The very first driver to win a NASCAR Nextel Cup race 10 years ago at Texas Motor Speedway finally broke the "no repeat" curse at the 1.5-mile oval. Jeff Burton's No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet led the Samsung 500 for less than one lap on Sunday,...
The very first driver to win a NASCAR Nextel Cup race 10 years ago at Texas Motor Speedway finally broke the "no repeat" curse at the 1.5-mile oval.
Jeff Burton's No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet led the Samsung 500 for less than one lap on Sunday, but it was the one that counted. He bested Matt Kenseth's No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion to take the drive to Victory Lane and enjoy NASCAR's third-richest purse: $7.2 million.
The warm, sunny weather was a pleasant change from earlier rain and tornadoes during race weekend, and almost 200,000 fans from 46 states packed the track. The excitement started the very first lap on the front stretch, with contact between David Ragan and J.J. Yeley which also involved Ricky Rudd and Casey Mears. Yeley was clearly frustrated to be knocked out in front of his Dallas-based Interstate Batteries sponsor hometown crowd.
"I was on the outside," said Yeley. "It is a really long race; to get taken out on the first lap is just absolutely ridiculous. At some point [the No. 6's Ragan] might realize that the throttle pedal has a hinge on it ... was pretty stupid on his part."
Eventual winner Burton just kept his head down. "You never knew what was going to happen - it was like a soap opera," he said. "Today you didn't win with brute force; you won with a methodical approach. We got the kind of race that we needed and we played the card that was dealt to us. I'm humbled by the effort of our team."
Staying clear of trouble was the key to success. After the Lap 1 fracas, it was relatively calm as the points-driven pole winner Jeff Gordon held the lead for most of the early race laps. The red-clothed "Junior Nation" then went nuts when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead from Gordon at Lap 99 and again at Lap 153, holding it except for a couple of laps when he pitted at Lap 170 and Reed Sorenson took the lead. Junior was back off of Pit Road and overtook Sorenson by Lap 174.
Teammate's Jimmie Johnson and Gordon battled for second place at Lap 200, but meantime Burton and Kurt Busch got into the mix (Johnson and Gordon were close all day, which one analyst said might be the "product of the 48 & 24 helping each other by sharing data in the garage."
At Lap 240, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart were side-by-side when they bumped and Stewart went spinning. In the smoke, he and Johnson also made contact. Post-race comments between Montoya and Stewart were somewhat testy:
"I don't know. He [Tony Stewart] just got really close to me," said Montoya. "He got me loose. I went into him and he spun. I tried to pass him 3 or 4 times and he never gave me room..I don't think Chip [Ganassi, owner] hired me to run 20th every weekend..it's going to happen a lot of weekends, but our aim is to run up front."
Responded Stewart: "He just got inside of us and wrecked us. It's just racing I guess ... maybe Ganassi doesn't pay him to run in the back but you might want to be just a little bit more patient just long enough to learn everything and how everything's done over here. He didn't make friends with me today so he won't get any help from me in the future."
The dreams of Earnhardt fans were dashed at Lap 249 when Kurt Busch took the lead, and then the deal was sealed at Lap 253. A gamely struggling Stewart was trying to stay in the race, but he spun out and in the confusion, Kyle Busch rear-ended the No. 8 car and removed its rear bumper. All the duct tape in the pit area couldn't save the race for Earnhardt, and he and Kyle Busch limped to the garage. It was the third DNF in 2007 for Junior, but he's been leading more and more laps in races this year and was actually quite upbeat on the radio and in the garage.
Ironically, there was confusion amongst Busch's crew and he thought he was done for the day and left, so Junior was asked and agreed to drive Busch's No. 5 car for the last few laps to pick up a few points. There was a lot of head-scratching over that one in the grandstands, but No. 5 crew chief Alan Gustafson said, "Junior didn't hesitate and agreed and it was a very sportsmanlike gesture. It says a lot about Dale, Jr. and the kind of person he is."
Meantime, brother Kurt Busch took the lead and held it for Laps 249-292, and then in the last laps, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth had the lead until Jeff Burton made his winning move.
Burton commented on his clean racing style in a post-race interview: "I am who I am ... to be perfectly honest, winning a race because you knock someone out of the way, didn't mean you were better. It just meant you were willing to give something away in an attempt to get the win..you just give up some integrity to win a trophy. That's not what I'm about and that's not what this team's about."
Second place finisher Matt Kenseth had hoped for a clean sweep to match his Saturday NASCAR Busch race victory, but ultimately he could not hold off Burton.
"Honestly, I thought he was going to pass me way before because he was running me down like crazy," said Kenseth. "When I moved to the top [of the track] I was fortunate to find some grip. I was hoping I could hold him up one more lap, but he was smart and hung back.."
Well-rested and energetic third place finisher Mark Martin is an advertisement for the balanced life. His limited racing schedule and focus on his family is working out well for him and obviously not hurting his racing ability.
"I'm really proud of this team and it's fun to be back," said Martin. "I wish I could have been up there with my buddies scrapping for it but I'm satisfied with third. I chased that Cup hard. I gave it my guts. Now I'm enjoying just getting to race. It's fun."
The top-finishing rookie was Montoya.
There were seven cautions for 33 laps, and thirteen lead changes among nine drivers. Drivers averaged 143.359 mph during the three hour and 39 minute race. Jeff Gordon holds the NASCAR Nextel Cup points lead with 1,136 points, Jeff Burton is second with 1,128 and Kenseth is third with 1,011.