Kyle Busch, the sweeper again...this time in the -- can you see the logo here? -- NRA 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
Texas is booming!
And Texas is hiring! Wanna job? This is the place.
Big CATs are digging and hauling like crazy. The highway system spidering around this place is being rebuilt in a mammoth reconstruction project that has to be seen to be believed. Housing developments are springing up like wildflowers.
Maybe the name of this race should have been the TexasIsBooming 500.
So, after all the pre-race political controversy about the National Rifle Association sponsoring Saturday night's NASCAR fare, as the NRA 500, how did it all come off?
Well, looks like it was, in the end, pretty much of a no-show controversy Saturday.
Fox TV apparently did follow its contract and mention the official name of the race at least once an hour, if rather mumbled or slurred.
And Fox apparently never mentioned the controversy, never replied aloud to the issue.
Cameras didn't seem to find the NRA logos plastered around Texas Motor Speedway.
And the white walls around this huge track didn't carry any NRA 500 logos, as far as could be seen.
There was no Turnbull 1886 rifle for the pole winner, no brace of Turnbull revolvers for the race winner, no celebratory six-shooter fireworks in victory lane (blanks are used).
It was almost a curious no-show sponsor. The boss of the outfit himself either wasn't invited to wave the green flag, or declined to get into the fray.
Track boss Eddie Gossage put up a 'ballot box' for any fans interested in protesting the NRA sponsorship, and apparently it was still empty by the end of the race.
Hoisting the trophy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Yes, there is the emotionalism and politics of the current national gun debate right now, and the timing of this sponsorship may have been, well, ill-advised. But still the whole race day thing had an air of curious disbelief.
After all, this is cowboy country. Texas by gosh remember, land of big pickups with gun racks, a place of wide-open spaces and huge ranches for hunting.
And the morning paper here was, typically, carrying big ads for guns, one store offering special sales through April 20th, and ads for a gun show offering over three miles of tables, billed as the largest show in Texas.
Gossage complained that the media stirred things up too much, and he took a sharp jab at NASCAR for suggesting the sanctioning body would now be taking closer looks at track sponsorships.
NASCAR's track contracts allow it veto power over such things, and Gossage pointed out NASCAR had okayed the NRA sponsorship before it was announced a month ago. Gossage also indicated negotiations with the NRA had begun last fall, after sponsor Samsung decided not to renew.
So, did the NRA get its money's worth from this sponsorship?
Texas Motor Speedway sure got its money's worth in publicity.
Celebration! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Now the waiting begins for Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano -- how hard will the axe fall when NASCAR officials sit in judgment this week about those rear-end gears the two had here for Saturday night's Texas NRA 500.
NASCAR didn't release any details about the parts in question, which they confiscated just minutes before the start of the race. And they didn't offer any explanation for how the parts might have been missed in two previous inspections Friday.
It's not clear how all this might play next when Keselowski Tuesday meets with President Obama for a White House celebration of his NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. But it sure puts a damper on the visit.
It is also unclear just what all Keselowski was referring to in his angry post-race tirade, accusing NASCAR inspectors of "targeting" his team the past week, a situation he described as "shameful."
Pretty harsh words.
But Keselowski wasn't backing off in heatedly defending his crew and crew chief Paul Wolfe in the controversy.
NASCAR officials described the questioned parts as 'not in the spirit of the rules,' whatever that means.
And the entire situation revives similar debate last summer when the rival Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus team came up with a similar trick to 'skew' the rear end of the car to make it work better in the corners.
Keselowski vented: "The things I've seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything I believe in.
"I'm not happy about it."
NASCAR executives probably shouldn't be too happy about the situation either -- why did it take three days for inspectors to decide the parts were questionable, or to find them? Did some disgruntled rivals tattle? Or is this more a question of definition?
Regardless of the parts at issue, NASCAR's inspection procedures should certainly be more effective, and teams should know far ahead of time what's legal and not legal....certainly not minutes before the start of the race.
That inspection oversight should be embarrassing.
Then again, maybe it helped overshadow the NRA controversy....
And then hope Keselowski and Wolfe weren't planning to take that car to Kansas this week....because NASCAR used it's 'random selection' clause to take the whole car back to the Concord, N.C., R&D center for further examination.
For Logano, meanwhile, the episode was another chance to show his prowess this spring. He's off to a hot start as Roger Penske's newest driver, and one of Ford's newest stars. This time he had to start dead-last and yet charged into contention late in the 3-1/2-hour race, finishing fifth....even ahead of Jimmie Johnson, winner here in November.
Brad Keselowski: not very happy with NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Except for Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., and those fast-closing Fords at the end -- Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano -- the night was pretty much a bummer for the rest of the field.
Mistakes, some of them big mistakes, were common.
Kyle and brother Kurt started from the front row. But Kurt had yet more bad luck, blowing an engine.
Kyle though was in fine shape all night, en route to his first Texas 500 win, making him the only man to win here in all three major touring events. The weekend was also the seventh time in his career that he's swept a weekend.
However Kyle and Martin Truex Jr. were so dominating, and clean such a plus, that the racing itself was not very thrilling. Busch led 171 of the 334 laps; Truex, 142.
The key for Kyle was the last pit stop, and he praised his crew, over-the-wall guys who have been with him since 2008.
"They dropped the jack, and I was like 'Oh, this is too sweet, man.'
"You give me the lead with just 20-some laps to go and it feels really good."
Truex on the other hand was dejected: "When they say 'second sucks,' second sure sucked tonight.
"We got it to where we were the best car on the track. Just got beat out of the pits at the end.
"Outside on the restarts is not where you want to be.
"We came in ahead of Kyle, we came in with the lead. We should have been able to beat him out. I don't know what happened there, but it wasn't even close. I was three cars behind.
"I was lucky to hold second. Carl Edwards about got me.
"The guy that gets clean air is hard to catch in 10 laps.
"We've had a rough season, as finishes go. We've been 38th, 40th, 43rd.
"It just hurts when you give them away."
So close: Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Edwards made an almost miraculous recovery from a dismal start to fight to third at the end. His car handled poorly much of the race, an exhaust header cracked, leaving him worried about a blown engine, and then his seat belts unhooked just as he was taking the green.
"I think when I tightened the belts, either one of the shoulder belts hooked the release or my finger hit it, and it surprised me. I will not be adjusting my belts coming to the green again."
Brian Vickers, subbing for injured Denny Hamlin, finished eighth.
Teammate Matt Kenseth didn't fare as well as expected, finishing 14th. "We were just a step off all weekend."
Danica Patrick didn't fare well at all; she finished a disappointing 28th , three laps down. "It was a tough night," she said. "We just need to get better on the 1-1/2-mile tracks."
Teammate and boss Tony Stewart didn't fare much better, surprisingly, at a track he runs well at. Stewart wound up 21st.
Maybe the most embarrassed driver was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made a passel of mistakes and finished five laps down.
Not a great night for Danica Patrick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)