October 26, 2014

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NASCAR chase wide open after Jimmie Johnson crashes in Lap 3

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jimmie Johnson’s drive to history took a hard hit against a wall and Kyle Busch ran out of gas trying to complete an unprecedented NASCAR trifecta.

Kurt Busch drove to Victory Lane at Texas after his younger brother ran out of fuel with 2½ laps left Sunday, finishing 129 laps ahead of the rebuilt car driven by Johnson, who saw his points lead slashed from 184 to 73 over Hendrick teammate Mark Martin with two races left.

“It was definitely not the day we wanted,” Johnson said. “It’s not as bad as it could have been. At one point I was told to hop out of car and I was done. … It’s still a big ouch.”

Johnson, the series points leader trying to become the first Sprint Cup driver to win four consecutive season championships, wrecked on the third lap when he was knocked into the wall by Sam Hornish. Johnson finished 38th after his crew needed more than an hour to repair and basically rebuild his No. 48 Chevrolet.

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“I’m still in great position. We’re going to dust ourselves off,” Johnson said. “There’s not much we can do, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Coming out of Turn 2 on the third lap, Hornish got loose after being tapped by David Reutimann. Hornish made contact with Johnson, who scraped the outside wall. It looked as if Johnson might save his car before he was hit again by Hornish, then slammed into the inside wall.

“By the time that I knew that I was hit, I was already sideways,” Hornish said. “I was just trying to correct it and not get into the 48. Obviously, you don’t ever want to detract from the championship when you’re not really even involved in it.”

Kurt Busch got his second victory of the season in the No. 2 Dodge with lame duck crew chief Pat Tryson, who is leaving at the end of the season to join Michael Waltrip Racing. Penske Racing only wants Tryson to visit its shop during the weekly competition meeting before races.

Busch’s 20th career victory came with an average speed of 147.137 mph and by a nearly 26-second margin over second-place Denny Hamlin. Matt Kenseth was third.

Kyle Busch, who had already won the Nationwide and Camping World Truck races at Texas, was trying to become the first driver to win in all three of NASCAR’s national series on the same weekend. He led 232 laps and was still ahead when his No. 18 Toyota suddenly slowed on the backstretch on lap 332.

“This is the first time Kyle and I raced each other hard,” said Kurt Busch, who led six times for 89 laps while also running second behind his brother much of the race. “It’s bittersweet, I was rooting for him, but at the same time this is for us.”

Kyle Busch had trouble refiring his car after his splash and dash stop and wound up 11th.

Dave Rogers, who made his debut as Kyle Busch’s crew chief in Sprint Cup, said they thought they had enough fuel to finish the race and described the driver as “frustrated.” Busch didn’t talk to reporters.

Jeff Gordon, another Hendrick driver who is third in points, finished 13th after avoiding serious problems of his own. He cut his points deficit to Johnson from 192 to 112 points, though lost ground on Martin.

“A total missed opportunity that completely got away from us,” said Gordon, who in April won at Texas for the first time.

Johnson returned to the track on lap 115, the front and rear of his car solid black after all the repairs. The front and rear suspensions and the driveshaft had been replaced, along with other repairs. Crew members from the teams of Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. assisted in what looked like a makeshift body shop in the garage.

After finishing second at Texas in April behind Gordon, Johnson had another disappointing fall race at Texas while trying to close out a championship.

Last November, Johnson struggled to 15th while Carl Edwards gambled on fuel and won by a wide margin. Johnson left Texas with a 106-point lead in the chase last year, and won by 69 over Edwards.

Johnson goes to Phoenix next week with an even slimmer lead this time.

“His game has now changed. They have to definitely look over their shoulder at who’s behind him because the other guys feel he’s vulnerable. Who knows?” Kurt Busch said. “That’s why we race the races. We don’t do it on paper.”

Gordon avoided serious trouble in the second turn on lap 175, spinning but not hitting anything after Juan Pablo Montoya and Edwards made contact and spun ahead of him going onto the backstretch.

When Gordon turned down to avoid the other cars, he spun himself. He ended up with flat tires and a broken brace and came into the pit before it was opened, incurring the penalty that made him restart at the back of the field. He was still in 18th place, where he was at the time of the accident, when the race restarted.