FORT WORTH, Tex. — There is a new leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and this is how it happened.
In simple terms, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin finished ahead of both the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick in the Texas AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
But the real reason was teamwork — something that isn’t always given a lot of consideration when people think about NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
Early in the afternoon when Hamlin was struggling back in the pack his crew chief Mike Ford decided that on the next pit stop the team would take only two tires to gain some track position.
It was that team move that brought Hamlin back up among the leaders, where he stayed for the rest of the race.
Over on the No. 48 team, Johnson made a radical move to bench his entire pit crew in the middle the race after they blew three consecutive pit stops, leaving Johnson trailing both Hamlin and Harvick.
“We gave away so much track position from the beginning,” Johnson said of why the team made the move. “It’s tough to get back where we needed to.”
The move at least kept Johnson close — he finished ninth putting him 33 points back of Hamlin — in the thick of the closest championship race in the history of the Chase format.
And Harvick developed several issues — including scraping the wall late — to stay within striking distance because his RCR team never panicked.
He finished sixth and will go to Phoenix 59 points out of the lead.
Two of the most unlikely combatants on all of NASCAR — Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton — exchanged blows after a wreck on lap 190. Jeff Gordon charged after Burton when the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet appeared to deliberately slam Gordon’s No. 24 HMS Chevrolet. NASCAR officials quickly stepped in to separate the two lightweights before any real damage was done.
Burton said afterwards that the incident was his fault but that it wasn’t deliberate.
So much for the “new” Kyle Busch. The bad boy from Las Vegas flipped off a NASCAR official on pit road and it was caught by the TV cameras. As a result, Busch was parked for two laps at Texas. ... Joliette, Que., native Patrick Carpentier earned five NASCAR Sprint Cup bonus points by leading a lap at Texas Motor Speedway, but ended up finishing 31st in the No. 26 Air Guard Ford ...The ongoing fight to keep Richard Petty Motorsports at NASCAR Sprint cup tracks these final three races has been successful. RPM racing boss Robbie Loomis said at Texas Motor Speedway that the team has enough money to finish the season with all four of its cars. RPM is also planning a two-car Sprint Cup car operation in 2011. Former team owner Ray Evernham has been one of the people who have pitched in to help the RPM gang. ... Kevin Harvick Inc. is loading up for a run at the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. The team has signed Elliott Sadler to run the entire NNS season in the No. 33 Chevrolet with sponsorship from CitiFinancial. ... So what does Red Bull do next week in Abu Dhabi? Mark Webber has a much better chance of catching Formula One leader Fernando Alonso than his teammate and Brazil winner Sebastian Vettel, but the team clearly favours the young German. That position, however, will probably cost either one of them a chance to beat Alonso to the championship.