By Will Martin
April racing in Ft. Worth Texas has come and gone in dramatic fashion. Fans of the great American Race will certainly marvel at the continuing trend of no driver being a repeat winner on the racing circuit. What impressed quite a few of us in media control was the way that youth was well served with the winners of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 and what went down Monday April 7th for the Duck Commander 500.
It wouldn’t be a NASCAR weekend without the obligatory inclement weather to be a part of the Texas fabric. Thursday night April 3rd moments before an Induction Awards dinner was about to begin, Texas Motor Speedway was belted with heavy rain, thunder and lightning, then dime sized hail began to pelt the track.
Unofficially Big Hoss TV was not to be put to use until the next night. However as severe weather warnings were going down in the Metroplex that trusty behemoth served its purpose to inform patrons what to do for safety sake. After 20 minutes the rains moved on. Denton-about 11 miles further north-suffered the indignity of flooding and softball sized hail, causing quite a bit of damage.
Friday went off without a hitch despite cooler breezy weather. Saturday qualifying was cloudy and rambunctious. Sunday morning began wet and rainy. It was dreary, blustery, and felt just like Duck Season. Which makes sense since this was the Duck Commander 500.
The unwelcome weather caused cancellations of all the fun garage party frivolity, a performance by Big and Rich, even a friendly race with Ryan Newman and Larry The Cable Guy (now promoting Prilosec for heartburn) and an appearance by the whole Duck Dynasty clan replete with Uncle Si.
On Sunday, for four hours fans waited out the weather before it was deemed undoable. Everyone returned on Monday for an 11 am start time. At first it didn’t look promising. The race initially began in a green/yellow start to allow for adequate drying for the track before the heat of the cars and the tires did their thing.
One thing the drivers were not ready for: A major flap (if you will) with the air dryers on the trucks. Cars that tried to go past these vehicles were dealt with some serious issues with bent flaps other issues in relation to being blown upon. Jimmie Johnson made numerous trips to pit road to deal with car issues.
Once the race got to Yellow at Lap 14 Dale Earnhardt Jr. would encounter some bad luck when his 88 car caught a tire in the very wet infield causing him to careen into turn #1 which caused his car to catch fire, effectively ending his day.
Dale on the mishap:
“Just didn’t see the grass. Didn’t know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars you can’t really see that good to that angle. I just didn’t have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good. You can’t run through there the way they have these cars on the ground like that. Just a mistake on my part. I just didn’t know I was that close to the grass, and made a mistake.”
He then explained what exactly happened.
“I drove the car down there. I didn’t know we were that close to the grass and was following the #43 car (driven by Aric Almirola). I thought I was taking a decent line through the dogleg. We were going low around the #42 car (driven by Kyle Larson) so I was lower than normal and just misjudged it. It tears the car up pretty good when you run through the grass.”
Kevin Harvick also encountered engine issues with his #4 car on the 28th lap.
“Something happened with the engine right after that restart. The Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS was really fast. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong. Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage. We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day.”
As for the race itself it went down like this:
The Duck Commander 500 began in a weird fashion with the dryers and ended in weird fashion with a caution called with two laps to go. There were a total of seven cautions for a total of 49 laps. Two of those cautions due to debris on the track (Ten laps) . Two for car #41 (Gene Haas) spinning out on Turn 4 and Turn 1 at Laps 177 and 220 (14 Laps). One for a competition caution at Lap 50 (4 Laps). One when Dale Jr’s car ate the wall at Lap 14 (11 Laps) and one for the Green Yellow start to the race.
As the sun would slowly its way through the wall of clouds in Ft. Worth the track began to gather steam and cars got tighter. Tony Stewart was your pole sitter who would have a hold of first place for 74 laps on three different occasions. Brad Keselowski also had a share of the lead for 85 laps. The eventual winner of the race-Joey Logano in the #22 car would possess the top spot for 104 of the 340 laps despite having to overcome a caution at Lap 334.
In all you had 18 lead changes among nine different drivers. In that list Jeff Gordon held first four times for 40 laps. Denny Hamlin twice for 20, Kyle Busch once for ten, Clint Bowyer, Reid Sorenson , and Kevin Harvick for one lap apiece.
Joey Logano would get into first place at Lap 226 and hold court for 74 laps. The 22 car looked to be strong despite a strong push from both Jeff Gordon in the #24 Aggie Mobile and Kyle Busch in car #18.
Joey, what was your mind set as you were about to win going away before a caution was issued at Lap 334?
“When you’ve got forty-something laps after the last pit stop and a pretty sizable lead, really, all you’re thinking is, ‘Where’s the white flag.’ Brad (Keselowski) was able to catch us a little bit and then you go into turn one and you see the 41 up against the wall and you’re like, ‘Please, no caution. PLEASE no caution.’ And of course, boom, it comes out and you’re like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ So you get so mad that you can barely control yourself, or at least for me. I had to make sure I stayed calm and try to give Todd (crew chief Todd Gordon) the information I needed to, and then he had to make the right call.
“Really I was just so mad. I didn’t really tell him what the car did until I was coming down pit road and he kind of made a last-minute decision to put fuel in the car, give me a better balance for what I needed and the guys made the money stop and put us out as the the first car out with four tires and restarted third. At that point, I’ve got Kyle Busch on the outside of me and I know he’s very aggressive on restarts and very good on restarts so my number one goal at that point was to try to figure out how to make sure he doesn’t get clean air and get to the front because he was the other car with four tires.
“I had to make sure he didn’t stick it three wide and get in the middle or something like that. And then the 24 (Jeff Gordon) was lucky enough to have a good enough restart with hid older tires. I was able to follow him through and get to second, and get a good run off of four, cross him over and take the lead and then you get that feeling again and we get the win. It’s just awesome.
“We’ve been in contention every race this year to win these things and to get this Shell/Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane means a lot. It’s such a tough race track and we had plenty of time to think about this for the last couple of days, so it’s a really cool place to win!”
And what was the best thing about winning this week in Ft. Worth Joey Logano?
“They give you a ring, I’ve got guns, I’ve got a trophy, I’ve got a hat, I’ve got a duck call (Laughs). It’s pretty cool!”
Race notwithstanding I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the amount of press coverage and discussion amongst fans and racers alike seeing the presence of Big Hoss TV out there between Turns 3 and 4 standing tall, loud, and proudly. 79% bigger than what fans got to enjoy at AT&T stadium. Tweets that were posted on the big screen got a lot of press also. Sunday Phillip Robertson from Guinness Book Of World Records was at TMS to present Eddie Gossage and Jim Doyle a certificate of authenticity in declaring that Big Hoss is indeed THE LARGEST LED TV in all the world!
All in all the Duck Commander 500 was everything it was quacked up to be. My thanks to the good people at TMS Media Relations for making this a memorable experience and congratulations to Chase Elliott and Joey Logano for serving notice that youth indeed has been served.
Seven races and seven different winners. That’s real parity in any sport.