5 things we learned this weekend
They're back ... - Earlier reports of Joe Gibbs Racing's demise were hugely exaggerated.
Sure, the three-car outfit struggled coming out of the gates, but Monday's run at Texas Motor Speedway proves that they are ready to challenge Hendrick Motorsports' dominance in Sprint Cup competition. Led by Denny Hamlin's heroic drive just 19 days after surgery for an ACL tear, JGR got a 1-3 finish Monday that could have included another top result had 19-year-old Joey Logano not been caught up in a nine-car wreck not of his making. Still, the overall result boosts all three JGR drivers into the top 12 in the standings (a resurgent Kyle Busch in sixth, Hamlin in 11th and Logano in 12th).
Jimmie Johnson remains the title favorite, but the battle for the championship won't solely be a Hendrick affair.
... And they're still on top - While Hamlin was still wrapping things up in Victory Lane, teammates Busch and Logano were busy extending JGR's dominance in the Nationwide Series by getting a 1-2 finish in Monday's tilt. For Busch, it was historic because it was his fifth consecutive Nationwide win in Texas (which matches the mark for most consecutive wins at one track set in the series by Dale Earnhardt and Jack Ingram) and his 66th career NASCAR win (ninth all time). But perhaps most importantly, it helped further cement JGR's dominance in the series. In 77 starts since switching to Toyota in 2008, Gibbs cars have finished in first or second place a whopping 50 times, including eight times when they claimed the top two spots (like they did in Texas). Hendrick who?
A birthday to forget - Jack Roush turned 68 Monday, but he was in no mood to celebrate. Despite being at one of his organization's best tracks (seven Cup, four Nationwide and one Truck series wins), the Roush Fenway fleet fell flat Monday at Texas. In both Cup and Nationwide competition, the organization had four cars - but was only able to muster a best of 10th (Greg Biffle in Cup, Paul Menard in Nationwide) and led a combined 16 laps in both races. What's worse, up-and-comers Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran into each other during the Nationwide race, resulting in a DNF for Stenhouse (Braun had little damage and went on to finish 13th). Hope the next birthday is better than this one, Jack.
With teammates like these, who needs enemies? - Maybe this whole teammate thing isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Monday at Texas we saw a pair of teammates go wheel-to-wheel and say things that made you go "hmmm ..." In the main event, Jeff Gordon went wheel-to-wheel with Jimmie Johnson during the Sprint Cup race. Although Gordon would eventually be taken out in a separate incident, he proved he was unwilling to back down from the four-time defending champion - proclaiming "He must want to be treated different from everyone else."
In the undercard, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer collided in the Nationwide Series race, helping to put a premature end to Bowyer's day. Granted, they aren't teammates in Nationwide competition (Bowyer drove for Richard Childress Racing while Harvick drove for his own team), but the two are part of RCR's Sprint Cup operation. And with Harvick's contract status up in the air after 2010 ... this could get quite interesting.
Oh to be a fly on the wall for those team meetings this week.
Spoiler alert - The return of the spoiler seems to have paid dividends. Drivers didn't make a big deal about the blade at the back of cars, aside from complimenting how much more "drivable" cars were - and that's coming from Kyle Busch, a known Car of Tomorrow critic. In fact, Monday's Cup race saw 29 lead changes, the most in 10 years. It's only been a three races since the reintroduction of the spoiler, but so far so good.
4 things you may have missed
Searching for his comfort zone - Dale Jr. kept his position in the top 10 with another strong run , but there were still moments of frustration between him and crew chief Lance McGrew Monday. The 3-Wide gang suggested last week that maybe it's time to split those two up ... and you won't believe who they suggested join Team 88 .
More defections coming at RPM? - Kasey Kahne is packing his bags and leaving Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010, but is he the only one heading out? Lee Spencer spoke to teammate AJ Allmendinger to find out his status beyond this season.
Bud-ding romance? - Speaking of Kasey Kahne, his current sponsor Budweiser was spotted by FOXSports.com's Lee Spencer making nice with another team this past weekend (See third note in The Hot Pass .)
Busted! - Sprint Cup Series officials didn't spend their entire Texas weekend looking at a weather radar. They caught two teams using illegal parts Friday, and a penalty may be coming.
3 on top
Denny Hamlin - Has been very hit (two wins) or miss (six finishes of 17th or worse) in 2010. Must fix that before we recommend all drivers start blowing out their ACL's in order to boost their performance.
Jimmie Johnson - Clashed with his teammate, fell off the pace late in the race - and yet, if Monday's race was just one lap longer, we'd be talking about him visiting Victory Lane again.
Kyle Busch - Last week he led a bunch of laps but fell to eighth at the end. This week he didn't lead any laps and finished third. He's getting closer and closer ...
2 quotes from around the garage
"That's about as frustrating as it gets. We had a great car all day and ran with the leaders and we have a problem with 30 laps to go and can't finish the race. That unfortunately has been the story of our season so far. I don't know what we need to do to turn it around, but this is getting old. We've had some good finishes go up in smoke ... literally." - David Reutimann.
"I guess some people that run this series full time really need to learn how to drive." - Nationwide Series driver Justin Lofton after an on-track tangle with Trevor Bayne cut his 2010 series debut short.
1 last thing
The big one is up next: Talladega.
Need I say more?