Kyle Busch rebounded from early race struggles to earn an impressive fourth-place finish and lead Joe Gibbs Racing in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Meanwhile Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth battled through a long afternoon in their fight to advance to the Championship round earning 10th and 25th-place finishes respectively.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota from the ninth position and dropped back early on the opening run to 15th, before working his way back to 11th prior to a caution on lap 45. Busch would struggle with the handling on his M&Ms Camry over the next couple of runs and eventually he would go a lap down to the leader after brushing the outside wall. The M&Ms crew would take time on pit road under the day’s second caution to make the needed adjustments and Busch lined up 22nd for a lap 183 restart. A right rear tire would go flat on the M&Ms Camry and as it began to come apart on the track a caution would come out on lap 205. Another debris caution would follow just 13 laps into the next run and Busch would restart 20th on lap 227. A couple additional cautions would follow quickly but the M&Ms Camry was not in a position to get back on the lead lap and would continue to run outside the top 20 for a restart on lap 259. He would get back on the lead lap and restart 23rd with 44 laps to go. The 18 team would make the decision to stay out when another caution with just over 35 laps remaining came out allowing him to restart inside the top 10. He would drop back to run just inside the top 10 when another caution came out and this time the No. 18 Camry would come down pit road for four tires with 20 laps remaining. He would restart 21st with 17 to go and amazingly drove his way into the top ten before another caution set up a restart with nine to go. Busch would go three wide from 10th and was up to sixth when another caution came out with four setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Another incredible restart high along the outside wall allowed Busch to jump all the way into third before a spin by the 24 car brought out yet another caution and set up a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. He would go on to earn an impressive fourth-place finish.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota from the 20th position and was able to make early gains over the course of the opening green flag run driving up to 15th before a caution brought everyone down pit road for the first time on lap 45. Quick work by the FedEx crew allowed Hamlin to gain a few spots on pit road and he would settle in to run just outside the top ten in 11th through the halfway point of the race. The FedEx crew would deliver again under the day’s second caution and Hamlin would enter the top ten for the first time to restart ninth on lap 183. Hamlin would report that the car that was too tight early in the race had moved to handling on the loose side and he dropped back to run 13th at lap 200. He would line up 13th for a restart on lap 212 following another round of stops. Another debris caution would follow just 13 laps into the next run and the leaders would come back down pit road. Crew chief Darian Grubb would call for a two-tire change to improve Hamlin’s track position which allowed him to restart as the leader on lap 227. Unfortunately the need for all fresh tires proved too great and Hamlin dropped back quickly to run outside the top ten. Two quick cautions followed and he brought the FedEx Camry down pit road each time for four tires. He would restart 11th on lap 259. Hamlin would continue to battle in the top 15 and a four-tire stop would leave him to restart 17th with 44 laps to go. The FedEx team would make the call to remain on the track when a caution with just over 35 laps to go came out allowing Hamlin to restart fourth. He would drop back to run just inside the top 10 when another caution came out and this time the No. 11 Camry would come down pit road for four tires with 20 laps remaining. He would restart 11th with 17 to go and was able to work his way into the top ten before another caution placed him seventh for a restart with nine to go. He would hold that seventh position before another caution came out with four to go setting up a green-white-checkered finish. A crazy restart left Hamlin eighth before a spin by the 24 set up a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. He would go on to finish 10th over the final two lap sprint to the finish.
Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota on the pole after a stellar performance during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session. Kenseth would maintain the top spot through the opening green flag run and the first round of pit stops under caution. He would finally give way to the 48 on lap 54 but remained racing inside the top five through the halfway point. Kenseth lined up fifth for a lap 183 restart after a round of pit stops following just the second caution of the day. The Dollar General crew would gain Kenseth two spots the next time down pit road under caution which allowed him to restart second on lap 212. Another debris caution would follow just 13 laps into the next run and the No. 20 Camry would come back down pit road for another four fresh tires. Kenseth would restart sixth on lap 227 and managed to jump up into second before settling in to run fourth as the race reached 100 laps to go. The Dollar General Camry would hit a piece of debris on the track resulting in NASCAR throwing another caution on lap 240 and the crew would pick up another couple of spots allowing him to restart third. Another quick caution brought the leaders down pit road yet again on lap 253 and a problem with a lugnut on the right front tire created a long stop that forced him to restart back in 18th on lap 259. The pit crew would deliver on the next trip down pit road gaining eight spots with a four-tire stop allowing Kenseth to restart eighth with 44 laps to go. The Dollar General team would make the call to remain on the track when a caution with just over 35 laps remaining came out and Kenseth was able to restart in the top spot. He would drop back to run fourth when another caution came out and this time the Dollar General Camry would come down pit road for four tires with 20 laps remaining. He would restart 10th behind others that made the decision to remain out on the track. Kenseth would get shuffled back in a four-wide situation on the restart with the 31 car coming down and causing contact on both the right and left side of the 20. That cost him several spots and when another caution came out he would come down pit road yet again for tires. He would line up 25th for the restart with nine laps to go and managed to pick up a couple spots before another caution with four to go set up a green-white-checkered finish. He lined up 23rd and a spin by the 24 set up a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Kenseth would pit a final time and restarted 27th and managed to pick up two spots to finish 25th.
Jimmie Johnson won the race followed by Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five. There were 13 cautions for a total of 61 laps and 23 lead changes among seven different drivers. The race was extended seven laps for two green-white-checkered attempts.
Today’s race was the second of three races in the Eliminator Round of 8 under the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship format. The win by Johnson means at least three of the final four spots for the Championship round in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be decided by points. Hamlin is currently tied for lead in points with the 22 team, while Kenseth is fifth, but just one point out of the fourth and final position heading into next week’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
The third and final round of the Eliminator Round will be next Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Live coverage from Phoenix will begin on ESPN Sunday, November 9 at 2 PM ET (race begins at 3 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.