NASCAR at Texas 2014: Winners and Losers from Duck Commander 500

Bob Margolis@BobMargolisContributor IIApril 8, 2014

NASCAR at Texas 2014: Winners and Losers from Duck Commander 500

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    Mike Stone

    There’s an old song that goes…

    It’s just a matter of time.”

    And it was just a matter of time before Joey Logano would end up celebrating in a Victory Lane at a Sprint Cup race.

    The 23-year-old Team Penske driver had been a bit overshadowed by teammate Brad Keselowski (who scored a win at Las Vegas) for a good deal of the 2014 season. On Monday, he finally got the opportunity to step into the spotlight by winning the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

    “I felt like we had a car that could win this thing today,” said Logano in his Victory Lane interview. “At the beginning we didn’t, and then Todd and the guys made good adjustments and had good stops all day.”

    The race itself was, unfortunately, an unforgettable affair, something fans were promised would become a thing of the past given the new rules package for the 1.5-mile tracks. 

    For those fans who hung in there through all the miserable weather on Sunday, and then played hooky from school or called in sick to work to watch the race in person, they did not get to see the kind of exciting finish we’d become accustomed to seeing in several of the races this season.

    This was true despite NASCAR’s best attempt at livening up the final laps by throwing out the caution flag just prior to young Logano taking the white flag.

    Logano was so angry when the caution came out, he could barely control himself. He tried his best to stay calm.

    “When you’ve got forty-something laps after the last pit stop and a pretty sizable lead, really, all you’re thinking is, ‘Where’s the white flag, where’s the white flag.’  

    “Brad (Keselowski) was able to catch us a little bit and then you go into turn one and you see the 41 up against the wall and you’re like, ‘Please, no caution.  Please, no caution.’  And, of course, boom, it comes out and you’re like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ 

    “I had to make sure I stayed calm and try to give Todd (crew chief Gordon) the information I needed to, and then he had to make the right call.  Really, I was just so mad.”

    The right call was for four tires. On the final lap, Logano passed Jeff Gordon, who took only two tires on the same pit stop, and then he cruised to victory by a margin of 0.476 seconds. Kyle Busch finished third.

    Rookie Kyle Larson delivered another solid performance, finishing fifth.

Winner: Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing

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    LM Otero

    Kyle Busch led a solid showing by Joe Gibbs Racing, finishing third. His teammates Matt Kenseth (seventh) and Denny Hamlin (13th) were never quite as good as Busch once the sun came out and the temperature difference dramatically changed the race track.

    Busch came from the back to the front (something he does with frequency and apparent ease) to move into the top-10 about halfway through the race. 

    Yet it was the final caution that changed everything for Busch and opened the door to his third-place finish.

    "You know it was an interesting race,” said Busch in a post-race television interview. "I can’t say enough about my guys. "There on the green-white-checkered I thought we had a chance and (I) was really hustling it trying to give it everything I had, (but) I was just way too tight.

    "Luckily we came home third. Third is about what we deserved, it was where we were at before the caution came out there at the end."

    Kenseth felt his team never had a handle on his race car.

    “(When) we just started—we were just really far off,” he said. “We were really loose. We got a little bit better, but really nothing we could compete with.”

    Hamlin found that when the track changed once the sun came out, it was just too much for the No. 11 FedEx Camry.

    "Obviously, we had a great car at the beginning of the race," said Hamlin (who started sixth) in a post-race interview. "Once I got back in traffic, the car didn’t drive as good. (I) couldn’t make up any track position and the car took a long time to come in.  Our car was way better than 13th. Disappointed with that. We had a top-five car. (We) just didn’t finish that well.”

    Kenseth was able to retain his second place in driver points. Busch moved up a spot into fifth, while Hamlin dropped a spot to 13th. Busch has one win this season. Kenseth and Hamlin are winless in points races.

Loser: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Not a pretty picture (above).

    There isn't much that can be said about how Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s afternoon at the race track ended on Monday. He didn’t have a whole lot to say either.

    He made a costly mistake. The points leader coming into the race, he dropped to sixth after finishing dead last (43rd).

    It was a shoulda, coulda, woulda moment for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver—who is likely not to forget this embarrassing moment at Texas Motor Speedway anytime soon.

Winner: Kyle Larson

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    From the moment the green flag fell, it was obvious it was going to be a good day for Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. It didn’t take long for the rookie to move up through traffic from his 14th starting position and tangle with the race leaders.

    It may have helped that Larson had driven the No. 51 Chevrolet last fall in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for Phoenix Racing.

    After the race, Larson himself found it rather easy to describe his afternoon.

    “We were really good today,” he said. “Pretty much good from the start. “Our Target Chevy was average on a short run, but long runs I thought we probably had the best car. (We) just kept sticking with it, got it better and better each run. Put ourselves in position there on that last restart to get a good finish.”

    The top-five finish left the 22-year-old feeling a bit like he could leap tall buildings with a single bound and fly faster than a speeding bullet—and win his first Cup race sometime this season.

    “I feel like we've been a top‑10 car most races,” he said in a post-race press conference. {We were good at Bristol, good at Fontana, good here. I think if we just keep keeping ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the races or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win.

    “I feel like right now it could come at a mile‑and‑a‑half or a little bit bigger track. Hopefully that comes soon because there's a lot (of mile-and-a-half tracks) on the schedule.”

    Larson’s fifth-place finish was the highest among the seven rookies in the race. Ryan Truex did not qualify. His top-five finish moved the Chip Ganassi Racing driver up to 15th in driver standings, as he inched closer to his main rival, Austin Dillon, who fell from ninth to 12th. Dillon struggled all afternoon with an ill-handling car.

Loser: Kevin Harvick

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    LM Otero

    The photograph of Kevin Harvick (above) was taken before the start of the Duck Commander 500. 

    He wasn’t in such a good mood when his race ended after only 26 laps.

    Shortly after the field restarted on Lap 25, Harvick’s Chevrolet began to show smoke.

    “Something happened with the engine right after that restart,” said Harvick in an interview with his manufacturer's rep. “The Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS was really fast. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong.

    “Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage. We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day.”

    It was yet another mechanical failure in a season that has seen too many of them on the No. 4 Chevrolet SS. Fortunately, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has a win under his belt (Phoenix) as he is 26th in points.

    There’s always next week at Darlington, where Harvick’s record is…oops, not so good.

Winner: Jeff Gordon

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    Ralph Lauer

    It wasn’t a win, but Jeff Gordon is getting closer each weekend to having his time in Victory Lane this season and a spot in the 2014 Chase.

    The four-time champion, driving a specially painted Chevrolet SS with Texas A&M colors paced the field for 40 circuits before losing the handling of the car. The No. 24 team was able to rally back; and when the final caution came out with only two laps remaining, the race went into a green-white-checkered scenario.

    Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the call for only two tires on the last pit stop, enabling Gordon to reassume the lead for the final restart. While he didn’t have quite enough to hold on for the win, the run marks Gordon’s fifth top-10 finish of the season and moves him into the series points lead. 

    “I feel very fortunate to finish second,” said Gordon in the post-race press conference. “Joey (race winner Logano) was the class of the field there the second half of the race. I got a pretty good restart, so I was happy about that. Got through one and two. I was shocked I was leading off of two, to be honest. 

    “I wish I would have run a little bit higher down three and four. I'm sure Joey was going to go wherever I didn't. Probably would have been a little bit better off on the top.

    “Then he (Logano) crossed over and got into the back of me pretty good. At that point I was just thinking, I just want to finish. (I) looked out my mirror, and those guys were racing hard behind me. (It was) a great second‑place finish for me.”

    Gordon takes his points lead into Darlington, a track where he has seven wins and 22 top-10 finishes. Maybe that long overdue win is next week.

Loser: Carl Edwards

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    When the 334-lap race finally got underway just past noon (ET), Carl Edwards got off to a fast start and quickly made his way to the second spot. His No. 99 Ford Fusion was slightly tight in the center, according to comments made to crew chief Jimmy Fennig over the team radio.  

    At the competition caution on Lap 50, the team worked to make the necessary adjustments, which ultimately created a car that was too loose, causing Edwards to quickly lose spots on the restart.

    Edwards struggled the rest of the day with a car that was ultimately too loose once the sun came out, and he fell a lap down to the race leaders. He would capture the “Lucky Dog” twice during the day and would finish on the lead lap during the green-white-checkered finish, ending the day in the 14th position.

    Fortunately for Edwards, he won at Bristol. Since then, his team has been a step behind the rest of the field. 

    Darlington isn’t one of his better tracks, either. He may have to wait two weeks until the Saturday race at Richmond (where he has one win and 10 top-10s) for another chance at a win.

Winner: Brian Vickers

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    It’s not often we get to give Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers a shout-out for a job well done. His fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday is certainly worth a gold star and a slide in "Winners and Losers."

    His first top-five finish came early in a season where Vickers’ No. 55 Toyota team has been just a tick shy of having the kind of break one often requires to get that top-five.

    On Monday, Vickers got his break.

    “We probably didn’t have a car to win, but we made the most of it,” said Vickers in a post-race interview. "The pit guys did a great job all day and they did a good job on that last stop, obviously when it mattered most. We’ll learn from this and we’ll move on to the next race.” 

    That next race is Darlington where Vickers has but one top-10 finish in Cup, but he has a win in a Nationwide car in 2003. It should help that this young man knows his way around “The Lady in Black.”

Loser: Tony Stewart

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    "Smoke" looked great for the first 50 laps.

    Then the sun came out, and his No. 14 Chevrolet SS became tight in the corners and loose on exit.

    Tony Stewart fought to keep the race lead until Lap 77 when Brad Keselowski made it past him. From then on, it was a losing battle as crew chief Chad Johnston could never find the sweet spot for Stewart, and the three-time Cup champion fell back through the field.

    Johnston did make the right call for two right-side tires during the final caution before the green-white-checkered finish. It gave Stewart his third top-10 finish of the season.

    “We had a really good race car for what the track conditions were most of this weekend,” Stewart said. “I think we showed that with getting the pole on Saturday and then leading all those laps at the first part of today’s race. 

    “But the track changed a lot and the setup we had didn’t really change with it. Chad did a really good job keeping us competitive, but it was a big swing from the start of the race to the end of the race with the way the track changed. It was a really good effort and a decent finish.”

    Stewart moved up a spot to 14th in the driver standings.

Winner: Jimmie Johnson

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    On a normal race weekend for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, finishing two laps down to the race leaders would never qualify as a "Winner" in a Bleacher Report post-race "Winners and Losers" slideshow.

    However, when your race car had as many crew members hovering over it as Johnson’s did less than 15 laps into a 334-lap race (see photo above) and he only finished two laps down, then that in itself qualifies as a "win."

    Johnson had hoped to score his first win of the 2014 season this weekend until he was involved in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s freak accident on the dogleg of the front stretch on Lap 14.

    “There was a lot of noise. And I saw his (Earnhardt Jr.'s) car and then I instantly lost vision,” said Johnson in a post-race interview. “I felt a couple of hard hits on my car and I knew that we had some damage.”

    Later in the race, Johnson was involved in yet another incident. 

    “We recovered and had a fast car and we were okay, and then I don’t know if I ran something over on the track or what, but something really big hit the bottom-side of my car and that, I think, punctured our right rear tire,” he said. “We had to come to pit road after that and then we lost a couple of laps.”

    Despite his bad luck, Johnson’s car was fast and his No. 48 Lowe’s team was once again on top of form on pit road in making repairs to a seriously damaged race car.

    Johnson has three wins and 11 top-10s at Darlington, the next stop on the schedule.

    *All quotes in this slideshow are taken from official team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.