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Denny Hamlin in a wild Texas thriller! And what to make of Gordon-Stewart and Gordon-Johnson?

  Denny Hamlin celebrates his second win of the season, firing that brace of pistols in victory lane after beating Jimmy Johnson and Kyle Busch in the Texas Samsung 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Talk about a game-changing play....Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, dominant racers all Monday afternoon, triggered a wild all-star melee in the final miles, and Gordon – who appeared to have the strongest car in the field by far – wound up on the losing end of it in the rain-delayed Texas 500, along with a dozen or so others.
    And Denny Hamlin, just two weeks after knee surgery, charged to his second win of the season, though having to hold off a fast-charging Jimmie Johnson in the final miles.
   "This is not the type of track where people consider us strong," Hamlin said. "But when we won Homestead last fall, it was a sign of things to come.
   "The day just felt like my rookie season – things kept getting better as the race went on. The pieces to the puzzle all came together.
    "And I'm not usually good on shootouts. So to pull out a win like this....
   "During the red (20 minutes to clean the track) I started thinking about what I needed to do on the restart, because I knew the race was going to be won in the first two laps after that restart."
    "There were rumors of tires issues, so we just took it easy at the start, especially with the new rear spoiler," crew chief Mike Ford said. "With the possibility of tire issues we didn't want to get too aggressive."
   "Last week (at Phoenix) was tough for us," owner Joe Gibbs said, referring to Hamlin's poor run, just a few days after that surgery.
   Hamlin certainly rebounded well. And once again he and Ford made the right moves down the stretch...and took advantage of the melee.
   The knee? "We're probably a month away from being where we were," Hamlin said.
   And why did he stay in the car last week, when the crew had to do a two-lap battery change, giving Hamlin plenty of time to make a driver change and give his knee more time to heal? "I did it for the crew, to help team morale, and it looks like it paid off here," Hamlin said.

   The key moment Monday: with 35 miles to go, David Reutimann blew an engine, bringing out the yellow.
   There were 18 men on the lead lap and all pitted. Gordon had a slightly slow stop and restarted eighth with 18 laps left, behind leader Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart, who had taken two tires, to Gordon's four and Johnson's four.
    Then barely two laps later the big crash. Gordon was in the middle of the three-wide sandwich, with Johnson to the inside and Stewart to the outside, and Carl Edward right behind them, in the heart of the trioval. Stewart and Gordon touched fenders slightly, triggering the accident, which knocked both out of contention.
    Gordon charged over to Stewart's car after the incident, but they quickly calmed down and walked together to the ambulance.
   Stewart took the blame: "I came off turn four and got into Jeff. Then I lost it and got into his right rear. And neither one of us could get away from it. Somebody had gotten me up high three-wide in turn one, and I got junk on my tires.
    "It wasn't his fault. It was definitely my fault. I've seen the replay. It's a shame something like happens, especially to your teammates."
    Apparently Stewart and Gordon didn't realize that Johnson had made it three-wide, giving the two less room to maneuver.
   "When you get a late caution like that," Gordon said, "you have guys take two tires and guys take four. We chose to take four. Then every second, every position, counts. I saw Tony backing up, and then he got loose. I was trying not to get in to him. I ended up getting under him, and we were three- wide -- I saw Jimmie out of the corner of my eye sneaking in there as well. We just ran out of room. I got clipped in the right rear and turned me in the wall. Just glad I am okay."
    Steve Letarte, Gordon's crew chief: "That's just 15 guys trying to win the race and trying to make it happen."
    Carl Edwards pointed to perhaps a key element: "Tony was on two tires, Jeff was on four.
    "Jeff kind of got Tony up in the third lane, and I was going to follow Jeff down through the middle.  There just wasn't enough time. 
    "Tony started down just a little...and that's all it took. 
      "It's just really hard racing.  It's too bad that many cars got torn up."
    While Stewart may not have realized he had both Gordon and Johnson inside him, Edwards did.
   "I thought he (Stewart) was going to stay up there in the third lane, so I was going to follow Jeff through the middle," Edwards said.
    "Tony started down a little bit....but there really wasn't enough time probably for his spotter. He probably had no clue I was sticking my nose in there.
    "It's a double-file restart, and there are guys with four (fresh) tires and guys with (just) two tires...."

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The finishing order of Monday's rain-delayed Texas Samsung 500



    Denny Hamlin edges Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   And Kyle Busch, after 800 miles Monday, wins the Nationwide 300 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Two of the best finishes of

Two of the best finishes of the year have come on a Monday, with few watching. It was unavoidable at Martinsville, but this one should have been on after work since Texas has lights. I was following this one intently on the radio the action was so good. Hate all I got to see were highlights, but they were even good.

Did they even get the place half full today, Mike?

Monday night NASCAR, eh? I

Monday night NASCAR, eh? I like the idea.....lets ask fox....but sometimes i think fox execs only tolerate nascar because it gives them some content for Speed.....maybe espn should buy out fox' part of the tour and run the whole thing....
i reckoned the place was a little over half-full, maybe two-thirds on the frontstretch, and a third full of whatever they have on the backstretch. nascar called it 92,200.....

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