|EARNHARDT JR. CONTINUES TORRID STREAK WITH RUNNER-UP PERFORMANCE AT AAA TEXAS 500Johnson In Familiar Position Following AAA Texas 500
Dillon, Keselowski Cowboy Up At Texas Motor Speedway
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 4, 2013) – The opening Chase race at Chicagoland may be a distant memory for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but after posting his third runner-up finish in eight Chase races in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway its impact continues to haunt him.
Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy Gold/7-Eleven Chevrolet) moved from seventh to fifth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship following the AAA Texas 500 and the performance extended an outstanding run since his misfortune at Chicagoland that crushed his title aspirations.
Since that 35th-place finish at Chicagoland from an engine failure that dropped him to last (13th) in the Chase, he has stormed back with six top-10 finishes in the ensuing seven Chase races, including half of them in the runner-up position, and has led 10 or more laps in five of those. Earnhardt Jr.’s only non-top-10 finish during that span was 15th at Charlotte and his average finish after Chicago has been a solid 6.14.
“The Chicago deal is regrettable,” Earnhardt Jr. said following the AAA Texas 500. “We’d love to go back and do that over again, but as soon as that happened we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race. Winning a race would really lift all the team’s spirits. You work all season long not to go winless and not to getting to Victory Lane. So I know how much the guys want the win on the team. So that’s what we’re working for now.
“But, yeah, I think about that a little bit. But there isn’t much you can do about it. I’ve got two races to go and we’d love to get a win in one of them and continue to have a good run here in the Chase.”
Added team owner Rick Hendrick: “If you just go back and give him a top 10 for the motor that he lost in the first of the Chase, then it would be entirely different story.”
Earnhardt Jr. has no chance of catching Chase leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), who he trails by 62 points, or second-place Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Let’s Do It Toyota), who is 55 ahead of him, but he does have an opportunity to finish among the top three in the championship.
He is only 22 points behind third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet) and 10 back of fourth-place Kyle Busch (No. 18 Snickers Toyota). Should Earnhardt Jr. be able to move up to third in the championship over the next two weeks at Phoenix and season-ending Homestead, it would equal his career-best championship finish in 2003. At the same time, he also would like to end his winless streak that dates to Michigan in June of 2012.
“We want to put forward a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you’re in there for a reason and you don’t want to be an also-ran,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So we feel like we’re doing a lot of good work and getting really close to probably breaking through and getting a win. We’ve only got two more opportunities at it, but real pleased with just the speed of the car.”
Hendrick clearly can see the progress made by Earnhardt and the No. 88 team and that elusive return to Victory Lane may be nearing.
“I have this theory,” Hendrick said. “You’re not going to win until you’re consistently in the top 10 and then you’ve got to be consistently in the top five. When you can run consistently in the top five, you’re going to win races and he’s been right there. … His confidence is as high as it’s ever been. We get plenty of questions of when he is going to win the race, but he’s right there. So I think as competitive as he is, it’s answered a lot of questions and I think we’re going to build on that momentum.
“Hopefully, we can continue the next two weeks. He’s really good at Phoenix. He likes Homestead. We had a great test there. I hope he can win a race and carry this momentum into next year. I think he could be right in the middle of this championship had we not lost that engine, and he had nothing to do with that.”
With his win in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, Jimmie Johnson moved ahead of Matt Kenseth by seven points heading into the final two races of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The position of being seven points up with two to go is all too familiar for Johnson.
Just last year, Johnson also won the AAA Texas 500 to move seven points ahead of Brad Keselowski only to lose the lead the following week at Phoenix International Raceway after a blown tire resulted in a 32nd-place finish. Ultimately, it cost Johnson his sixth Sprint Cup Series crown.
“I hope history doesn’t repeat itself,” Johnson said after his record-tying, third Sprint Cup Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway. “That is the perfect example of this thing isn’t over until it’s over. Last year, we had eight races and two bad ones and didn’t get the championship. Very important to finish strong. There are two very important races left.”
For Johnson, this year’s momentum he carries into the final two races has a different feel than last year. A dominating performance in the AAA Texas 500 where he led a race-high 255 laps, coupled with a recent test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has him confident about the stretch run.
“I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here,” Johnson said. “Then last year we did not test Homestead and we just came back from Homestead, and that test went really well. So I’m optimistic. I feel good. But man, it’s so weird because I’ve been in position before where I’ve had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row.”
NOTE: Post-race interview video with Johnson is available to preview athttp://tinyurl.com/mn8wjsw and high-res video is available to download at http://tinyurl.com/m2rblls.
Dominating performances en route to their first career victories at Texas Motor Speedway was the storyline for the first two races of this past weekend’s NASCAR tripleheader at Texas Motor Speedway. Ty Dillon (No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Track Boats Chevrolet) won Friday evening’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350 in his fifth career start at TMS and Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Ford) followed up Saturday afternoon by winning the Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.
After finishing second at Texas Motor Speedway in June’s NCWTS WinStar World Casino 400 and notching his fourth top-10 performance in four starts, Dillon said he was sick to his stomach because he wanted that Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat given to the race winner so badly.
“When we got here to Texas, I just felt so good and felt in a good place with myself,” Dillon said. “I had a good feeling about this whole weekend. I’ve always got belief in my guys, Marcus (Richmond, crew chief) and truck guys. I know we can win every weekend and I wasn’t going to let this one get away.”
Dillon’s dominating performance in which he led 130 of 147 laps was the 100th victory for the Richard Childress Racing-owned No. 3 in NASCAR national series history.
“I know Dale Earnhardt is smiling down tonight to know that Austin and Ty and Dale Jr., he won some races in Nationwide with us, for all of them to be able to win and to be able to win our 100th race for the No. 3 and for my grandson to win it, it’s very special, it’s a very special evening,” Childress said after the race. “I looked up at the board one time tonight when he was leading, 100 laps or so and thought, that’s pretty cool to see that No. 3 up there leading the race and I know Dale is smiling down right now.”
The next day, defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski made his 14th Nationwide Series start of the season in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. Despite a successful career that includes the 2010 Nationwide Series championship, 2012 Sprint Cup title and 36 NASCAR national series wins, Keselowski had yet to reach Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.
Following a runner-up performance in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Ford) broke his 27-race Texas winless streak across all three national series with a win in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge in which he led a race-high 106 of the 200 laps.
“I really wanted a cowboy hat,” Keselowski said. “We have been really close (at Texas) but never finished it off, but today we had the car to do it and the guys did a great job executing. We had a good battle with Denny Hamlin and finished out front.”
The win was Keselowski’s sixth in the Nationwide Series this season and has given Roger Penske’s No. 22 a 26-point lead over J.D. Gibbs’ No. 54 in the Owner Points championship race with two races remaining.
Up In Smoke
Kyle Busch went into the AAA Texas 500 tripleheader weekend eyeing another Texas sweep after winning both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series NRA 500 and Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 in April.
What Busch hoped to be a potentially rewarding and historic weekend quickly soured on Fridayevening and the misfortune continued throughout. It began early in the Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350 when Busch got debris stuck on the grille of his No. 51 ToyotaCare Toyota. He struggled with his engine overheating before it finally gave out on Lap 99, ending his night early and handing him a 28th-place finish.
Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge didn’t prove to be much better for Busch and his No. 54 Monster Energy NNS entry. Though he lasted longer than the evening prior, Busch got into an accident in Turn 4 on Lap 111. Busch’s crew would get the car back together and back on track, but ultimately finished 26th and four laps down.
The AAA Texas 500 was by far his most successful race of the weekend, but still underwhelming as more misfortune was around the next turn. On Lap 58, Busch got into his second solo accident of the weekend when he put his No. 18 Snickers Toyota in the wall in Turn 3.
Busch would recover and get back in the top five, but a speeding penalty exiting pit road on Lap 301 doomed his chances. With only 33 laps remaining at that point, Busch salvaged a 13th-place finish.
Alex Bowman (No. 99 Microsoft Windows Toyota) remained perfect in NASCAR Nationwide Series qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway as the 20-year-old rookie earned his second consecutive pole in as many starts.
Bowman, driving for the single-car team of RAB Racing, earned the pole for April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 in his TMS debut and backed up his performance this weekend with the pole for Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.
Bowman became the first driver to win consecutive NNS pole awards at Texas Motor Speedway and moved into a tie for second for most career poles at Texas, joining Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Green and Elliott Sadler.
It marked the sixth time across NASCAR’s three national series that a driver has won consecutive poles at Texas Motor Speedway. He joined Sprint Cup Series drivers Bobby Labonte (2003, ’04) and Ryan Newman (2005 spring race, ’05 fall race) and Camping World Truck Series drivers Jay Sauter (1999 summer, ’99 fall), Mike Skinner (2004 fall, ’05 summer, ’05 fall, ’06 summer) and James Buescher (2011 summer, ’11 fall).
Jimmie Johnson’s 255 laps led during the AAA Texas 500 was the second-most dominating performance by a winner at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson’s performance fell just short of Tony Stewart’s track-record 278 laps led during the 2006 Dickies 500. Johnson, however, did record a perfect NASCAR Driver Rating of 150. … Legendary car owner Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports earned his fifth career Sprint Cup Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway in what turned out to be a dominating day. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne finished first, second and fifth, respectively. It marked the first time at Texas Motor Speedway that three Hendrick Motorsports cars finished in the top five.