Joe Gibbs NASCAR Toyota race team turned up the heat at the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday. Just thirty four points separated first through third, and Jimmy Johnson held the lead. After a late race caution saw Jeff Burton put Jeff Gordon in the wall, Hendrick Motorsports hierarchy saw fit to replace the championship crew of the #48 team with Gordon’s #24 crew. Johnson’s crew had made several errors on pit road that had cost the driver, going for his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, multiple positions on the track.
After the wreck that took both Gordon and Burton out of the race and officially out of the championship run, Gordon approached Burton and started throwing punches. Gordon, NASCAR’s ‘Golden Boy’ since 1992 and Burton, often referred to as the ‘Mayor of NASCAR’, brawled on the track before NASCAR officials got between the two and broke the fight up. There was more action out of the cars in today’s race, than there has been in the cars this whole season. The fight was reminiscent of the fight between the Alabama Gang and Cale Yarborough in the 1979 Daytona 500.
Greg Biffle led the most laps as Hamlin kept his car in the top ten most of the race. With 29 laps to go, Hamlin took the lead from Mark Martin. His Gibbs teammate Joey Logano was in fourth. Hamlin held the lead until a late race caution, brought out by former Indy driver Patrick Carpentier, erased his two second lead over second place Matt Kenseth.
Kevin Harvick’s team made a risky decision to pit on the late caution and most of the field came in behind him. The #29 came back out without losing too much track position. The #29 restarted in tenth. Jimmie Johnson restarted in sixth, but was held back by Greg Biffle who was having problems with the second gear in his #16 Ford. Harvick capitalized on that and passed the points leader.
Matt Kenseth made a run on Denny Hamlin with just two laps to go and took over the lead of the race. The #17 took too much momentum into the turn and smacked the wall. Hamlin took advantage and regained ground back as the two cars diced back and forth out of the turn. Hamlin held the lead and never looked back. The #11 crossed the finish line first with Matt Kenseth a close second.
This was Hamlin’s eighth win of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Mark Martin and Joey Logano finished third and fourth respectively. Greg Biffle, whose car was dominating once he got to third gear, finished fifth.
Kevin Harvick brought his #29 Chevy across in sixth while Jimmie Johnson diced across the finish line, barely completing his pass on #98 Paul Menard for a ninth place finish. It is still a three man race for the championship, though the positions have swapped a bit. Hamlin now leads the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship by thirty three points over second place Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick remains in third, just fifty nine points out of first and still in contention.
With only the Phoenix and Homestead races remaining, this is the tightest NASCAR Chase for the Championship since its inception. Hamlin, Johnson or Harvick could take it depending on what happens in the next two races. Statistics dictate that the points leader with two races to go has won the championship