Between Jimmie Johnson’s victory and the post-race fight between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, let’s not forget that there’s a new Chase Grid leader going into next weekend’s Eliminator Round finale.
Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin both had trouble during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway but managed to salvage respectable finishes – Hamlin in 10th, Logano in 12th.
With those results, both of them have identical 13-point cushions over the cutoff to advance to the Sprint Cup Championship Race. But since Logano has a higher best finish so far in the Eliminator Round – a fifth at Martinsville compared to Hamlin’s eighth at the same track – it’s the Team Penske driver that has the top spot now.
Logano was seemingly set for another Top-5 finish when he suffered disaster during a pit stop under caution with just under 40 laps to go. As the No. 22 Penske crew put on a new set of tires, lugnuts on the right-rear tire fell off because of an glue issue.
That made for a slow stop and Logano tumbled all the way to 23rd. Then, shortly after the restart with 32 laps to go, Logano and Marcos Ambrose made contact down the backstretch. Two laps later, Logano had his right-rear tire go down on him and he went spinning onto the apron between Turns 1 and 2 to cause a caution.
But when another yellow came out with 20 laps to go, Logano chose to stay out in a bid for track position and moved up to seventh. He would not stay in the Top 10 through the final laps and two green-white-checkered attempts, but it was nonetheless a successful salvage job.
“We put tires back on it [after the spin] and then just held on ’til the end and got something decent out of something that could have been way worse,” he said. “I am proud of everyone that kept their heads down and kept digging. That isn’t the way we wanted to do it, that is for sure.
“You have to expect that though when you put yourself back there with a few laps to go. We put ourselves in a bad spot for something to happen. It is a snowball effect. We put ourselves in a bad spot and got in an even worse spot and then dug ourselves halfway out of a hole there.”
Hamlin, on the other hand, didn’t have as competitive a car as Logano’s was. He was able to get to the front of the field with a two-tire stop during a Lap 223 caution, but was quickly swallowed up on the subsequent restart by the rest of the leaders with four tires.
Later in the race, Hamlin stayed out of the pits under yellow to go inside the Top 5 with less than 40 laps to go, but then was among those that did pit when another caution came out with 20 to go.
The fresh tires seemed to work as Hamlin moved up to seventh with less than 10 to go. From there, Hamlin was able to squeeze out a Top-10 finish.
After all of that, he was succinct about his afternoon.
“We had a bad car,” he said. “We made the best of it. Other guys made mistakes. We weren’t really that good. Luckily, other guys had problems. That’s what happened.”