Joe Nemechek won the O'Reilly 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway, but a heartbreaking finish to what would have been a career day for nineteen-year-old Brian Vickers overshadowed his victory.
Nemechek, who qualified seventh, started at the back of the field after changing motors, worked through the pack to find himself at the right place in the right time.
"It was definitely a wild finish, you have to have luck on your side. We dodged the big one." Said Nemechek referring to a series of late race incidents that dramatically impacted the finishing order. The win was the fourteenth career Busch victory for the Florida native and the second this season, following up his win at Las Vegas.
The caution filled event was dominated by Hendrick driver Brian Vickers, who led a total of eighty-seven of the 200-lap event.
Vickers, who's only challengers were Matt Kenseth and Todd Bodine, was well on his way to his first series victory when on the lap 178 restart, he was blacked flagged for passing the car of Chad Blount on the left hand side, prior to the start/finish line.
A call that was not cut and dry, as Vickers Chevrolet only ran his right front tire on the rear quarter panel of Blount's machine. A move that was dictated by Blount checking up on the restart. Vickers contends he was avoiding a wreck, but NASCAR maintained it was still a rule infraction, even though the move did not improve the driver's position.
Blount, who later acknowledged that he missed a shift, felt bad for Vickers, but supported the NASCAR ruling.
"You have to stay behind them or pass to the right, if someone misses a shift you just got to move to the outside and get around them. Pass to the right until you get to the start finish line and then it's fair game from then on. You can have somebody miss a shift and you just have to move to the outside and get around them. I raced everybody else how they raced me", noted Blount.
Vickers disagreed, "I never passed him before the start/finish line. It's the front bumper that counts and it was a bad call. The Nineteen missed a shift and it was either me wreck by hitting him or try to avoid him. That's racing. When somebody misses a shift it's a basic maneuver, you either wreck or be wrecked and we went low to miss him." Said Vickers.
After catching a break with another caution, Vickers was able to serve the stop and go penalty and remain on the lead lap in the ninth position. Things then went from bad to worse for the Hendrick team on the lap 192 restart as Vickers got involved in an fifteen-car pile up that significantly damaged all but five of the fourteen cars on the lead lap. Drivers involved included Vickers, Mike Bliss, Aston Lewis Todd Bodine, Hermie Sadler, Michael Waltrip, Coy Gibbs, and Dave Reutimann. Vickers who was unable to restart the race parked the car, finishing twenty-fifth.
The melee prompted NASCAR to Red Flag the event. Upon restarting, many teams went to pit road to repair damage, handing the lead over to Nemechek.
Fittingly, the event ended under caution, when in the closing laps Hermie Sadler and Regan Smith got together, putting the closing laps under yellow.
Finishing behind Nemechek were Scott Riggs, Shane Hmiel, Todd Bodine and Chad Blount.
"Today we were just going to ride and be patient and try to be there at the end and have a good finish. Then we got caught a lap down with that green-flag stop. We persevered and kept our heads up and kept digging and we got our lap back and we were lucky enough to be the man that started the last restart because I was in front of that entire melee that happened in turn one and two. I guess Lady Lucky finally turned her head and looked at us and gave us the opportunity to redeem ourselves and came home with a second-place finish". Said Riggs.
Pole sitter Jason Keller finished eighteenth after dropping back early and fighting a series of problems.
"We made a lot of mistakes. We ran ourselves out of gas and a lug nut fell off on a pit stop. Hopefully we can get all of our mistakes behind us in one race."
Keller remains second in the overall points standing, 104 points behind Todd Bodine.
Teams will head next week to the Talladega Motor Speedway to run the Aaron's 312 on Saturday April 5th.