No guns in Texas' victory lane for NRA 500 winner Kyle Busch this time, thanks to cranky Washington politicians (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
Give Kyle Busch the inside of the front row for a restart and it's usually all over.
The best pure driver in NASCAR? Well, it may be a toss-up between Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
But the best driver on restarts in this sport is Busch, without question.
Busch polished his rep with another victory in Saturday night's Texas NRA 500, leading half the race and rarely challenged on the track for the lead.
"When that caution came, my boys stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam, 11.7," Busch said almost gleefully.
Two years ago here, remember, Busch was suspended for the weekend after an altercation. So sweeping this weekend's Nationwide 300 and Sprint Cup 500 was sweet indeed.
"Kyle is the fastest man in Texas," crew chief Dave Rogers said.
However now the next great NASCAR drama will be played out back in North Carolina in a few days, before the Sprint Cup tour heads to Kansas City for next Sunday's Kansas 400 – NASCAR officials will be sitting in judgment of the Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano teams and crew chiefs, after finding some parts they didn't like under the rear ends of those two cars in pre-race inspection Saturday afternoon.
Major suspensions and fines could be looming for the sport's defending champions.
And runnerup Truex may face penalties too, after NASCAR inspectors said his car was "too low" in post-race inspection. Any penalties would come next week.
Keselowski was angry at NASCAR's actions pre-race, and said he felt NASCAR officials had "targeted" the Penske team for some reason. He called the actions "shameful."
And, without indicating all the areas he was displeased with, Keselowski said bluntly "We're not going to take it. We're not going to be treated this way."
Keselowski said he "very worried" that NASCAR would suspend Wolfe.
Brad Keselowski (L) and crew chief Paul Wolfe. Will NASCAR suspend Wolfe? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Though Busch was strong all night, he needed a great pit stop the last time in to regain command late, as evenly matched as he was with Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
Truex was leading Busch by a comfortable five seconds when the caution came out with 75 miles to go. That was right at the fuel mileage window, and Truex was pitting just as the yellow was called. Truex' right-front had worn into the cords, so that stop was timed about perfectly.
The stop went smoothly for Truex, who had the lead for the restart with 44 laps to go. And Truex jumped back to a quick lead. But Busch's crew was banking on tires being a late-race issue, so told Busch to save his tires for a final sprint. Busch began that charge with 21 to go….but then got a big break with the final caution of the night, for debris.
As much of an advantage as fresh tires are here, all the top drivers pitted. And Busch won the battle off pit road.
"The race was over when we got beat out of the pits," Truex said painfully, the heartbreak obvious.
"The bottom was so fast.
"We should have been able to beat him out. And it wasn't all pit position (Busch had the best pit, because of winning the pole)…
"Then I was really worried about losing second (to a fast closing trio of Fords).
"We've had a tough season….tired of finishing second. That's getting old."
Truex' first and only tour win was in 2007.
"When it's been that long since you won, to run this well and not win, it sucks," Truex said. "It hurts when you give them away. It takes so much to have a car to beat Jimmie Johnson and those guys.
"That's where we've got to get better."
Carl Edwards has the victory backflip, Jimmie Johnson the victory burnout, and Kyle Busch has the victory bow to the crowd, which he's performed twice now this season. This time Busch didn't need a miracle comeback as he did three weeks ago at California.
So it was a one-two night for Toyota, with Ford, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, taking the rest of the top five in the 3-1/2-hour race.
Chevrolet? Johnson was off, though finishing sixth. Gordon ran third most of the night, in one of his best performances of the spring – only to go behind the wall with a broken right-front wheel hub with just 30 miles left.
Toyota's runs were expected. Ford's runs weren't, even though this has long been a Ford track, particularly a Jack Roush Ford track.
And it didn't look good for Ford men most of the evening.
"It was pretty eventful," Ford's Edwards, third, said in understatement.
"I was ready to pit and stay in there for a lap early and fix whatever we needed, as bad as we were running. Fortunately we stayed out.
"Then we had a problem with the exhaust system….then my seat belts came loose and I had to retighten them.
"I know Martin isn't happy with second but I'm real happy with third. We're in the dart-throwing stage, maybe with a blindfold. We've got to get better. Maybe the tire threw us for a loop. I don't feel confident we could come back here next week and pull off another third."
NASCAR inspectors didn't like everything they saw under Brad Keselowski's car. Penalties may be coming (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
However the biggest story of the night might have come even before the green:
Keselowski and Logano were in deep trouble before the 500 got started.
NASCAR inspectors confiscated the rear ends and related suspension parts from the two drivers' Penske Fords during final pre-race inspection.
Keselowski managed to get his car through inspection and onto the starting grid in time to hold his 16th starting spot. But Logano's crew was slower and didn't get to the grid in time, and NASCAR put Logano at the rear of the field, because his car wasn't on the line yet when the command came 'Gentlemen, start your engines."
Yet Logano made an amazing run to finish fifth, in contention late. Keselowski managed to finish ninth.
"It was a little too close for comfort," Logano conceded. "If you'd have told me I'd finish fifth, I'd have given you a hug."
Joey Logano's car got the same scrutiny as his teammate's...and the penalties may be just as severe (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR said it would take the parts from the two Penske cars back to the R&D center in Concord, N.C., for further consideration, and any penalties would be determined next week.
Usually those penalties are announced Tuesday, but with Keselowski scheduled to meet President Obama at the White House Tuesday, any penalties could be delayed till Wednesday.
Speculation in the garage among rival crew chiefs focused on the possibility of six-week suspensions and $100,000 fines for the two crew chiefs, Paul Wolfe (Keselowski) and Todd Gordon (Logano). That would be in line with other penalties for similar violations. A six-week suspension would cover the Kansas, Richmond, Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte All-Star and Charlotte 600 races.
Any points penalty levied could be even more devastating. Keselowski went into Saturday night's 500 second in the Sprint Cup standings, just six points down to Jimmie Johnson; Logano was 11th.
However NASCAR executives have wide latitude in such judgment.
The apparent issue: modifying the rear end in order to make the car run better through the corners. Last year Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, came up with some rear end tricks to accomplish that, and Johnson went on a mid-season tear. Rivals, when they finally understood what Knaus and Johnson were doing, questioned NASCAR, and NASCAR said it was all legal. That didn't really set well with rivals, who then cranked up an expensive research program to develop their own similar rear end tricks.
At the end of the season NASCAR officials decided to eliminate that rear end stuff and changed up the rules considerably, to eliminate teams 'skewing' the rear end to get better bite.
However rivals here Saturday night said Wolfe and Gordon had come up with a way to get around that, with some type of 'floating' rear end. One top crew chief, asking not to be named, said "They are in deep doo-doo. There is no way to explain that away."
It was not clear why NASCAR inspectors did not discover the rear end issues during Friday inspection here.
Joey Logano, Keselowski's teammate at Roger Penske's (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)