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OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

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Since Texas Motor Speedway’s reconfiguration in 2017, the racing hasn’t been all that good entertaining. The new package, though, brought a breath of fresh air as the cars were able to run a lot closer together, therefore giving the fans a more visually appealing race.

That said, NASCAR’s rule changes still cannot be deemed successful.

Despite everything thrown his way, between adjusting to the package to a pair of pit road penalties, Denny Hamlin was able to overcome everything en route to his second victory of the season.

The strength of Joe Gibbs Racing has been witnessed by Kyle Busch‘s dominance thus far, with Hamlin playing second fiddle. However, if he could ever figure out a way to avoid penalties, he could be the strongest driver on the circuit. Just look back through this year alone and see how many weeks he has been caught speeding on pit road.

Busch was fast once again, but contact with the wall cutting down the left rear while dealing with an extreme loose condition caused him to pit sooner in the cycle than he wanted, with a lengthy stop in the process. As a result, he got behind and was unable to recover, finishing 10th.

Busch was one of the drivers who put on a show through the first half of the race, though, as drivers battled side-by-side, sometimes three-wide for position with the package enabling them to get close together and create runs. Just check out how close he came to making contact with his own brother, Kurt Busch. 

While this, among other small moments, were exciting, there are still issues to be addressed. The top-five cars when on evenly matched tires were only able to run side-by-side for two or three laps after a restart, before going single-file. Although the package enabled them to not get away from each other, no passing could be found.

Beyond the front runners, observations from the track indicated it was a “slug fest” with groups of cars running together closely, battling for position. However, NASCAR on Fox didn’t bother to show that. They just showed the pack racing for the first 10 laps after a restart, and then focused on the single-file train at the front or went to commercial.

It’s pretty hard to showcase the strengths of a package if your broadcast partner sucks, but more on that later.

The single-file train did prove something, though, in the difficulty is it to pass the leader. On two different occasions, the second-place car was able to close in on the leader relatively quickly, but unable to do anything about making a move happen. Joey Logano got stuck behind Jimmie Johnson through stage one, just like Daniel Suarez got stuck behind Ryan Blaney. Essentially, passes for the lead only happened virtue of varying tire strategies – with the first of those not happening until Lap 99.

When NASCAR announced the package, they stressed that it was supposed to enable better racing, with side-by-side battles and drivers able to moves forward. Welp, the running order didn’t flex much, unless it was due to someone pulling a strategy move on pit road. The reason being – we’re still watching drivers battle against dirty air, with track position still meaning everything.  

As Jeff Gordon said it perfectly, “Tires don’t wear out, speed don’t slow down, you can’t get away from each other, and track position is key.” Anybody remember the days of tire wear making some of the best racing? 

Team Penske had been right there with Joe Gibbs Racing every step of the way this season – until Sunday. All three of their entries ran into mechanical issues, relegating them outside of the top-15 for the first time in 2019. 

On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports is closer to the front than they have been all year. After sweeping the top-three spots in qualifying, they placed two cars in the top-six at the checkered flag.

Three of their four entries – Johnson, William Byron, and Chase Elliott – ran in the top-five through the first half of the race. Johnson was able to fight back from jack issues on pit road to finish fifth, with Byron in sixth. Meanwhile, Elliott had to take the wavearound during the second stage when the caution came out for Kyle Larson after he had pitted under green. While Alan Gustafson tried a strategy call of leaving him out at Lap 260, they were unable to make up the lost ground en route to placing 13th.

“For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend,” Johnson said. “It is one thing to have one-lap paced, we needed that and we did that on Friday. Then, Saturday went really well. So, in the back of my mind I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that, then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.

“For the No. 48, No. 24 and the No. 9 were all good. Not sure what happened with the No. 88 but the majority of our cars all ran really strong today, so I feel much better about things.” 

NASCAR ON FOX used to be known for having the best coverage when the television package first saw their involvement. However, those days seem long gone based on what fans are paying witness to this season. Between the endless commercials, and lacking smarts in the booth, it’s going downhill really fast. I mean, do you really the viewers at home care if the commentators are eating ice cream?

It seemed they would show a small piece of the race, before going straight to another commercial break. Essentially, giving you bits of the racing action in-between allowing you to memorize each ad since you’d seen it too many times to count. It almost felt like a third to a quarter of the race was shown in commercial – maybe more.

Of course, when you were able to watch coverage, then you had to deal with the commentating. Darrell Waltrip may be a respected veteran and has earned his right in the sport, but pretty sure his time is up. His reasoning for certain things happening is so far off, that it makes you roll your eyes. Now how do you feel offering that to someone who may be tuning in for the first time?

When Brad Keselowski broke, it was suggested that the team may have been trying something since they locked in the post-season already. Waltrip then commented, “You don’t want to do something that’d put you out of the race, so I always question that.” Isn’t it the best chance to do that so you learn something with nothing to lose? 

They were speaking about Suarez and Waltrip said, “That’s something people don’t realize about Daniel Suarez. He needs his team to really believe in him to be successful.” Doesn’t everybody require that?

The best was when Waltrip suggested that Busch got into the wall during the final stage due to being tired after running both the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and Xfinity Series events this weekend. Busch saying, “it just got away from me,” means that he was pushing hard despite handling not being perfect – like he always does in his aggressive matter.

“It just broke loose,” Busch said afterwards. “I kind of felt it getting a little bit freer as we were going there, and you’re still trying to hustle as hard as you can and get all you can through the corners in order to keep your lap time going…and it just busted loose on me, and I had to catch it and make sure we didn’t crash.

“First and foremost, we did that, and then I got back inline and got rolling and started gaining back on those guys in front of us, but the looseness was still there, and then I had to chase it on exit of (turn) two one time behind the 10 (Aric Almirola) and just knocked the fence down.”

There have been rumors about this being Waltrip’s last season in the booth, and that’d certainly be a welcome sight. Perhaps adding Larry MacReynolds back in the booth, or maybe Jamie McMurray, would work; anything would actually be an improvement right now. 

NASCAR has talked about wanting to create the best racing for their fans and drivers, hence trying this new package this season. While they’re continuing to analyze aspects to improve, hopefully some discussions are had. 

P.S.: It’d also be nice if they showed the running order during their “Crank it Up” segment.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.