By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas Motor Speedway has not been kind to drivers that have found themselves in contention for a decent finish in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
After blown tires ended the day early for Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson, a handful of other contenders saw their races come to a close just as the final stage began.
When the green flag flew at lap 177, Kyle Busch, who was up near the lead got loose and started backing up through the pack causing an accordion affect behind him and with it, an inevitable crash.
As Busch was getting passed three-wide ahead of him, Aric Almirola backed out in an effort to keep his car in one piece, but that allowed Denny Hamlin to get underneath of him in Turn 4, causing Hamlin to get loose and wash up into Almirola. From there, the melee was on.
Almirola spun into the outside wall, while Hamlin spun as well and collected Brad Keselowski, Trevor Bayne, David Ragan, and Jimmie Johnson by the time all was said and done. All but Bayne and Ragan would be done for the day.
As a result of the carnage, the red flag flew for 11 minutes and four seconds.
“I shouldn’t have been in that position, but obviously the 18 (Kyle Busch) was falling back there and I made a move to the inside and everyone is fighting for the bottom,” said Hamlin, who led 12 laps. “I was obviously running the bottom there – the 10 (Aric Almirola) tried to squeeze and I realized that he was going to come down and I got out of the gas and I got loose underneath him.
“It’s my responsibility to keep the car under me, but we were just in such tight quarters there that it was nearly impossible to do. It all starts with me at the beginning of the race, it’s my fault and I hate it for this race team. We had a car that I thought was very capable of winning this race and unfortunately we’re back here.”
For Johnson, it marks another poor finish as his season of misery continues. Nonetheless, Johnson remained positive even in the face of adversity as noted in his comments after the crash.
“By the time I saw what went on the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was backwards and smoking the tires coming up the track,” said Johnson. “I knew where his arch was taking him and I knew that I was in trouble in the outside lane and going to get into him some. And then the crash just kind of continued from there.
“So, unfortunate circumstances, but a lot to build on from this weekend. A strong Friday, a fantastic Saturday and then not the best Sunday. We had a lot of different things work against us today, but we are getting closer each and every week and I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We will get back to our winning ways soon.”
Keselowski and Almirola also weighed in on the crash, noting that they were just trying to bide their time and keep their cars in one piece until the finish of the race drew nearer, but it was not to be for the two Ford drivers.
“Somebody got loose and the next thing I knew there was a big mess in front of me and it was either pick left or pick right and I made a quick decision to pick right and it was the wrong decision,” Keselowski said. “Tough break. I hate it for everybody on the team. We were sludging along with the Miller Lite Ford, right in that fifth to 10th range every day and we just didn’t make it through.”
Almirola added that the recent repave at Texas also played into the crash, as they were all fighting for the same real estate.
“We just come to these repaves and we are going really fast and all fighting for the bottom lane and the second lane isn’t as good and the third lane is really not as good,” said Almirola. “So we got down to turn three and I was trying to be smart and be patient and we still have a long way to go in the race. I backed out of it to let the 18 have the second lane and the 11 just got loose under me. It was a frustrating end of the day for us.
“Our Smithfield Ford Fusion was fast and I hate that we didn’t convert today into a top-10 if not better than that. We definitely had a car capable of a really good result today and unfortunately have nothing to show for it.”