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Denny Hamlin! And his crew chief says rival Jimmie Johnson -- with that stunning crew swap -- just blew the championship

   Denny Hamlin! And he's not firing blanks (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


    FORT WORTH, Texas

   Greg Biffle had the car to beat, but without second gear down the stretch he was defenseless on pit road and restarts and wound up a disappointed fifth in Sunday's wild and crazy Texas 500.
   "It is really tough," Biffle said after leading 224 of the 334 laps, most by a wide margin. "We know we have had this problem and have neglected to fix it. We have had numerous opportunities.

"We had bad drive train vibration problems, and today it bit us. It shook the guts out of the transmission...and they still don't know what it is.
    "They think they know what it is, but I am not sure if they really know."
   That certainly wasn't the only surprise of the wild afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
   And what was all that between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton? What went on to take the two to the point of fisticuffs?
   Burton said Gordon got irritated with a move he made at one end of the track, just before a yellow, and then when they got to the other end of the track Burton said he tried to pull up and explain things to Gordon.
   But that's certainly not the way it appeared to unfold – replays made it look like Burton simply drove into the back of Gordon and ran him nose-first into the wall. That would certainly be quite uncharacteristic of Burton.
   However Gordon said he wasn't buying Burton's explanations. In fact Gordon, after the incident, walked up pit road to confront Burton and vigorously shoved him several times before NASCAR officials intervened.
   "I'm glad I had time to cool off a little during that walk, because I want to do a lot more," Gordon said.


  Did Chad Knaus really fire his pit crew midway through the Texas 500? Yep. That's Jeff Gordon's crew over-the-wall for Jimmie Johnson. Panic? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   "It was 100 percent my fault, but I really don't know what happened," Burton insisted. "He was turning left, and I was turning left (all this after the yellow had come out for Sam Hornish's spin), and we got hung up and off we went.
   "I didn't mean to hit him. I was trying to pull up to him and tell him he was right (for being upset over an earlier incident).
   "You can't see over there at this time of the day, and so you don't need to be side by side.
   "I don't blame him for being mad. I'd have been mad too.
   "When I saw him walking toward me, I knew he was going to be mad...and I don't blame him. He didn't do anything he shouldn't have done.
   "He was upset, and he should be upset. I wrecked him under caution. I didn't mean to wreck him. And he meant to tell me he was upset...and I don't have a bit of problem with that.
   "I have a lot of respect for Jeff, and I think he has a lot of respect for me. We talked (at the medical center, after riding the same ambulance over there), and I think he understands now more what happened."
   "We went down into turn three, and he went wide, and I got to the inside of him, and he rode me to the wall, and I didn't understand why," Gordon said.
   "The caution came out, and we went down into turn one, and I drove up next to him, and didn't even touch him. I guess he was just really frustrated at the way his car was handling...and he just drove up into my right rear and put me in the wall under caution.
   "Of all the people out there, I never though that would happen with Jeff Burton. I've always had tremendous amount of respect for him..but I certainly lost a lot of respect today.
   "As I was walking toward him (on pit road) I was going through all the scenarios in my mind...and I'm glad it was a long walk down there to him. I wanted to show him how upset I was....but I really wanted to do a lot more....
   "I like Jeff. He's usually very rational, and I respect his opinions, and he apologized and said it was his fault....that he didn't mean to do it..."

    Greg Biffle had the car to beat, but a broken transmission late doomed him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Oh, and Jimmie Johnson lost the Sprint Cup tour points lead, almost by-the-way on this crazy afternoon. He had another relatively mediocre day, led only one lap, finished ninth....and for the first time since 2005 Johnson is not the NASCAR tour points leader leaving this track for the final two races of the season.
   On top of that, Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, pulled a stunning move – firing his pit crew halfway through the race, and replacing those guys with Gordon's pit crew, after Gordon crashed out.
   "It's something new, for sure, nothing we've done in the past," Johnson said of the crew situation. "But I just watched the World Series, and when a pitcher is not doing his job, they make a change and get someone in who can.
    "We know our guys are capable of doing it. We just had some things going on that we couldn't rebound from in and it really put us in a bad position on the race track, and led to the bad result."
   Mike Ford, crew chief for winner Denny Hamlin, says that was likely the move that doomed Johnson's bid for a record sixth championship.
   And Ford said he had purposely picked the pit he had for Hamlin so that Hamlin would be pitting right in front of Johnson – so Johnson's  crew could perhaps be intimidated, and that Johnson would have to work to avoid getting blocked in. Ford said normally he wouldn't play head games like that, but Ford said Knaus triggered that move by playing it that way himself at Kansas a few weeks ago, handicapping Hamlin.
    "If they wanted to win a championship...they just took their team out of it," Ford said of Knaus and Johnson. "Their team got them to this point (six wins)...and they pulled them out.
   "So this is more about trying to win a championship for the company, and not the team.
   "We saw them studying us real hard, and when you put your focus on watching other people, you make mistakes....
   "That means they are chasing us. And they made mistakes in doing so."
   Ford said his attitude about this title, and his team's attitude, now was aggressive. "To be aggressive and get all we can," Ford said. "Guys have tiptoed around them (Knaus and Johnson)...you've watched them play mind game. But I'm completely immune to that.
   "I'll be right in their face saying it doesn't matter.
   "I think our race team is better than their race team. And I'm not going to tiptoe around them. I'm going to do what it's to going to require for us to win a championship....not that I'm playing dirty, but take what's our.
   "I'm not afraid to go toes to toe with them."

    What in the world is Chad Knaus thinking? Did he just blow the championship? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  On any other day, or a more normal race, Trevor Bayne's rookie debut would have been headline news. The 19-year-old ran remarkably well and finished 17th – perhaps in contrast to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s lackluster 25th.
   "That was awesome, man," Bayne said after his sparkling run in the Woods' Ford.
   "We had a terrible pit stall, though, because we were right with the guys we were racing with, and I couldn't get it in and out, and got boxed in a few times.
    "We had to pass so many cars -- like 10 or 15 a run -- until pit stops. Finally (David) Reutimann helped me out and stayed over to the left in his box and that really helped us.
    "That was incredible. These things are so much fun, I wish I could do it every weekend. That was as good or better than we expected, so I am really pumped about it."

   The race, after 3-1/2 hours, boiled down to a three-lap shootout, Denny Hamlin versus Matt Kenseth. And Kenseth nearly pulled it off.
   "I got a really good restart, and he pulled as close as he could to me -- to get the wind off of me (and take away downforce) -- and over last ten laps that's totally fair," Kenseth said. "I'd probably be trying to do the same thing, to get the inside guy (Hamlin) loose and get him uncomfortable.
    "Surprisingly my car was pretty stable, and it lasted for a lap. I just lifted real early because we were side by side and I wanted to keep him outside of me. I thought if we left turn two at least nose-to-nose and I could get into three and still have him outside of me that we'd have a shot to the finish line.
    "So I lifted real early when he lifted....and then I got back to the gas real early, and he must have slipped a little bit, and I got a really good run.
    "I was a little surprised we cleared him. And I pulled up in front of him and starting getting off the corner....I probably shouldn't have been holding the wheel as much as I did, but I wanted to get a nice run off the corner -- and as soon as he got away from my side, and got behind me, my car just took off. (Loose.) It just felt like it raised the car half an inch and went straight.
   "And I had to get out of the gas to keep from hitting the wall.
    "It was a heck of a race down to the finish."


   Beautiful fall afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway...and a wild and crazy Texas 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Shame on Chad and Jimmie what

Shame on Chad and Jimmie what part of team don't they understand????? Not cool. Jimmie making comparisons to a baseball game is laughable. You are right though looks like the TEAM is the company they work for and not the 48 team! Jimmie talks out of his $%%% always talking about the TEAM and he bailed on them...SHAME SHAME SHAME...Why is that o.k. They can rationlize it all they want, it sucks! Looks like cheating to me! GO JOEY!

Chad did what needed to be

Chad did what needed to be done. It worked. The 48 crew needed to be slapped.

Was the crew swap deal a move

Was the crew swap deal a move by Chad only, Chad & Jimmie only or was Mr. H in on the deal as well? So, at the Phoenix & Homestead races will it be the same old guys or a total swap between the #48/#24 teams? And if you're not going to change, then what's the point?

Gordon has certainly done his

Gordon has certainly done his share of rough driving in his day. I still remember Gordon roughing up Burton to get buy him a few laps before the end of the Southern 500 to win his Winston Million in 97. Gordon won his million, but I feel unfairly took away a prized Southern 500 victory from Burton. Unfortunately Gordon's rough driving at some races this season brought back that memory again.

Gordon and Burton weren't going to win Sunday's race and are not going to win the championship this year either. But both Gordon and Burton seem to be driving with a chip on their shoulder lately - especially Gordon. It doesn't seem to be helping either one drive any better.

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