NASCAR Notebook: Key nuggets from the Duck Commander 500
BEST IN CLASS — All weekend long at Texas Motor Speedway, the Toyota contingent seemed a step behind the Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing Fords and the Hendrick/Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets in terms of absolute speed. So even though he was the defending race champion, Kyle Busch wasn’t too upset to finish third in Monday’s rain-delayed Duck Commander 500.
Busch lined up fourth on the race-ending green-white-checkered finish and managed to pick up one position over the final two laps to come home third. "You know, it was an interesting race," said Busch. "I can’t say enough about my guys. There on the green-white-checkered I thought we had a chance and was really hustling it, trying to give it everything I had. I was just way too tight. Luckily, we came home third. Third is about what we deserved; it was where we were at before the caution came out there at the end."
DREAM TEAM — Brian Vickers scored his best finish of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season by gambling on a two-tire pit stop at the end of the race, which put him in second place behind Jeff Gordon for the green-white-checkered restart of the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Although Vickers lost two spots in the last two laps to finish fourth behind Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, he was still mighty pleased with his finish in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
"That was a great call by Billy (Scott, crew chief) and the whole crew," Vickers said of the decision to take just two tires. "The pit guys did a great job all day and they did a good job on that last stop, obviously, when it mattered most. … It’s great to get a top-five here. Just really proud of the effort. We probably didn’t have a car to win, but we made the most of it. We’ll learn from this and we’ll move on to the next race, and we gave it our best there at the end."
SECOND IS THE FIRST LOSER — Brad Keselowski had what could only be described as a really, really strange afternoon in the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The first 10 laps of the race were run essentially under yellow with the race cars alongside jet dryers, which were on the track to cure the last of the "weepers" in the track surface at TMS. Keselowski got too close to one of them and the jet exhaust popped the hood open on his Team Penske No. 2 Ford Fusion.
Four pit stops and a couple rolls of duct tape later, the crew completed repairs and Keselowski was able to take the second spot on the grid, which was where he qualified. The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion went on to lead 85 laps, second only to the 108 led by teammate and race-winner Joey Logano.
Keselowski was running second to Logano on the final pit stop when he was busted for speeding on pit road. Instead of finishing first or second, Keselowski finished 15th. But thanks to his race victory in Las Vegas earlier this season, Keselowski is all but assured of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup under NASCAR’s new win-and-you’re- (almost certainly)-in format. So Keselowski wasn’t too upset about the speeding penalty.
"I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little too hard," said Keselowski. " … We’re in it for wins. We’re not in it for finishing second. Second or 15th is the same for us, so you’ve got to go for the win."
YOUNG GUN — Rookie Kyle Larson continues to impress and improve his driving skills in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Larson, just 21 years old, finished fifth at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday, his second top-five finish in the last three races. That’s some pretty heady driving for a rookie.
"I feel like we’ve been a top-10 car most races," said Larson. "We were good at Bristol, good at Fontana, good here. I think if we just keep keeping ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the races or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win. I feel like right now it could come at a mile-and-a-half or a little bit bigger track. Hopefully, that comes soon because there’s a lot on the schedule."
POWER FAILURE — Kevin Harvick, who was fast all weekend, suffered his fourth finish of 36th or worse in the last five races when the engine in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet blew up after just 28 laps at Texas Motor Speedway. Harvick was officially credited with a 42nd-place finish, which dropped him to 26th in points.
"Something happened with the engine right after that restart," said Harvick. "The Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS was really fast. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong. Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage. We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day."