Texas Checkered and Black Flags
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 10, 2017 | 2:00 P.M. EST
Texas Motor Speedway produced some good and bad over the weekend, writes MRN's Pete Pistone. (Photo: Getty Images)
Texas Motor Speedway produced some good and bad over the weekend, writes MRN's Pete Pistone.
It was perfectly acceptable to question what was ailing Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports team over the first six races of the season. It was also expected that at some point, Johnson would snap back into shape sooner. That’s exactly what happened Sunday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, when Johnson got by Joey Logano late and held off Kyle Larson for his 81st career victory.
You’d think Larson would blow a gasket finishing second as many times as he has this season. He did it again on Sunday. Including his Auto Club 400 win, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has finished either first or second in five of the year’s first seven races. He’s still the points leader after a very strong start to 2017.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Junior Nation" can rest easy over the Easter break as its favorite son finally has a top-five to his credit. Earnhardt’s finish was his first inside the top five since Pocono in June of last year.
He’s being overshadowed by teammate Larson, but you could make a case that McMurray is enjoying the strongest start to a season in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Another top 10 Sunday at Texas for McMurray, who was rarely not in the front of the field most all afternoon.
Texas Motor Speedway
A repave and reconfiguration is usually a recipe for disaster at most tracks with the by-product being single-file, non-competitive racing more often than not. However, that was not the case at TMS. Through diligent efforts, the track helped create a very racy environment for drivers - who were not handcuffed by having only a single groove to work with throughout Sunday’s race.
The good news is that Blaney won two stages, and led a race- and career-high 148 laps in Texas. But the decision to win the second stage may have cost Blaney a chance at the race win. He stayed out rather than pit under caution in order to win the stage. Blaney paid the price when he got shuffled back in the subsequent restart by those with fresh tires. He finished 12th, but the day could have been more promising.
The Hendrick ship is headed back in the right direction thanks to Johnson’s win, Earnhardt’s top five and Chase Elliott’s second-place spot in the point standings. Now, the attention returns to Kahne, who showed some life earlier in the year but has returned to the disappointing ways that punctuated the last two seasons. A 38th-place finish summed up Kahne’s day in Texas.
Richard Childress Racing
There’s a win to RCR’s credit this year, thanks to Ryan Newman’s Phoenix victory, and a top five from Austin Dillon as recently as last week in Martinsville. But the entire organization had a forgettable trip to Texas with Newman’s 26th the best of the bunch followed by Dillon (33rd) and Paul Menard (36th).
Speaking of bad starts, Hamlin epitomizes the struggles of Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization is still looking for its first win of 2017 and Hamlin’s Texas outing was miserable, ending in a 25th-place performance.
Friday’s session was a disaster with nine drivers not taking a lap thanks to never making it through inspection. Don’t point the finger at NASCAR or the process but rather at teams, who are understandably trying to push the envelope to find an advantage. It led to some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Earnhardt and Larson, never turning a lap. Not a good look for the sport or fans who paid good money to be at the track to watch a qualifying session that was marred by non-participation.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.