second and Carl Edwards finished third, but it was all Kenseth as the race wound down. Edwards had one of the more humorous stories, saying he was all hopped up on Pepto Bismol after having stomach problems for much of the day. In a post-race interview, Edwards attributed his issues to his mother's home cooking, but had a laugh about it.
Tony Stewart also had a shot to win, but didn't have enough to make it to the checkered flag, running out of gas and finishing in 12th as the final car on the lead lap. Jeff Gordon joined him in running out of gas, finishing 24th as a result. Jimmie Johnson finished eighth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ninth, right in the thick of things in Texas.
Here's the full set of results from Texas:
We're back to the traditional chat format this week, so "have at it" – much like Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton did at Texas Motor Speedway last fall.
So without further adieu, let's get it started.
Who do you think is going to win tonight?
It's NASCAR race day at Texas Motor Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the Texas race for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by retired U.S. Army Master Aviator Gary Linfoot at 7:38 p.m. Eastern time (6:38 local). The actual start time of the race is estimated to be 7:46:30. Yep, you read that right – the estimated green flag time is 30 seconds past 7:46. Pretty specific, isn't it? An executive from Sprint is waving the green flag tonight.
Race name/distance: The race is called the Samsung Mobile 500, although it's actually not 500 miles. The real distance of the race is 501 miles, which is the result of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile Texas track.
TV and radio: As for all of the races through May, FOX is televising the race. The radio broadcast can be found on your local Performance Racing Network (PRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of PRN stations where you can listen.
National anthem: For those who are sick of singers screwing up the national anthem before the start of NASCAR races, fear not: There is no anthem singer at Texas. Instead, it'll be performed by the Army Ground Forces Band, also known as the "Brass Brigade." Should be a good one.
Last time: Denny Hamlin pulled off an incredible win, going to Victory Lane one year ago just days after he had surgery on his injured knee. Hamlin followed his spring Texas win with another victory there in the fall.
Starting lineup for the Texas Motor Speedway race tonight:
Sandie Longs loves NASCAR. But because her heart is bigger than her bank account, she can't express the passion for her favorite sport in person very often.
Instead, Longs spends her free time tweeting her enthusiasm for NASCAR under the handle @vegangymmie, sending numerous messages to drivers, spotters, media and other fans involved in the sport.
With few exceptions, Longs is overwhelmingly kind and positive in her tweets to others. She maintains her optimistic approach despite having somewhat of a rough go in life because, as she said, "It's better than crying."
But one of the most difficult times of year for Longs, 41, is when her beloved NASCAR and its drivers visit Texas Motor Speedway, which is only a short drive from her home in McKinney.
There's only one problem: Longs not only can't afford the tickets, but even if she could, she doesn't have a car.
That's where fellow race fan Boyd Adams comes in. Adams, who tweets under the @racepix handle, lives approximately 10 miles away from Longs and had connected with her about their common interest via Twitter.
"We kept in touch, and the conversations became more than just about racing," Adams said. "Family stuff, the daily grind and all that."
But last fall, money became tight for Adams, too. The 49-year-old was laid off from his job shortly before last November's Texas race.
Adams said he figured, "Man, I'm not going to have the money to go to the races," but he was given free tickets to all three events that weekend.
His wife, though, couldn't attend. She found out she had to work on each of the race days, leaving Adams with an extra ticket. That's when Adams decided to get in touch with Longs.
"I contacted Gymmie to see if she might be interested in going to the races," he said. "And she was excited to do that."
Adams' wife told him to be on his best behavior – in order not to scare a woman he had never met – so he picked Longs up in the front of her apartment complex instead of at her door. That way, he said, it would reassure her that he "wasn't a creep" and she could back out of the situation if she wanted.
Obviously, it turned out Adams was a good guy, and the two Twitter friends were literally off to the races together.
"It's a pay-it-forward kind of deal," he said. "You do a good deed, and hopefully it leads to another."
In this case, it did.
Adams' wife had to work again on Friday and was unable to attend the Texas Nationwide race, so she told her husband to invite Longs instead. But husband and wife planned to be at Saturday's Sprint Cup race together, and since Longs couldn't afford a ticket, she knew she wouldn't be able to go.
Sprint caught word of Longs' predicament late Friday afternoon, and a representative for Miss Sprint Cup decided to award Longs two free Sprint Cup race tickets for tomorrow night.
A happy Longs was handed the tickets during qualifying on Friday, and, as she did last fall, she'll have the opportunity to see all of her favorite Cup drivers in person (which, by the way, includes most of the field).
And how will she get to the track?
Adams, of course, plans to give her a lift.
You can bet David Ragan needed this. Now he just needs to turn his outstanding qualifying effort on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway into a good run during Saturday's Samsung Mobile 500.
Ragan, the last top-35 car to make a lap in qualifying, shoved Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards off the pole by two-tenths of a second to take his first career No. 1 starting position.
Ragan recorded a lap of 189.820 mph, ahead of Edwards (188.571 mph), Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and Regan Smith.
Jimmie Johnson, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.
Travis Kvapil failed to qualify for the race. He was the only driver to be sent home.
Here is the starting lineup for Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway:
NASCAR driver Carl Edwards flies around these days in a Citation jet, but back when he first started flying, he bought a single-engine Saratoga that was purplish-pink in color.
And when he was learning the ropes of what it took to be a pilot, he made a mistake one day.
We'll let him tell the rest of the story:
So I was flying in my little Saratoga; I'd gotten my pilot's license and it was my first plane. I flew it all over the country. This little thing was great, and I landed for fuel in Dimmitt, Texas.
It looked like a good place to land on the map, but I didn't think to check the windsock. So I landed downwind – I'm landing at 60 or 80 mph, plus a 20 mph wind – and I'm like screaming down this runway trying to stop.
I get to the end, and there's a guy ready to take off in the correct direction, waiting on the taxiway in his crop duster. And I can see him looking at me like, 'You idiot!'
He's looking at me like, 'Well, now what are you going to do, moron? You've got to turn around because I can't back up!'
So I turn around, and taxi back in and beg these people for some fuel. And they're like, 'Oh, you're NASCAR driver Carl Edwards!' So the only guy that saw that landing was this one guy.
Like a year later, I was doing an autograph session here at Texas, and I hear from the crowd, 'HEY, DOWNWIND!'
I was like, 'No! He knows! Somebody knows!'
And he's like, 'I was that guy in that crop duster! You're a terrible pilot!'
It was pretty funny. So I'm sure in the crop duster community, they laugh at me as a pilot.
Kasey Kahne led the final Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, topping the charts with a fast lap of 183.899 mph.
Kahne bested Paul Menard (183.892) in a 90-minute practice session that saw many drivers work only on race trim and not the upcoming qualifying session later this evening.
The fastest drivers in the session, though, did work on qualifying: Carl Edwards was third-fastest, followed by Kurt Busch and Regan Smith.
Roush Fenway Racing's David Ragan – who led Thursday's practice session – was sixth, ahead of Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin and AJ Allmendinger.
There were no incidents during the practice session, which wasn't televised due to Speed's coverage of the Barrett Jackson auction.
Sprint Cup Series qualifying is scheduled to begin at 6:40 p.m. Eastern time (5:40 p.m. local time). Qualifying order will mostly be based on Thursday's practice session, which saw the fastest speeds.
Denny Hamlin's slow start to the 2011 NASCAR schedule isn't causing him to panic – yet.
Hamlin said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway that his disappointing finishes so far this season have gotten his attention, but he continues to believe he'll be in the top 10 in points soon (he's currently 19th).
"For me, the panic level is not that high, but it is creeping there because ultimately it's not about the number of points that you're behind 10th at this point, it's how many guys separate you from that," he said.
Hamlin said he remained confident that over the next three races – Texas, Talladega and Richmond – he would move into the top 15 in the point standings.
Then, with some more good tracks for Hamlin afterward, "We're going to keep marching our way back to the top 10."
As he does seemingly every year, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver warned fans before the season that his team would start slow. In 2010, Hamlin's team also got off to a poor start but rallied with wins at Martinsville and Texas, sparking a championship contending run.
This year, the start has been about the same (aside from not winning at Martinsville). So why is the perception that Hamlin is having an off-year?
"I think what people were attributing this year's slow start to is the last couple races of last year," he said. "I know in my mind it has nothing to do with it, but it's just the way people see it – like it's a letdown from last year. I honestly don't believe that."
He's confident his No. 11 team won't need a "wild card" spot to make the Chase via wins – the team will make it the conventional way, he said.
"We're not going to need to get in on wins, I don't believe," he said. "I honestly believe we're going to be in the top 10 here in the next seven, eight weeks."
Hamlin said he's worked harder than ever before this year, particularly the last three weeks in studying data and video of previous races.
But in several instances lately, his pit crew hadn't been getting the job done. So a change was made this week, bringing up a front tire changer from the No. 11 Nationwide team.
Did Hamlin regret being harsh in comments toward his crew?
"Everyone always says I'm critical," Hamlin said. "I just said that we stunk – and we did. A lot of people say they stink at times. It's a shame, but you have to make changes sometimes. ... You just sometimes have to make a change for chemistry sake."
Hamlin said he had the same pit crew for the past few years – it won the Pit Crew Challenge during All-Star week last year – but with up-and-down results. Both the driver and crew chief Mike Ford reached the conclusion after Martinsville that a change was necessary.
"I'm excited about it," Hamlin said. "It's a change and obviously it's going to take time for chemistry to kick in. Me and Mike talked about that: There's probably going to be stops throughout this weekend where it's not going to be the best, but hopefully it's a step in the right direction for the long run."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said there may be some things he could have done differently to win last week's race at Martinsville Speedway – but taking out Kevin Harvick intentionally wasn't one of them.
"I didn't want to take him out under any circumstances," he told reporters Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway. "I don't take out drivers or wreck people on purpose. I wanted to race him hard."
Earnhardt Jr. said he did attempt to get into Harvick's rear bumper and move the No. 29 car up the track, but Harvick didn't have much of a bumper left after earlier damage.
"So when I ran into him, it was like a pillow fight," said Earnhardt Jr., who ultimately finished second. "There wasn't much to it. He just drove off the nose of my car and went on his way."
After the race, some fans and media were critical of Earnhardt Jr. because they suggested he should have just dumped Harvick on purpose for the win – as some claimed his father would have done.
Earnhardt Jr. said he "didn't think that would have been the right thing to do."
"I wouldn't want anyone to do that to me, just take me completely out of the race – under any circumstances," he said. "I don't have a history of doing that."
As for those who thought otherwise?
"It's real easy to say that on the Internet," he said. "Really, on the Internet, it's easy to say a lot of things. Everybody knows how I race – I try to race respectful, and I want the same in return.
"If it's near the end of the race, I expect to run hard and be aggressive, and I expect the guys to run me hard and be aggressive, and I think that's kind of what went down this past weekend."
Earnhardt Jr. seemed almost apologetic for the flood of "He's back!" stories after his second-place finish, saying he knew many fans "don't really like having too many Dale Jr. stories out there."
"There was far too much discussion and commenting on the finish from the media," he said, somewhat sheepishly. "...That's a lot of exposure just to run second somewhere. Hopefully we can validate all that with a win soon."
NASCAR drivers enjoy an interesting relationship with the corps of beat writers who show up at the track each week, and Ryan Newman in particular seems to enjoy some friendly banter.
Newman often interjects his own thoughts into the question or interrupts to query the questioner. A great example was Friday morning at Texas Motor Speedway, when Newman had a funny exchange with veteran writer Lee Spencer of FoxSports.com.
Here's what happened:
Spencer: "With fuel injection coming into the sport, it would be really easy just to put traction control on the cars..."
Newman: "It would be?"
Spencer: "Well, that's what I've heard from engineers. So I'm asking you..."
Newman: "Who'd you talk to?"
Spencer: "Can I finish my question and then you (can answer)? It'll be short..."
Newman: "I have the right to interrupt."
Spencer: "Yes, you do (laughs). ... You love this, don't you?"
Newman: "You could have not stopped talking. You could have just kept going and ignored me. That's an option, too."
Spencer: "I'm not your wife."
(Entire media center guffaws)
Newman (grinning): "Yeah. You'll never make me smile any bigger!"
For the record, neither Newman nor Spencer were making their comments with any ill will toward the other person.
David Ragan jumped to the top of the speed charts with just one minute remaining in Thursday's lone Sprint Cup Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway and ended up No. 1 when the session concluded.
Ragan was among the drivers who switched over to qualifying trim late in the day after spending most of the 90-minute practice in race trim, and it paid off with a lap of 185.818 mph.
The top five continuously changed as the practice wound down, but it ended up with Tony Stewart in second (185.701), followed by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Greg Biffle rounded out the top five.
The rest of the top 10 included Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski.
It was unclear if the drivers toward the bottom of the practice charts didn't attempt mock qualifying runs, but the practice order switched dramatically late in the session.
There were no incidents during the practice. The Sprint Cup cars are scheduled to return on Friday for another 90-minute practice session, followed by qualifying on Friday evening.
Kevin Harvick offered this little tidbit today at Texas Motor Speedway on his mentality heading into a race weekend. I thought it was pretty interesting.
Check it out:
For me sometimes it's watching last year's races, but a lot of that stuff sticks in your mind. There is little characteristics that you run through in your mind, and in mine, I run laps through it all week as to what the characteristics are and to know and spring thoughts in your mind as to what helped you, what hurt you and where the bumps are and try to have that visual in your mind before you get to the racetrack.
For us as the 29 team, every Monday we talk about the characteristics from last year to this year, things with our cars handling-wise, things we did in the race, things that we did right, things that we didn't do right and try to make them fresh in your mind.
Sometimes I will have to go back and watch the race, but usually by the time I leave RCR on Monday, everything is pretty fresh and you have a mental image in your mind of where all the bumps and cracks and crevices are at a particular racetrack.
Jeff Burton isn't on this week's NASCAR media availability schedule again – and all of us are worse off for it.
A few years ago, NASCAR smartly instituted what were then called "Behind the hauler chats." The top 10 drivers (that number later increased to 12) were to have a 15-minute media session every week.
Over the years, these media availabilities have evolved. Most are now conducted in the formal setting of the infield media center, though some drivers still prefer to stand at the back of their team transporter and field questions there.
And while reporters still set up one-on-one interviews with various drivers, there's no weekly interview session with a driver if he isn't in the top 12 in points.
Burton, as you probably know, isn't in the top 12 this season – or even close. His miserable start to the year, often thanks to bad luck, has left him mired in 28th place.
As a result, there's no Burton in the media center, offering his insight on the issues of the day. For the past couple years, the man they call "The Mayor" had been a media center fixture as the first interview of the day – a valuable resource for reporters.
Burton may not be one of the biggest names to fans, but he's long been considered the go-to interview for reporters. His wise, reasoned take on the hot topics not only contributed to the media's stories, but in some cases set the tone for the rest of the weekend's interviews.
Reporters don't have all the answers, and so Burton's media availabilities were also often an educational tool. And the more the media is educated on a given issue, the better they can relay that message to the fans.
At this point, though, it's looking as if this will be a Mayor-less year in the media center. And quite honestly, not having Burton give his take weekly leaves all of us – reporters and fans alike – without a much-needed, articulate voice of reason.
For better or worse, the married version of Kyle Busch is a different guy than many NASCAR fans are used to seeing. So is Busch's effort to be a better sport and show the nicer side of his personality a good thing?
It depends who you ask. Reporters get tweets every day from fans who say they are starting to come around on Busch after previously not liking him; others, though, say they liked him the old way.
Busch has heard that talk from fans, too – right to his face.
"Yeah, I have," he said. "There's been people that have said, 'We like the new you' or 'We like the married you.' I've had those people. But I've also had the other people who have said, 'It feels like you're going soft on us.'"
The Sprint Cup Series points leader said the fan opinions were a result of "the best of both worlds."
"Things have changed a little bit and things have gone really well and been a lot different (off the track), but yet I still feel the same with on-track success and being competitive," he said.
So how does Busch respond to the people who claim he's gone soft?
"I just say that as long as the results don't go soft, we're OK," he said.
This weekend's NASCAR schedule at Texas Motor Speedway is fairly unusual – and not just because it's a Saturday night race for the first time in the track's history.
The practice and qualifying schedule is a bit wacky as well. Qualifying is on Friday night, and there are only two Sprint Cup Series practice sessions: One on Thursday, one on Friday.
Check out what we're talking about below.
NASCAR weekend schedule for Texas Motor Speedway (all times Eastern):
• 3 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (2 hours)
• 5:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 40 minutes)
• 7 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)
• 10:30 a.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 15 minutes)
• 12:15 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (1 hour, 15 minutes)
• 3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)
• 5:05 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
• 6:40 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
• 8:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 300 miles)
• 7:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles)
The last image we had of Texas Motor Speedway was of a smiling Denny Hamlin and his confident crew chief Mike Ford, seemingly well on their way to the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Hamlin left Texas as the Chase points leader last fall, and it appeared defending champion Jimmie Johnson was on the ropes. Ford quickly took the opportunity to take jabs at Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus, claiming the 11 team rattled the 48.
The Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief even criticized Knaus for making a mid-race pit crew member swap.
We all know what happened after that.
Hamlin dominated Phoenix the next week, but his fuel mileage wasn't good enough to win. Already frustrated, he then rolled into Homestead and coughed up the lead, giving Johnson a fifth straight title.
Things haven't been much better this year. Hamlin is only 19th in points and didn't get a good result last week at Martinsville, where he had won three straight races.
To make matters worse, his No. 11 team even made a mid-race pit crew member swap – the same thing Ford criticized Knaus for at Texas last year.
So if there's any driver who needs a win at Texas this week, given everything that's happened since the last time NASCAR visited the Lone Star State, it's Hamlin.
Can he rebound? Or will Hamlin be forced to start looking at one of the wild card spots to make the Chase this year?
We'll all find out together.
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