As Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag to win the Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway last night he told his crew over the radio there had been times when he wasn’t sure he was ever going to experience winning a race again. His last win was February 2009 and the barren period since had led to Kenseth’s confidence being sapped. But he won the race in dominant style leading 169 of the 334 laps and what was something of a Ford rout with five of the top seven places going to the Dearborn car.
Despite having a scare when his engine temperature started climbing and oil pressure fluctuating Kenseth and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates pretty much dominated the race all night and finished up with Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and David Ragan taking the third, fourth and seventh spots. Marcos Ambrose brought his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford home in sixth. The two non Ford interlopers were the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet pairing of Clint Bowyer in second and Paul Menard‘s fifth place, giving him six highest ever finishes from the seven tracks raced at so far this season.
Bowyer deserved the award for save of the night when he side-swiped the no.83 car of Brian Vickers and got his own Chevrolet very sideways at about 170 mph. His dirt-track racing background kicked in and he saved the moment and avoided what could have so easily been the end of his night. “Did you see that? It was dirt tracking it, at its best, in the middle of the straightaway. Not supposed to do that,” Bowyer said in the post race interview.
Bowyer was magnanimous after the race when he acknowledged that his crew had lost their way with car set-up at the first few races and his recent turnaround in form was due to the team of Paul Menard showing the no. 33 team the settings they used.
Hero of the night was probably Carl Edwards who had suffered a bad stomach all day and was blaming the cooking of his mother the previous evening. He elected to start the race and had Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on standby in case he needed replacing part way through. At one pit stop he was handed a bottle of water and some Tums but then dropped the tablets whilst racing round the track. Despite stories to the contrary he managed to contain the contents of his tummy, mindful that he was wearing a white racesuit, and refused to quit.
Edwards was on for a well-earned fourth place when Tony Stewart‘s fuel strategy went awry and promoted the no.99 car to third. Stewart had pitted during green flag racing for fuel just 58 laps before the finish having just completed a 58 lap run. He was thus totally confident that he could run to the end and was just left to hope that there were no more caution periods. Everything went his way except lasting the distance, presumably because he wasn’t fuelled to the brim at that last stop, a fate that befell Jeff Gordon as well.
Stewart ended up being placed twelfth and last man on the lead lap on a night he’d rather forget. During the first pit stops as early as lap eleven he contrived to have a collision as he left his pit stall, turning David Blaney in the process, and needed several visits to the pits to repair the damage. In fact there was probably more cars damaged in pit lane than there were on the track such was the propensity for cars crashing entering and leaving their stalls.
The main on-track damage was restricted to a lap 215 crash when Martin Truex Jr. slewed sideway coming off turn two. In the lottery that is NASCAR racing of the two cars immediately behind Truex the Ford of A J Allmendinger ran past the wayward no. 56 car with barely inches to spare whilst Mark Martin‘s first knowledge that things were wrong was the moment he slammed into Truex’s car and the pair then crashed down to the inner wall. The unlucky Regan Smith also wrecked in the same accident.
Carl Edwards preseverance puts him back on top spot in the championship table, swapping places with 16th place finisher, Kyle Busch. Kenseth has climbed six places to third, just thirteen points behind the leader. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch both drop one place to fourth and fifth whilst Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished ninth between Johnson and Busch, takes sixth place in the title race.
Kevin Harvick, who had a torrid night, being penalised for leaving the pits whilst one of the wheels taken off during the stop was still on the right side of the pit stall, and then being trapped in his pit when David Reutimann was spun sideways just ahead of him, paid dearly for his misfortune dropping four places to ninth in the table, whilst the luckless Martin fell out of the top ten to fifteenth.
Next Sunday’s race is the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega and another chance for the drivers to pair up for a bump-draft festival.