After weeks of controversies and disputes, Texas Motor Speedway provided some refreshment to racing fans. NASCAR headed to the Lone Star State for the running of the AAA Texas 500, the second race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
With only two races left before the championship finale at Homestead-Miami, the drivers left in the Chase needed to do anything they could to leave Texas with a good finish.
Due to weather throughout the weekend, there was only one practice session for the drivers and teams to prepare for the race, creating a lot of unknowns ahead of the 500 miles.
Joey Logano headed into the race with the most pressure to have a good run, after last week’s incident with Matt Kenseth which put him in a virtual “win to advance” scenario. Luck did not fall on his side however, as on Lap 11 the No. 22 blew a tire, causing major damage to the AAA Ford.
“It just blew apart off Turn 2,” Logano told NBC. “It shredded everything inside the car, did a lot more damage than just a (tire) blowing apart. It’s not what we needed, we need to win. But we’re not out of it — this team’s not quitting.”
As the series heads to Phoenix next week for the final race of this round, Logano’s only shot to advance to the final four is with a win, as he is now 63 points out of the cutoff.
Kevin Harvick had bad luck thrown at him twice in the race, as on two separate occasions he suffered a flat tire and was forced to pit road. The No. 4 team wasn’t going to accept defeat, and both times bounced back and stayed on the lead lap.
Brad Keselowski started first, and for a majority of the race never looked back. He led a race high 312 of the 334 laps, and as the race was winding down, he seemed to be a lock for the victory.
A race is never over until it’s over, and a caution with less than thirty laps to go set up a chance for someone to finally wrestle the lead away.
On the restart with 18 laps to go, Martin Truex Jr. battled side by side with Keselowski, giving it all he had, but wasn’t able to clear to the lead. Jimmie Johnson was lurking, and moved into second place with fifteen laps remaining in the race.
Keselowski’s dominant car for the first time all day wasn’t handling good, and he couldn’t run the fast line that he needed to. On the other hand, Johnson’s was hooked up, and for ten laps, the No. 48 was right on the back bumper of the No. 2, looking for any way by. With four laps to go, Keselowski got loose off the exit of Turn 2 and Johnson was able to cut to the inside and clear to the lead in Turn 3.
The No. 48 never looked back, and Johnson took the checkered flag first for his fifth win of the 2015 season.
“I just kept trying to put pressure on him, hoping for a mistake,” said the race winner. “He got real loose off of Turn 2, and I had a big run down the backstretch and drove it in really far into Turn 3 hoping to hear ‘Clear’ (from his spotter). Once I did, I knew I was home free.”
The No. 48 team may not be apart of the Chase, but continue to put out the same effort to win races that drivers still alive in the playoffs would.
Keselowski had the fastest car all weekend long at Texas, but just couldn’t hold on for the win that the team so desperately needed.
“Yeah, it was a good race at the end,” said runner-up finisher Keselowski. “We led a lot of laps. A lot to be proud of. Came up one spot short, which is unfortunate. But still we had a great day. Just one step short of having the awesome day we needed to have.”
Next week the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the final race of the Eliminator Round, the race that will decide the final four championship hopefuls for the finale. Jeff Gordon is the only driver who has secured a spot in the final four, leaving three more spots to be claimed next week.
Kyle Busch, Harvick, and Truex Jr. currently hold those three provisional spots, and just need to hold on to them for one more race. Carl Edwards, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Logano have to go into Phoenix with one goal: a win.
This year’s Chase has delivered some amazing moments, and there is no doubt that next Sunday’s Phoenix race on NBC, will continue the unprecedented excitement surrounding NASCAR’s Chase.