Samsung / Radioshack 500
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"Dominance Does Not Equal Victory"
by
Esteban Morales

     Close racing and the Indy Racing League are synonymous at Texas Motor Speedway. Nascar’s Nextel Cup drivers broke that stereotype and then some as they put on a thrilling show for nearly 200,000 fans during the Samsung/RadioShack 500. As the drivers were given the command to start their engines, pole-sitter Bobby Labonte led the 43 car grid to the green flag. Outside pole-sitter Bill Elliott wasted little time as he took the lead from Labonte on the opening lap in the un-sponsored 91 Dodge. After 15 laps, Labonte had begun to fall backwards through the field, meanwhile Elliott continued to open a lead over Joe Nemechek, and rookie teammate Kasey Kahne.

     Lap 18 saw the first caution of the day as a result of debris from Casey Mears’ Dodge. Mears and Jeff Gordon had been battling for position when Gordon nudged Mears’ bumper prompting a piece to fly off of the car. The first yellow of the day brought about the first pit stops of the day as well. Bill Elliott led the field into the pits but fell back a few positions as Rusty Wallace came out in the lead followed by Sterling Marlin.

Bill Elliott Out Front

     The green flag was waved again on lap 24 and Marlin quickly took over 1st position. Further back in the field, last years’ champion, Matt Kenseth, was struggling with a very loose car, he fell to 35th by lap 31. Back at the front, Bill Elliott who had restarted in 6th moved up through the field and took command on lap 37. A few laps later the battle ensued as Marlin took back the lead from Elliott, this did not last took long as rookie Kasey Kahne powered his way around both cars for the lead.

    The second pit stops of the day were rather uneventful, most of the leaders kept their positions intact. Unfortunately, Derrike Cope who had worked his way into the top ten had stalled his car on pit lane and was given a drive through penalty for an infraction. Following the pit stops, Elliott Sadler had moved into the top 3 while Kahne kept driving at a torrential pace.

     Debris on the racetrack brought out the second caution of the day on lap 119. By this time Kahne had lapped over half the field with only 17 cars left on the lead lap. All drivers opted to make their 3rd pit stops of the day; Ryan Newman’s crew encountered an eventful stop, as Newman drove off a small fire erupted due to spilled fuel. Kenseth in an uncompetitive car decided to stop twice, once for fuel and tires, and a second time for adjustments to his car. A few laps later the track was green again, Kahne led over Sadler and Marlin for a brief moment until Sadler took the lead.

     While trying to catch the leaders, Marlin brushed the wall exiting turn 2. The contact with the wall was not enough to bring out another caution but was enough to bring Marlin into the pits. Kenseth continued his rough ride and he too brushed the wall, although he was able to keep his car on the track. By lap 145, Kahne continued to dominate the race as he took back the lead from Sadler and again began to pull away convincingly from rest of the pack.

Kasey Kahne Pit Stop

     Kahne’s teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, began the 4th pit stop sequence as he was the first to make his stop. After all cars cycled through, Kahne emerged in the lead and continued his impressive run. As the laps began to wind down, Ryan Newman who had been running in the top 10 smacked the wall in turn 4 bringing out the 3rd yellow flag of the day on lap 197. The 15 cars left on the lead lap were first to pit later followed by the rest of the field. The race had a new leader coming off of pit lane; pole sitter Bobby Labonte decided to take on gas only and was propelled into the 1st position with a very fast stop, he was followed by Joe Nemechek , Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Elliott Sadler and Bill Elliott had dropped to 7th and 8th respectively. When the field was restarted on lap 205, Nemechek took the lead while Labonte began to dramatically fall through the field with ignition problems, a few laps later Jamie McMurray encountered the same woes although he was able to quickly get back under way, Labonte was forced to pit.

     Kasey Kahne continued to charge through the field, Kahne moved into 2nd behind Nemechek by lap 225. 10 laps later Kahne had massively cut down Nemechek’s lead and began putting plenty of pressure on the leader of the race. Ultimately, Kahne took back the lead and easily pulled away once again. Green flag stops ensued for the last time on lap 261 when Roush Racing’s, Greg Biffle, was the first to stop. Kahne soon followed and successfully pitted. However, before the entire field was allowed to cycle through their pit sequence, Scott Wimmer made heavy contact leading to a yellow flag. Kahne fell 1 lap behind new leader Jeff Gordon, but because he was the first car 1 lap down he was allowed a free pass and was again on the lead lap. At this point it did not seem as if anything would relegate this rookie from a foreseeable victory.

     At the restart the top three drivers were Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. As the cars came up to speed, Bill Elliott suddenly began to slow with a blown right rear tire. He was unable to drive into the pits due to traffic and eventually spun his car into the wall in turn 4 ending his impressive run. The yellow flag again was brought out. The field went green on lap 283 with Gordon still in the lead, as the pack sorted itself out on the front straight Scott Wimmer and Jeremy Mayfield made hard contact bringing the caution flag back out. The field went green with 42 laps to go, 2 laps later however, Jeff Green’s engine expired leading to the third yellow within a handful of laps!

Kahne and Sadler Battle to the Finish

     Fortunately that was the last caution of the race, all drivers were left with 33 laps to battle it out. The top 3 were still Gordon, Sadler and Earnhardt Jr. followed by Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch who were feverishly fighting for position. Meanwhile a little further back, Kahne was charging back to the front. With only 27 laps remaining, Gordon suffered the same fate as Labonte and McMurray as he temporarily succumbed to ignition problems. It was enough to slow him and allow Elliott Sadler to assume the lead, Gordon’s misfortune played into Kahne’s advantage as he easily gained an additional position. Before long Kahne had taken 2nd place from Earnhardt Jr. and began closing in on Sadler. With ten laps remaining the battle was building up to an exciting finish. Kahne closed to within less than a car length with 5 laps to go. Sadler had other plans in mind however, he refused to relinquish the inside line and forced Kahne to try and find a way around the outside. The white flag waved and Kahne took one last shot while exiting turn 4, Sadler shut the door and beat out Kahne by three one-hundredths of a second to pick up his second career victory in the series.