By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned At Texas
1. Hendrick Has Returned To Winning Ways
Remember just a few weeks ago when much the talk throughout the NASCAR world was about Hendrick Motorsports’ lengthy drought? Indeed, the discussion was justified as Hendrick, the organization with the most wins and championships in the history of NASCAR’s top series, went all of June, July, August, September and October without any of its four drivers pulling into Victory Lane. But with Jeff Gordon’s Championship 4-clinching win two weekends ago at Martinsville Speedway and Jimmie Johnson’s Chase-spoiling triumph this past weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the Hendrick bunch has officially returned to its front-running ways – and seemingly done so just in the nick of time. In addition to Johnson’s Texas win, Hendrick placed three of its four drivers in the top nine at the finish.
2. Jimmie and the 48 Are Dangerous
Since falling out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in shocking fashion in the Challenger Round thanks to a faulty axle seal that cost as little as $5, Jimmie Johnson has flown widely under the radar. But back at Texas Motor Speedway, a place where he had gone to Victory Lane in four of the past six Sprint Cup Series races, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and six-time Sprint Cup Series champ recaptured his mojo in dramatic fashion. By winning on Sunday, Johnson not only ended a long personal drought that went all back to May 31; he completed the season sweep at Texas and even more importantly stood in the way of Brad Keselowski, a rival driver from a rival organization, punching his ticket to the Championship Round.
3. Kyle Busch Is In A Good Spot
With just this Sunday’s race at Phoenix left to fill out the remaining three slots in the Championship 4, Kyle Busch is an enviable position. While he has yet to formally punch his ticket to the Championship Race as Jeff Gordon did at Martinsville, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota is second among the eight remaining drivers in the Chase and holds a sizable lead over fifth-place Carl Edwards, the first driver on the wrong side of the cutoff for advancing to Homestead. Busch, who has been criticized throughout his career for stumbling during the Chase, seems to have exorcised his playoff demons in season when no one thought he’d even be in the Chase after missing the first 11 races while recovering from injuries.
4. Still Overlooked, Truex Still Impressing
By the far the driver who has flown the most under the radar in this year’s Chase, Martin Truex Jr. is now just one good finish away from making it all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship finale. Six points out of the lead and seven ahead of fifth-place Carl Edwards, Truex and his unheralded Furniture Row Motorsports team are doing what single-car organizations are not supposed to be able to do – run up front consistently, win races and be serious championship contenders all the way to the bitter end. As for still being overlooked by many observers? Truex says he enjoys the underdog role, but admits he does get annoyed that he and his team still aren’t getting the respect he believes they deserve.
5. “Happy” Is The Championship Favorite
Of the four drivers in position to make it to Homestead for the winner-take-all championship race, it’s easy to identify a favorite. It’s Kevin Harvick, last year’s Sprint Cup Series champion. One of the fastest drivers all season – a season when he’s scored three wins – Harvick holds a clear advantage over Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr., two drivers with just one win apiece and who virtually no one expected to even be in this position. Harvick’s biggest threat, at least on paper, would be Kyle Busch, who has four wins this year despite missing the first 11 races. Harvick holds one big advantage over Busch, though: The fact that he’s been in championship battles multiple times before, and Busch, despite all his success, never really has.