By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Through the first decade of racing at Texas Motor Speedway, there had not been a repeat winner, with 12 different drivers taking home the patented six-shooters and cowboy hat from victory lane, but when the Cup Series rolled into the Lone Star State in April 2007, that was all about to change.
Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton would lead the field to green, with Gordon dominating the first 153 laps of the race, leading 146 of them.
On lap 154, a new contender emerged in Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with him turning in one of his best performances of the season as he took over the lead and stayed up front for 93 laps of his own before Kurt Busch took his turn at the top of the leaderboard.
Shortly after Busch took the lead, things went downhill in a hurry for Earnhardt as Tony Stewart spun off of Turn 4 on lap 253, forcing Earnhardt to slow in an effort to avoid Stewart’s spinning Chevrolet. Kyle Busch couldn’t get slowed down in time and slammed into the back of Earnhardt’s car, causing heavy damage to both.
Earnhardt would return to the race after getting his car repaired, while Busch retreated to the garage, setting off a chain of events later in the race that would be a bit of foreshadowing for what would transpire later in the season.
Meanwhile back up front, Kurt Busch continued to lead until Gordon took command once again with 44 laps to go. It looked as if Gordon was going to walk away with the win to claim Texas glory for the first time in his career, but things took a turn for the worst with less than 20 laps remaining.
After getting into the wall a few times, Gordon had enough damage on his car to slow his pace, allowing Matt Kenseth to take over the lead with 17 laps to go.
Like all of the other drivers that had dominated on the day, Kenseth pulled away to a sizable lead, but the inaugural winner at Texas, Jeff Burton, had something in store for Kenseth as the laps wound down. Closing in on the 2003 Cup Series champion lap after lap, Kenseth and Burton put on a thrilling duel for the top spot, with Burton throwing everything he had at Kenseth in an effort to get by him.
It was clear that Burton had the faster car and on the last lap, he made his move. Diving low into Turn 1, Burton powered past Kenseth’s Ford as they reached the backstretch and never looked back as he held onto the top spot all the way back to the finish line to make him the first repeat winner at Texas.
Following Burton and Kenseth across the line would be Mark Martin, Gordon, and Jamie McMurray to round out the top-five.
“Matt’s a hell of a driver,” Burton said. “We were quite a bit faster than he was and he held me off for 15 laps or whatever. That’s just how good he is. My guys did a great job all day. We were really good on long runs. We got beat up on short runs and we got just what we needed. We got a long run and it worked out for us.
“It’s a long year. Long way to go. Certainly, we’ve done a nice job to this point, but there is a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got to go to work again next week. This is a long year, but I’ll go to battle with this team and take my best shot with it.”
For Kenseth, it was a bittersweet end to the day after battling with his former Roush Racing teammate.
“It stunk from my vantage point,” said Kenseth. “Jeff’s a great friend of mine. He did a great job. There’s nobody more deserving than him, but it’s painful to lose on the last lap. We really didn’t have a car that could contend all day, but through hard work, adjustments, great pit stops by these guys, they gave me a shot to win and that’s all I can ask for.
“I hate I lost it for them, but if I had to go and do it all over again, I would have gotten beat the same way. I couldn’t have done anything more except for wreck. We got into (Turn) 1 and he backed up the corner like he needed to and got to the throttle really early. I got to the gas at the same time, but it started pushing and started spinning and I almost took the wall down off of (Turn) 2. I just couldn’t get it done.”
Now back to the Earnhardt-Busch drama late in the race.
Earnhardt would finally retire due to engine trouble on lap 288 and Busch’s No. 5 team worked to get the car repaired, only to find themselves without a driver as Busch had left the track thinking the car was too far gone to get it back in racing shape before the end of the day. Enter Earnhardt, who climbed in the No. 5 car for the final nine laps, gaining one position on the leaderboard with a 37th place finish.
The fact that Earnhardt was driving a Hendrick Motorsports entry turned out to foretell the fact that Earnhardt would leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc. later in the year and announce his new ride with HMS starting in 2008, taking over for Busch, who moved onto Joe Gibbs Racing the following year.