CNN – After taking a weekend off for the first time this season it was back to racing for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The action was fast and fearless on the 1.5-mile oval and was mostly clean and green as the final 234 laps of the race were run without a caution flag, boosting the average speed to over 160 miles per hour.
While it appeared that Jimmie Johnson was on pace to give Hendrick Motorsports its milestone 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, once again another driver burst to the front to shut the team out of victory lane.
The first Saturday night Cup race this season was not the typical NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway, where the high-speed 1.5-mile track usually features a crash or two before the checkered flag drops. And because of that, the Cup points leader was able to add to his lead while driving to victory for the first time since 2010.
Let’s get straight to Five Things We Learned from NASCAR at Texas:
1. The Biff is Back. Greg Biffle raced to a decisive victory Saturday night to score his first win since Kansas in October 2010, breaking a streak of 49 races without a victory. He became the sixth different winner in 2012, with only Tony Stewart winning more than one race this season.
In a high-speed battle to the end Biffle had to conserve fuel in his Ford but still finished 3.2 seconds ahead of Johnson’s battered Chevrolet. It was Biffle’s fifth top-10 finish in the seven races held so far and allowed him to extend his Cup points lead to 19 points over Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Kenseth gets credited with second place because he has one victory this season — in the Daytona 500.
Johnson led 156 laps — the most in the race — but with 30 to go Biffle executed the slide job for what proved to be the race-winning pass. Of Biffle’s 17 career Sprint Cup wins he has gotten to victory lane by passing Johnson for the lead on four occasions.
It was also Biffle’s second-career Sprint Cup win at Texas and the 127th for Roush Fenway Racing.
“I just dug deep,” Biffle said of his sliding pass for the victory with 30 laps to go. “I knew I had to do it and I kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him so I just gave it all I had. It’s very satisfying to get my second cowboy hat at Texas.”
When the season started Carl Edwards was expected to be the Roush Fenway Racing driver to beat but has yet to seriously contend for a victory in the first eight races this season. Instead, the Cup competitors are chasing after Biffle’s No. 16 Ford and the No. 17 Ford driven by Kenseth.
The win gave Roush Fenway the weekend sweep in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series at TMS, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning Friday night’s Nationwide Series contest. It was the 18th NASCAR win for Roush Fenway at Texas and its record-extending ninth Texas win in the Sprint Cup Series.
Although it’s very early in the season there is no doubt that Roush Fenway is off to a great start as the series heads to another 1.5-mile oval next Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Biffle is a former winner at Kansas so don’t be surprised to see him have another chance to contend for victory and pad his points lead.
2. Hendrick Motorsports still can’t get into victory lane after 13 races. Two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports was poised for a 1-2-3 finish and it’s 200th Cup victory before a late race crash on a restart took Johnson and Jeff Gordon out of contention. For most of Saturday night’s race at Texas, it looked like Hendrick Motorsports would finally get win No. 200 with Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy in front for 156 laps in the 334-lap contest.
That was before Biffle’s bold move with 30 laps to go in which he drove Johnson’s Chevy hard and then slid in front of him. Johnson tried to return the favor but went too hard into Turn 3 and brushed the wall. With sheet metal damaged, Johnson was able to continue but had to throttle back in order to make it to the finish.
It was Johnson’s fourth second-place finish in the last five spring races at Texas.
“I’m definitely disappointed but we had a great race car,” Johnson said. “The pit stops were amazing. I had a very, very fast race car but some more respect from lapped traffic it may have been different. I got tangled up in some lapped traffic; the 16 (Biffle) made a great move and got by me. I tried to get by him in Turn 3 but ran out of grip and drilled it into the fence. But I was able to bring it in second.”
Jeff Gordon’s finished fourth behind former Hendrick driver Mark Martin to give HMS two drivers in the top four.
“We’ve been running so good,” Gordon said. “It was nice to have everything come together tonight after starting 34th. We were able to drive it into the top five with only two cautions. I almost got to Mark Martin at the end. We had a great car and this is something great we can build on as we go to Kansas.”
Earnhardt hasn’t won a race since Michigan in 2008 — a streak that has hit 136 races without a victory — but he has shown improvement this season in terms of consistency. The only Hendrick driver that has yet to be a factor in any race is Kasey Kahne.
Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of things right this season, with the exception of one — getting one of its drivers into victory lane. But it is just a matter of time until that happens.
3. The first superspeedway race since 1999 with more than 200 consecutive green flag laps determined the nature of the race. With just two caution periods to break the previous record of five for fewest yellow flags at Texas Motor Speedway, the race created a pedal-to-the-metal scenario with the final 234 laps of the race run with the green flag.
“That is kind of fun racing like that,” Edwards said after finishing eighth. “I don’t know what it is like to watch but as a race car driver that is neat to run the whole race. A caution would have helped us. We had a very fast race car. An eighth place finish after having to go to the end of the field, from the back to eighth under green I am proud of that. I am excited to go to Kansas.”
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth actually expected a race with little interruption.
“I’m not shocked,” Kenseth said. “We get a lot of green flag racing here. It didn’t shock me. It was hard to drive a car by yourself. It is pretty slick out there.”
Despite the track’s slick surface the cars and drivers did a fantastic job by delivering the fastest race this season and the fastest in the history of NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway.
4. Tony Stewart’s day goes up in Smoke. Last November, Tony Stewart was able to back up his swagger by tracking down Edwards and winning the race — one of his five victories in the 10-race Chase for the Championship. It was a key moment in Stewart’s drive to a third Cup title.
With two victories in the first six races this season Stewart was expected to be a leading contender for victory Saturday night. But his car was so off he finished 24th, two laps down. He tumbled in the points as he is the only multiple winner this season.
Stewart remains the driver to beat for this year’s Cup title but did display vulnerability Saturday night.
5. A bunch of hot air affects the early stages of the race. With 40 mph wind gusts it was a strange start to the race, but despite the Texas air conditioning the drivers were able to endure, although some teams did experience trouble with pit equipment and pole antennas blowing down.
“The car handles a little different on each lap with the wind blowing like that,” Edwards explained. “It made it interesting and made you think a lot. “It was interesting. You drive down in the corner and you are worried about the car and balance and all this stuff and you feel a gust of wind but you never really know if it is the wind. I had to ask Jason if the wind was blowing harder or gusting. It was another variable. It was fun. This is a fun race track. Sliding around like that and having to manhandle the car like that for 500 miles was a blast.”