The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday saw some twists and turns surrounding the Chase that will lead us into this weekend.
Denny Hamlin took the win with a pass for the lead with 29 laps to go to take over the point standings.
"What a run!" Hamlin said in victory lane. "Just can't say enough for this whole FedEx team. I told everyone that I'd wait for three to go, and I felt that was the most aggressive I've been on a restart all year."
With the win, Hamlin went from 14 points back to 33 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth.
"It was just a long day," Johnson said afterwards. "We just gave away so much track position at the beginning and it was tough to get back to where we needed to."
The pit stop issues during the race that lost them that track position promoted an in-race pit crew swap between the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon and Johnson.
"It's a professional sport, and you see it all the time," Knaus said after the Texas race, as according to NASCAR.com. "If somebody's out or somebody's not getting it done, say in football, you get a different receiver in the game or a different quarterback, or whatever it is.
“Unfortunately, our guys weren't hitting on all eight cylinders [Sunday], and we had an opportunity with the 24 crashing to bring those guys in. They did a good job. They came in and played relief, and I thought they did a good job [Sunday]. It's unfortunate. I don't like doing that stuff, nobody does. But it's kind of your job."
"I'm okay with it," front tire changer Mike Lingerfelt said. "We're all team players."
This is a swap that is set to stay in place for the rest of the year as Knaus feels that the No. 24 team is a solid team that will allow him to win the championship for Hendrick Motorsports. It is something that many thought should've come sooner via the fact that the No. 48 crew had been struggling all year, specifically in the front tire area.
The last championship contender, Kevin Harvick, finished sixth after battling an ill-handling car and even tapping the wall.
“We had a good car," Harvick said in the team's post race report. "To tell you the truth, I didn’t think we’d be anywhere in the hunt after practice, and Gil (Martin) and all the guys did a great job getting the car ready. When it got dark, our Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet just went really loose, and we hit the wall. The pit crew was awesome today. We gained a ton of positions on pit road. We are still in this thing, and we are definitely looking forward to Phoenix.”
Harvick now went from 38 points behind to 59 points behind the lead.
The Sprint Cup Series now heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the second last event of the schedule.
Out of the three drivers left in the hunt, Johnson has the best average finish of 4.9 in 14 starts. In his 14 starts, he has four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s. Johnson has also won the past three fall races. The No. 48 team is also known for coming back from adversity and dominating so a win would not be a surprise.
Hamlin has an second best average finish at 11.6 in 10 starts. In his 10 starts, he has no wins, five top fives and six top 10s. In the past two fall races there, he has finished third and fifth. Despite this, Hamlin is slightly worried as he feels he didn't get a good test at it in the spring due to his surgery. Also, despite finishing third last fall, he feels they didn't have the car to earn that finish.
Harvick has the worst average finish of three at 15th in 15 starts. In his 15 starts, he has two wins, three top fives and six top 10s. Harvick has had mixed results at Phoenix in the past as they've been all over the place and in his past three starts there, his best finish is 13th.
Based upon this, Johnson should either close up on Hamlin or take back the points lead while Harvick slowly drifts further out of the hunt. Though we all know that anything and everything is possible (Texas proved that) so that's why these races are run and sometimes, things don't play out as we expect. These final two races look to be interesting.