NASCAR: Round 7 – Samsung 500, Texas Motor Speedway – 5 April

Jeff Gordon staked his claim early on when he swept around polesitter David Reutimann at the start of the Samsung 500 to take the initial lead, and his hunger to get back in the winner’s circle was evident. Would this be the day, or would highly fancied favourites Carl Edwards and Jimme Johnson snatch it away from his grasp once again?

Although Gordon had the initial momentum, the race swung back in Reuitmann’s favour less than ten laps in when Gordon’s car seemed to go off rapidly and fall back with handling problems – “extremely loose”, Gordon reported as he fell out of the top six before the first round of pit stops.

That left Reutimann leading Matt Kenseth by around 1.5 seconds when he got into lapped traffic and was held up enough to allow Kenseth to catch and pass him for the lead ahead of the green flag pit stops that began on lap 51. Kenseth quickly resumed the lead after the pit stops cycled through, while Reutimann ceded 2nd to Tony Stewart after a few more laps. By lap 88 he was strong enough to challenge Kenseth successfully for the race lead, while behind them Greg Biffle was flying and had managed to overtake Reutimann for 3rd.

The first yellow didn’t come out till lap 97, the longest caution-free period seen here at Texas Motor Speedway; when the yellow finally came out it was for debris on the backstretch. The pit stop was a bad one for Kyle Busch, who had been running strongly but who suffered a lugnut mishap that lost him a whole bunch of positions.

At the restart on lap 102, Kenseth led Biffle, Stewart, Reutimann – and Carl Edwards in 5th. Edwards likes this place and has won repeatedly in Texas, making his arrival in the top 5 both significant – and dangerous for his rivals. But Kyle Busch’s bad luck continued with contact with John Andretti on lap 109 resulting in a cut left front tyre forcing an additional pit stop, putting him a lap down in 37th and only just in front of the leaders threatening to put a second lap on him.

Biffle took the lead from Kenseth on lap 117, building up a 3s lead over the course of the next 20 laps. Kenseth then started to fade fast and was overtaken by both a rejuvenated Jeff Gordon and by Tony Stewart: unsurprisingly, Kenseth was one of the first cars to pit under green at the next cycle that commenced on lap 152. Kyle Busch had another disastrous stop, getting a penalty drive-thru for entering the pit lane too fast. Kevin Harvick was also penalised (too fast exiting).

The pit stops had just been completed when Elliot Sadler got loose off turn 4 an spun on the frontstretch, bringing out the second yellow of the afternoon but there were few takers for more pit stops and the green flag came out on lap 162 with Biffle leading a much improved Kenseth and Gordon, followed by Stewart and Kurt Busch.

More green flag stops ensued from lap 204 onwards, with Kenseth first in. It was a mostly uneventful round of pit stops, with only Carl Edwards having significant problems with a lugnut fumble delaying him for several seconds and shunted down to 9th as a result. Once the pit stops were complete, Biffle remained in front from Kenseth by about 1.5s.

Almost immediately, however, the yellow was out when Marcos Ambrose – who had been reporting an engine problem for several laps – finally had the engine let go in a cloud of smoke on lap 220. Many drivers opted to come in again despite it being only a handful of laps since their last stops, many drivers such as Jimmie Johnson taking every opportunity to fine tune their cars’ handling. It was a nightmare for Dale Earnhardt Jr though, with a lugnut missing forcing him to pit a second time – at which point he missed his pit box entirely claiming that he couldn’t see the signboard because of all the lapped traffic crowding into the pits at the time.

Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin opted to stay out, meaning they led the field away at the restart on lap 226: Matt Kenseth was in 3rd, Tony Stewart 4th and David Ragan had popped up into 5th.

After a race so light on yellows to date, they were starting to come thick and fast now with Sam Hornish Jr bringing out the fourth caution on lap 231 when he got sucked up the track by the turbulence generated by Clint Bower passing on the outside. As the two bumped and Hornish spun onto the infield, the smoke unsighted drivers behind and caught out Bobby Labonte in particular who rear ended a car and then hit the wall. He came out of it with the worst damage of anyone and had to head for the garage.

The race resumed on lap 237 with Jeff Gordon still in front with 97 laps remaining. David Stremme had a light brush against the wall – and Joey Logano an emphatic hit with the rear right of the car on lap 241 – but the race continued under green until Robby Gordon’s engine let go on lap 251. This time, all the leaders came in under the ensuing yellow.

Dale Earnhardt Jr was the startling new leader at the restart thanks to some pit lane strategy (changing two tyres only), but it was for nought when Earnhardt found himself alongside Kyle Busch when the number 18 suddenly got loose and forced Earnhardt up dangerously close to the wall, giving Jeff Gordon the chance to take the lead back for himself. With 50 laps to run, Gordon led Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and David Ragan.

The two tyre gambit wasn’t working well for Dale, whose car was incredibly twitchy and ultimately saw him do an extended scrape against the wall through turns 1 and 2 on lap 290. And David Ragan’s fine run came to an end on the following lap when he was forced to hit pit road with a blocked radiator and overheating issues, forcing him to park up in the garage area.

Now it was looking like a shoot-out between Gordon and Edwards for the lead, both men desperate to get back to familiar winning ways. Edwards took the lead from Gordon on lap 294 when Gordon got stuck behind lapped traffic. It looked like Gordon’s challenge was fasing fastm with Stewart overtaking the 24 on lap 298.

Hornish Jr went for a big hit against the wall on lap 301 but he kept it together and avoided causing the yellow. Instead, it was David Stremme on the very next lap who brought out the sixth caution when he hit the wall hard and then finally had the rear right tyre go down on him resulting in a spin heading into turn 3. The yellow was the signal for the final – and most crucial – pit stop sequence of the day.

Once again Edwards had problems this time with his front tyres – not sure whether it’s a continuing problem with the car or an issue with the pit crew, but pit stops are never the 99’s forté. It meant that Edwards dropped out of the top five at the restart on lap 304, with Gordon leading Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin away on lap 307 with 27 laps remaining.

Johnson had been refining the 48 every single pit stop, and all that work was paying off for him now when he blasted past Stewart for second. But Gordon had a 1.4s lead at this point and looked strong and comfortable upfront: Johnson simply didn’t have enough left in reserve to catch him and and pass for the lead. It would take at least another caution period to give him the chance.

No caution appeared, but Gordon did get stuck behind lapped traffic (Max Papis) allowing Johnson to cut the gap significantly. Johnson was pushing for all he was worth, so much so that he nearly put the right rear of the 48 into the wall trying to catch Gordon on lap 329. But Gordon still had a half lap lead, and it seemed that Johnson’s last effort was spent. By the penultimate lap, Gordon had a 10 car length lead over Johnson and the win was – finally!, after 16 career starts at Texas – all Jeff Gordon’s.

Race results

FIN  CAR  DRIVER              MAKE       PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1    24   Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  195/10  334  Running
2    48   Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  175/5   334  Running
3    16   Greg Biffle         Ford       170/5   334  Running
4    14   Tony Stewart        Chevrolet  165/5   334  Running
5    17   Matt Kenseth        Ford       160/5   334  Running
6    5    Mark Martin         Chevrolet  155/5   334  Running
7    42   Juan Montoya        Chevrolet  146/0   334  Running
8    2    Kurt Busch          Dodge      147/5   334  Running
9    31   Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  138/0   334  Running
10   99   Carl Edwards        Ford       139/5   334  Running
11   00   David Reutimann     Toyota     135/5   334  Running
12   11   Denny Hamlin        Toyota     127/0   334  Running
13   98   Paul Menard         Ford       129/5   334  Running
14   12   David Stremme       Dodge      121/0   334  Running
15   39   Ryan Newman         Chevrolet  118/0   334  Running
16   83   Brian Vickers       Toyota     120/5   334  Running
17   77   Sam Hornish Jr.     Dodge      112/0   334  Running
18   18   Kyle Busch          Toyota     114/5   334  Running
19   9    Kasey Kahne         Dodge      106/0   334  Running
20   88   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet  108/5   334  Running
21   07   Casey Mears         Chevrolet  100/0   334  Running
22   33   Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  97/0    334  Running
23   25   Brad Keselowski     Chevrolet  94/0    332  Running
24   55   Michael Waltrip     Toyota     91/0    332  Running
25   1    Martin Truex Jr.    Chevrolet  88/0    332  Running
26   34   John Andretti       Chevrolet  85/0    332  Running
27   29   Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  82/0    331  Running
28   21   Bill Elliott        Ford       79/0    331  Running
29   171  David Gilliland     Chevrolet  76/0    330  Running
30   20   Joey Logano *       Toyota     73/0    330  Running
31   78   Regan Smith         Chevrolet  70/0    330  Running
32   19   Elliott Sadler      Dodge      67/0    329  Running
33   8    Aric Almirola       Chevrolet  64/0    328  Running
34   44   A.J. Allmendinger   Dodge      61/0    328  Running
35   113  Max Papis *         Toyota     58/0    326  Running
36   43   Reed Sorenson       Dodge      55/0    315  Running
37   6    David Ragan         Ford       57/5    293  Out of Race
38   26   Jamie McMurray      Ford       49/0    255  Running
39   7    Robby Gordon        Toyota     46/0    249  Out of Race
40   96   Bobby Labonte       Ford       43/0    229  In Pit
41   47   Marcos Ambrose      Toyota     40/0    216  Out of Race
42   09   Mike Bliss          Dodge      37/0    76   In Pit
43   66   Dave Blaney         Toyota     34/0    48   In Pit

Sprint Cup standings

    +/- DRIVER              PTS     BEHIND  S   P   W   T5  T10
1   --  Jeff Gordon         1154    Leader  7   0   1   5   6
2   +2  Jimmie Johnson       992    -162    7   0   1   3   5
3   --  Kurt Busch           974    -180    7   0   1   2   4
4   -2  Clint Bowyer         967    -187    7   0   0   3   4
5   +2  Tony Stewart         963    -191    7   0   0   2   5
6   -1  Denny Hamlin         938    -216    7   0   0   2   3
7   -1  Kyle Busch           914    -240    7   1   2   3   3
8   --  Carl Edwards         889    -265    7   0   0   1   3
9   +3  Matt Kenseth         864    -290    7   0   2   3   3
10  -1  Kasey Kahne          851    -303    7   0   0   1   2
11  --  David Reutimann      845    -309    7   1   0   1   1
12  +1  Jeff Burton          835    -319    7   0   0   1   3
CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS
13  +1  Juan Montoya         819    -335    7   0   0   0   2
14  -4  Kevin Harvick        796    -358    7   0   0   2   2
15  +8  Greg Biffle          775    -379    7   0   0   2   3
16  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr.   768    -386    7   0   0   0   2
17  +1  Ryan Newman          743    -411    7   0   0   0   2
18  +9  Mark Martin          742    -412    7   2   0   0   3
19  +1  Brian Vickers        737    -417    7   1   0   1   3
20  -5  A.J. Allmendinger    731    -423    7   0   0   1   2
21  -4  Michael Waltrip      721    -433    7   0   0   0   1
22  +3  David Stremme        720    -434    7   0   0   0   0
23  +3  Casey Mears          688    -466    7   0   0   0   0
24  +4  Martin Truex Jr.     672    -482    7   1   0   0   1
25  -1  Elliott Sadler       667    -487    7   0   0   1   1
26  -7  Bobby Labonte        663    -491    7   0   0   1   1
27  -5  Jamie McMurray       658    -496    7   0   0   0   2
28  -7  Marcos Ambrose       656    -498    7   0   0   0   1
29  --  David Ragan          626    -528    7   0   0   0   1
30  --  Reed Sorenson        624    -530    7   0   0   0   1
31  +1  Sam Hornish Jr.      571    -583    7   0   0   0   0
32  +3  Paul Menard          543    -611    7   0   0   0   0
33  --  John Andretti        540    -614    7   0   0   0   0
34  -3  Robby Gordon         531    -623    7   0   0   0   0
35  -1  Joey Logano*         510    -644    7   0   0   0   0
36  +1  David Gilliland      462    -692    6   0   0   0   0
37  -1  Aric Almirola        451    -703    7   0   0   0   0
38  --  Scott Speed*         386    -768    6   0   0   0   0
39  --  Travis Kvapil        292    -862    4   0   0   0   0
40  +1  Regan Smith          276    -878    3   0   0   0   0
41  +4  Bill Elliott         228    -926    3   0   0   0   0
42  -2  Scott Riggs          216    -938    3   0   0   0   0
43  -1  Joe Nemechek         205    -949    5   0   0   0   0
44  --  Dave Blaney          187    -967    5   0   0   0   0
45  -2  Jeremy Mayfield      158    -996    3   0   0   0   0
46  +3  Brad Keselowski      143    -1011   2   0   0   0   0
47  -1  Todd Bodine          123    -1031   3   0   0   0   0
48  --  Max Papis*           113    -1041   2   0   0   0   0
49  -2  Terry Labonte         91    -1063   1   0   0   0   0
50  +1  Mike Bliss            71    -1083   2   0   0   0   0
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