Wow – there’s a new Sheriff in town

Yes, “there’s a new sheriff in town,” is an old cliché but after Sunday, it sure fits. Denny Hamlin really has impressed the heck out of me. It’s just impressive not only how he is handling the racing component, but also all the pressure that goes along with this championship battle.

I had a friend call me Sunday evening who had been out of town and didn’t get a chance to watch the race. My friend wanted to know if he missed anything. I started laughing and told him I didn’t even know where to start. What an action-packed Sunday.

First off, you have to applaud how Texas Motor Speedway track president Eddie Gossage and his gang handled the promotion of the race. They got everybody pumped up for that event. Everything they did paid off. The old saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” sure rang true. They know how to make it a show down there. Eddie literally had monkeys selling programs to the fans, which was an absolute hoot.

They just created such an atmosphere of excitement that I think other promoters need to take a look at how Eddie does it and follow his lead. He and his crowd sure are getting it done. I think everybody in the sport could learn from Eddie on how to make things big and exciting.

As far as Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, it was as far from boring as you can get. If you don’t believe me, go ask Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. After 40 years behind the wheel, I still look at things from a driver’s perspective. Gordon had every right in the world to be upset with Burton. It just appeared to me that Burton turned the No. 24 and put him in the wall.

Gordon certainly did what I would have done. He went directly for Burton and made it quite clear how unhappy he was.

What was hysterical to me was the NASCAR officials had to separate the two. They didn’t want them trading punches, but then what did they do? They escorted both drivers over and put them in the same ambulance to go to the Infield Care Center.

I guess cooler heads prevailed once they got in the ambulance. Maybe there was a method to the madness putting them in there together, but I sure thought it was comical.

If you’ll remember, I have said on more than one occasion that the pit stops this year were the Achilles’ heel for that No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson. Well, Sunday you saw the results. The only fault I have with crew chief Chad Knaus is he waited too long to make a change.

This has been an ongoing problem the entire season for them, unfortunately. When they don’t make mistakes, their stops are slow. Conversely, when they have faster stops, then they have problems. I don’t fault him one bit for going and making a substitution.

Jeff Gordon was out of the race and his crew can churn out 12.5-second pit stops all day long. Johnson’s pit crew was killing the team’s chances. Chad went and got Gordon’s crew and substituted them in. I would have done the same darn thing. Where’s the downside to making that substitution? Putting that No. 24 crew on the No. 48 car was a great decision.

I agree with Hendrick’s decision to take it a step further. Those same guys need to be handling the No. 48 pits these last two races. Phoenix will be critical this week. It’s a short race on a tight race track where it’s hard to pass. You simply can’t afford to give up positions on pit road. If you lose 10 spots in the pits at Phoenix, well trust me, your day is done.

Jimmie Johnson is in the heat of battle with a great shot at winning his fifth championship. I’m a firm believer that you put your best with your best. You saw Richard Childress do the same thing when he replaced Kevin Harvick’s crew with Clint Bowyer’s bunch. I applauded it then and I think the No. 48 should follow suit.

I also loved how Denny Hamlin’s team played mind games and tried intimidation on Johnson’s group. Crew chief Mike Ford picked the pit right next to the No. 48. Hamlin’s No. 11 crew has been spot on so Mike Ford decided to get in the No. 48 group’s head a little bit. You saw Sunday when those two cars pretty much came into together, yet you saw the No. 11 drive off while the No. 48 sat there.

I loved how Denny drove the race Sunday, especially there at the end. He was aggressive. He could have easily taken home second-place points and not taken the risk of possibly messing up an otherwise great day. The cool thing was Denny wasn’t worried about points. He was thinking about winning.

See, that’s a lesson they have learned these last four years from the No. 48. You have to win races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to win the title. Denny realizes top fives are not going to get it done and definitely top 10s will never get it done.

Isn’t it just fascinating to watch how this whole thing is playing out? Jimmie has a big advantage at Phoenix. He has to quit qualifying back in the pack because it is hurting him. Jimmie can win Phoenix. Denny has struggled at Phoenix, but his teammates haven’t so he should be able to get their notes and collectively come up with a good setup.

But in reality it is still too close to call. Kevin Harvick is sitting in third spot only 59 points back. Jimmie Johnson is sitting just 33 points back of our new points leader Denny Hamlin. Things are just too fluid. The points battle could easily swing around the other way at Phoenix. You could easily lose 100 points there this weekend by simply not running well.

So it’s far from over.

I am excited to see what happens at Phoenix. I love having a points battle this late in the season. We sure haven’t had one in a number of years. It keeps things exciting and has everyone wondering what is going to happen next.

I like the message Hamlin’s squad has sent the other teams, specifically the No. 48. Those guys are serving notice that the predictions made by others at the beginning of the season about the No. 11 are coming true. I really am impressed with the job Denny, Mike Ford and the crew are doing.

I think they have the No. 48 team on the ropes.

Now the question is can they keep him there.

Oh by the way

Boy, Kyle Busch sure had an interesting weekend, to say the least. He won the Trucks race Friday at Texas. Saturday in the Nationwide race the restart got him all riled up. Carl Edwards did launch a little early on the restart, but NASCAR didn’t see it that way. No matter how you slice it, NASCAR officials are the authority and they have the final word.

I really believe the rant Kyle went into Saturday after the Nationwide race did him no favors Sunday when it was a little bit of a close call speeding down pit road. What Kyle did when they held him a lap for the penalty was immature and uncalled for. I’ve been down that same road when I was younger.

He’s a very emotional guy. When things don’t go his way he gets upset. That’s one of his Achilles’ heels and he simply has to learn to control his emotions if he is ever going to be a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

I really liked that Dave Rogers, his crew chief, called him on it. He told Kyle he was killing them. He let him know that he and the team worked too long and too hard for Kyle to pull that kind of stunt. Kyle needs to remember that and Dave needs to make a point of telling him that more often.

As far as Kyle is concerned, as my sister Carolyn would say, “He has way too many come-aparts." He definitely needs to get a handle on it.