Raines Finishes Respectable 13th "Deep in the Heart of Texas"
Tony Raines saved his best for the "home track."

Raines, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing, finished a respectable 13th in the Samsung 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was the best finish of the season for Raines.

The solid finish came as co-owners Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys, as well as managing partner Bill Saunders, a Dallas native, looked on. In addition, several employees, customers and guests of Dallas-based DLP HDTV, a division of Texas Instruments, were in attendance.

"There are a lot of things that are good about it," Raines said. "To have a good race on a big track like this is a shot in the arm for our team. To run decent in front of the home crowd -- everybody likes to do that. I certainly would have liked to have finished a little bit better -- I think we had a little bit better car -- but all in all it was a pretty good day."

Raines started 27th as the starting field was determined by Nextel Cup owner points after qualifying was canceled on Friday due to rain.

By Lap 60, Raines was in the top-20 and he never looked back as he managed to steadily climb through the field throughout the 334-lap event. He cracked the top-15 by Lap 175 and stayed between 12th and 16th for the remainder of the race and completed all 334 laps.

Despite being that high in the standings, two long green flag runs twice put Raines in danger of being lapped by the leader. However, a little Texas luck shined on Raines and both times the caution came out just as Raines was about to go one lap down.

"A couple of those cautions came out at opportune times for us," Raines said. "We were probably the next car to go down a lap. We just fought hard and had good pit stops and that kept us on the lead lap. You're able to finish well when you do that."

Crew chief Brandon Thomas tinkered with the car's handling throughout the day, and although the team couldn't crack the top-10, he was happy with the performance of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet.

"The car started off OK," Thomas said. "We were a little tight off (the corner). We made some real small adjustments to start off with. We made major adjustments this morning after what we learned from yesterday's practice session. We just kind of worked really solid on it. The driver did a good job staying ahead of the car and he gave good feedback."

Thomas said the team has focused on the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks dating back to last winter.

"When we took the winter break, we worked real hard on the downforce program," Thomas said. "I know it didn't show at Fontana, (Calif.). It's showed glimmers of hope in Las Vegas and I screwed some things up there, over-adjusting. Really, the technical group, the engineering group, all the fabrication guys in the shop, everybody -- we've been working really hard on the downforce cars. We've changed our approach a little bit on the setups. We feel like we've learned a few things. I'm not going to sit here and say we're going to finish in the top-15 in every downforce race, but this was a race where we showed up and weren't very good on Friday and Saturday, but made the adjustments and made some educated decisions all the way through the team. It paid off."

And the payoff couldn't have come at a better place than Texas.

"I've been told it's a big deal all week," Thomas said. "It is nice to do well in front of the hometown crowd. It's good for the owners and DLP -- they all entertain a lot of guests. DLP has a ton of people here and to come to this race and run well for them and say, 'Hey, these are the fruits of our hard work,' it's really rewarding."

The finish was the best for Raines and the DLP HDTV team since October 2006 when they finished seventh at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. And while Raines was happy with the effort, he knows more work needs to be done.

"When you have a good day in your backyard, you can't complain about that," Raines said. "That's what we aim to do here. We just have to get better when we come back in the fall."

Jeff Burton won the Samsung 500 to score his 19th career Nextel Cup victory and his second at Texas. Matt Kenseth finished second, while Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin and David Stremme comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were seven caution periods for 33 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 334-lap race.

Raines is now 25th in Nextel Cup driver point standings as he gained one spot thanks to his 13th-place finish. He has 631 points and is 505 behind leader Jeff Gordon and 25 points back of 20th-place Ryan Newman. The No. 96 car is 26th in Nextel Cup owner points and its 631 points puts it 135 points ahead of the No. 21 car, which is in 36th place.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 21 Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. The race begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX.

-credit: hofr