After the Easter break, NASCAR action returned this week to Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Stewart-Haas Racing picked up right where they left off two weeks ago. Martinsville winner, Clint Bowyer(14), starts third. His teammates Kurt Busch(41) and Kevin Harvick(4) sit on the front row. Saturday’s Xfinity Race winner Ryan Blaney(12) goes off fourth leading a Ford contingent in the first four spots and eight of the top 13 qualifiers sporting the Blue Oval logo.
On the start, Harvick shot to the front while pole sitter Kurt Busch ran a bit too high in turns three and four, got caught in the marbles, and dropped to sixth. The speedway underwent a modification to turns one and two during the offseason. The corners were flattened out a few degrees and the entire track was repaved. But drivers seemed to have more trouble negotiating the opposite end of the track.
Coming out of turn 4 on the second lap Alex Bowman(88) got loose and spun. Contenders Daniel Suarez(19), Paul Menard(21), and Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillion(3) got caught up in the incident. All suffering some degree of damage in the melee.
Back at the front of the field, on the restart, Harvick again jumped ahead of the pack and began to stretch his lead. He held the top spot for 44 of the 85 laps in Stage 1 until he pitted for tires and Sunoco racing fuel. Denny Hamlin(11) took the lead for 12 laps before pitting and returning Harvick to the front. Hamlin made a huge mistake on his stop, too fast entering pit road. The resulting penalty sent Hamlin from second place to a lap down.
Defending Cup Champion, Martin Truex Jr.(78) experienced a right front tire failure exiting turn 4 on lap 80. Unable to steer, he drove directly into the wall. The resulting damage sent Truex’s car to the garage. His first did not finish (DNF) in 10 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races dating back to Talladega last fall.
The resulting caution carried over to the end of Stage 1 with Harvick the winner, Kyle Busch(18) in second and Kurt Busch in third.
Stage 1 Results
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Kyle Busch exited the pit first after the Stage ending caution and took the lead on the restart at the beginning of Stage 2. Harvick settled into second with Kurt Busch, Logano, and Larson rounding out the top five.
Mid-way through the Stage, Harvick passed Busch regaining the top spot and promptly began to pad his lead. On lap 127 Kyle Larson hit the wall between turns 1 and 2 destroying the 42 car. Another right front tire failure. The impact apparently broke a fuel, oil, or brake line as the fire safety crew had to extinguish flames smoldering under the hood.
During the resulting caution, the field pitted. The Busch brothers Kyle and Kurt exited pit road first. In a freak incident, a lug nut from the right front wheel of Harvick’s car bounced into the jack. As the lugs are removed they spin off the studs with such force they hop around pit road like bouncing balls. As Harvick’s crew moved to the left side of the car the jack did not fully collapse. The delay cost Harvick precious time and he exited the pits in ninth.
Kurt Busch took the lead on the restart. Harvick’s bad luck continued, he returned to the pits 2 laps into green flag run with a loose wheel on the right front. Ryan Blaney suffered the same misfortune and pitted a couple of laps after Harvick. Both dropped from the lead lap with their unscheduled stops.
Kyle passed his brother 4 laps from the end of Stage 2 and held on for the Stage Win
Stage 2 Results
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The Final Stage
Byron Michigan native Erik Jones(20) exited the pits in first after tire and fuel stops were complete. Kyle and Kurt in second and third. Followed by Chase Elliott(9) in fourth and Bowyer in fifth. Before completing the first lap under green the caution flew again.
Kyle Busch got loose on the restart and lost several positions. Busch managed to straighten his car out. But, the accordion effect on the remainder of the field caused a major wreck. Almirola dodged Kyle’s car and made contact with Hamlin causing the 11 car to get sideways at the front of the pack. Trevor Bayne(6), Jimmie Johnson(48), Brad Keselowski(2), and Austin Dillon were all involved in the mess of torn up race cars that resulted in the red flag being displayed.
Back to green and Jones retains the top spot. Kurt Busch, Elliott, Bowyer, and Logano held spots two through four. As lap 200, of the 335 that make up the 500 miles at Texas Motor Speedway, went in the books. Eleven cars remained on the lead lap with Harvick still one lap down.
Green flag pit stops commenced with 120 to go when Elliott came in complaining of a right front tire vibration. It turned out to be a loose wheel. The remainder of the leaders began hitting pit road with 104 laps to go. As pits stops cycled through Jones returned to the lead. Harvick who had not pitted was sitting in second when the caution flew for Menard cutting a tire and slamming into the wall.
Under the caution, Elliott and Harvick pitted while the rest of the field remained on the track. After working his way back to the lead lap Harvick had trouble on his stop. A tire removed from the right side of the car got loose. The pit crew member assigned to grab the tire fell over the wall and onto pit lane. That is an infraction of the rules. Only five crewmen are allowed over the wall on a pit stop. The penalty? Harvick had to restart the race at the end of the longest line.
With only 13 drivers on the lead lap, the penalty put a large number of cars between Harvick and the leaders.
With 85 laps to go Kasey Kahne(95) and Bayne spun, bringing out another caution flag. Much to the delight of Harvick’s crewman. The number 4 car returned to the front of the field for the restart.
The green flag came back out with 79 laps to go and Kyle Busch passed Jones for the lead. As positions settled out Jamie McMurray moved to second, Jones took third, Logano fourth and Elliott fifth. With three seconds and a third in the last four races, Kyle Busch was seeking his first win of the year.
Harvick passed Elliott with 65 laps to go, moving back into the top five. With 62 to go Harvick passed Logano for fourth. He took third from Jones with 59 to go and moved into second past McMurray with 57 to go. Harvick was 3.5 seconds behind Kyle Busch with 55 laps to the finish. However, one more pit stop remained before the race to the checkered flag.
Final Pit Stops
Jones was the first of the leaders to pit with 45 to go, McMurray followed. Kyle Busch pitted from the lead with 44 to go. Harvick came in on the next lap and almost had another tire get loose. Avoiding a penalty this time, he returned to the track again trailing Kyle Busch.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17), Ryan Newman(31) and Darrell Wallace Jr.(43) stayed out hoping to catch most of the field a lap down. Newman pushed it too far and blew a tire bringing out the caution with 30 laps to go. Stenhouse, Wallace, Kyle Busch and Harvick were the only cars on the lead lap.
Jamie McMurray got the free pass and six other drivers took the wave around. But, all would line up behind the top four.
With 23 to go the green flag restarted the race. Busch went to the front, Harvick followed. McMurray, Jones, and Blaney completed the top five. Harvick could never get a bumper to Kyle’s car and Busch held on for the victory by a mere 3/10’s of a second. Giving Joe Gibbs Racing their first victory of the year.
Next week the Cup Series makes its second short-track stop of the year for the Spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Tickets are still available for the home of the “bump and run.” The Lasco Press will be live at “The Last Great Colosseum” to bring you all the weekend action. Come make the trip with us.
Results of the 2018 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 from Texas Motor Speedway
|8||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||15.624||334|
|25||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-19||315|
|37||78||Martin Truex Jr.||-254||80|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||250||1|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|19||Darrell Wallace Jr.||126||0|
* Ford Fusion Drivers