Joe Gibbs Racing’s two remaining Chase entries secured top five finishes in this afternoon’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch led the way with a fourth-place finish and Edwards came home just one spot behind in fifth. Meanwhile rookie Erik Jones had a solid day filling in for Matt Kenseth with a 12th-place finish, while Denny Hamlin suffered a mechanical issue early in the race that relegated him to a 38th-place finish.
This was the second race of the Eliminator Round of 8 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field will be reduced to just four teams following next week’s race at Phoenix. A final Championship Four will compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. By virtue of his win last weekend in Martinsville, Jeff Gordon was the first to qualify for the final four. Today’s winner, Jimmie Johnson, was already eliminated from the Chase. Thus seven drivers will compete for the final three spots and an opportunity to run for the Championship in Homestead. Busch is currently second in points and 11 points ahead of fifth place which is currently held by his teammate Carl Edwards. Edwards is seven points behind Martin Truex, Jr. and 10 points behind Kevin Harvick. Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano currently sit sixth, seventh and eighth in the standings.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota in third position and it was obvious from the outset that he would have a car capable of competing for a win this afternoon. Busch was in the top five through the first third of the race and was running second on lap 100. The handling on his No. 18 Camry would become loose on the exit of the turns on a green flag run just prior to the halfway mark of the race and Busch would drop back to run sixth. Crew chief Adam Stevens would call for adjustments to help those handling issues and Busch would restart sixth on lap 154. He would line up ninth for a restart on lap 203. Busch would drive his way back into sixth with 100 laps remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in fifth on lap 257. He would run third before coming down pit road under the green flag with 37 laps remaining and he would cycle through in fifth at lap 300. A caution with 24 laps remaining would bring Busch back down pit road and the M&M’s Crispy Toyota would restart fifth. He would go on to finish the day in fifth and second in overall points heading to Phoenix next Sunday.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota in the 13th position and was able to race just outside the top 10 through the early going. Edwards would run seventh at the 100-lap mark of the race despite battling handling issues on his Camry. Crew chief Darian Grubb would continue to call for adjustments to help the Sport Clips Camry turn better in the corners of the track. A great pit stop would allow Edwards to restart third just after the halfway mark and he would move into second on the next run. He would hold that spot for a lap 203 restart and ran fourth with 100 laps remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in third on lap 256. He would come to pit road under the green flag with 38 laps remaining and cycled back to run eighth. A caution with 24 laps remaining would bring the leaders back down pit road and the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota lined up seventh for the restart. He would go on to finish fifth and is now fifth in the overall point standings, just seven points behind the 78 for the final transfer spot.
Erik Jones, who is filling in for Matt Kenseth the next two weekends, qualified the No. 20 DEWALT Toyota in the sixth position. With two practice sessions rained out on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway Jones’ time in the No. 20 Camry was limited prior to today’s race. That didn’t seem to bother the young driver however as he battled inside the top ten through the early portion of the race. Tire wear would prove to be a major issue throughout the afternoon and crew chief Jason Ratcliff would bring the rookie driver down pit road for fresh tires. With many other leaders staying out on the track under that stop, Jones lined up 26th for the restart on lap 42. It didn’t take him long to make his way back to the front however and he was up to eighth by lap 100. Jones was still eighth for a restart on lap 154. The DEWALT Camry would become loose on the next green flag run and Jones was back in 10th for a restart on lap 203. Those loose conditions would continue on the next green flag run and he would drop back outside the top ten to run 13th with l00 lap remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in 14th at lap 257. Jones would continue to fight toward a spot in the top ten with 30 laps to go but got damage to the right front of the car just prior to a caution with 24 laps to go. The team would make the necessary repairs on pit road to keep him on the lead lap and he would go on to finish the day in 12th.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota in ninth and would bring his Camry down pit road following an early caution. That would put Hamlin back in 20th for the ensuing restart and shortly thereafter he would radio in that he was experiencing an issue with fuel pick up. Crew chief Dave Rogers would instruct him to bring the car to the garage and the FedEx crew would go to work on repairs. However Hamlin would find himself many laps off the pace by the time he was able to resume racing. He would go on to finish the afternoon back in 38th.
Jimmie Johnson captured the win, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Busch, and Edwards rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 47 laps and 15 lead changes among eight different drivers.
The third and final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will take place next week at Phoenix International Raceway. NBC will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 2:30 PM (race begins at 2:45 PM ET).