Texas dims title hopes for Sprint Cup trio

FORT WORTH, Texas – Anyone clinging to the hope that someone other than Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth would make a run towards the Sprint Cup title can forget about it.
Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 saw to that.
Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick each came to the race at Texas Motor Speedway needing something to go wrong for the top two in points to keep their fleeting hopes alive.
Not only did that not happen, both Busch and Gordon had troubles that took them out of championship contention, while Harvick’s steady but unspectacular run left him with a top-10 finish (eighth) but little else to show for the trip with just two races remaining this season.
Gordon had momentum following his win last week at Martinsville and was third in points, just 27 out of first and still believing he had a shot at championship No. 5.
All that momentum went away on Lap 73 when his front left tire went down, sending him into the wall in Turn 1 while running 12th. The No. 24 Chevrolet went to the garage for repairs and eventually returned to the track but Gordon finished 38th, dropping him 69 behind points leader Johnson and into sixth place in the standings.
Gordon had less than 10 laps on his tires before he found the wall and he wasn’t exactly sure what caused the incident.

“I just know that the left front went down as I was going down the front straightaway,” Gordon said. “I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn’t get it slowed down enough. I don’t know. The wind was so strong that the car was doing funky things down the straightaways. I don’t know if that was a slow leak, or if it just went all of a sudden.”

Sunday capped a bad year at Texas for Gordon. He finished 38th in April because of a freak suspension problem.

“I feel for Jeff because he really showed what that team could do,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “I hate it for that team. They have really come together and he’s put a bunch of good runs together.”

While Gordon’s race hopes were dashed early, the race was much tougher for Busch to take.

Busch recovered from an early tire problem that sent his No. 18 Camry into the wall in Turn 2 on Lap 57. While Gordon’s hit sent him to the garage, Busch just brushed the wall as he brought out a caution. He dropped all the way back to 29th on the restart but charged through the field and took the lead twice.

But his chances of winning came to an end on the final pit stop when he was penalized for speeding exiting the pits on Lap 298. The pass-through penalty dropped Busch to 15th place and the winner of the April TMS race finished 13th Sunday.

“Things were looking pretty good there, but like I told Kyle after the race, on a team, everybody is giving 100 percent and when everybody is giving 100 percent sometimes they give 100.1 percent and it’s that .1 percent that  gets you in trouble,” Busch’s crew chief Dave Rogers said. “Kyle feels terrible today because he sped on pit road late in the race, but this this is a team and we’ve got his back.”

While he remained in fourth place in the point standings, Busch’s deficit ballooned from 36 to 52 as the series heads to Phoenix.

Rogers isn’t ready to give up on the season yet, but he knows the No. 18 team is going to need a lot of things to go right over the next two weeks.

“Realistically at this point with two races left you’re probably not going to outrace the 48 (Johnson) and the 20 (Kenseth) to accumulate more points than them to win the championship, but anything can happen,” Rogers said. “They can speed on pit road. They can have a failure. They can have a wreck. We’re going to give the next two races 100 percent and if them guys stumble a little bit, then hopefully we’re there to capitalize.”

Harvick was the lone longshot to have a consistent night, but the No. 29 Chevrolet was never a threat to the leaders.

Harvick, who dropped from 28 points behind Johnson to 40 back, never ran higher than fifth place. He finished eighth but never led a lap.