Fans: The rules package, along with the traction compound applied in the corners, and cool weather helped keep the field closer together and created numerous opportunities for side-by-side racing. Fans got to see one of the better races at Texas in recent years. This was the best performance of the rules package in its first six races of use.
Denny Hamlin: Of course, he won. But he came back from two pit road penalties, missing pit road and running out of fuel briefly. The last time a Cup driver overcame two penalties on pit road and won was Brad Keselowski at Talladega in October 2014. That’s one thing in a restrictor-plate race but this was harder. Cautions played perfectly for Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart made the right calls. Still work to do to clean things up, but it’s easier to do so after a victory.
William Byron and Jimmie Johnson: Byron’s sixth-place finish was one spot shy of his career best. Byron also scored only his second top 10 in the last 20 races. Johnson’s fifth-place finish was his first top five in the last 29 races. Encouraging signs for Hendrick Motorsports but work remains for the organization.
Jeb Burton: In his first start of the season in the Xfinity Series, he drove his JR Motorsports car to a fifth-place finish. It was one spot off his career-best finish in 26 series starts.
Kyle Busch: Yes, he remains the only Cup driver to finish in the top 10 in every race this year and was coming off wins in the Truck and Xfinity race at Texas, but he earns this spot for being “impatient” as he said and slamming the wall while running fourth, ending his hopes of sweeping the weekend. He had been leading when his car got loose and he fell to fourth. A few laps later, he hit the wall. He finished 10th but could have been celebrating in Victory Lane on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick: His eighth-place finish is his sixth consecutive top-10 finish but that didn’t appease him after the race. “Our day was a disaster,” he said after the race. Our car drove terrible and that pretty much sums it up. We’re further off than we were last week. We haven’t been close to a race-winning car in a race yet.”
Cup qualifying: Confusion and chaos were still themes of the group qualifying format that led Clint Bowyer to say: “We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.” Jay Fabian, Cup series director, said that NASCAR would do “whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”
Team Penske: After the great start to the season (three wins in the first six races), it all came crashing down on this team. Mechanical issues caused Ryan Blaney to finish 37th. Brad Keselowski lost about 50 laps because of mechanical woes and finished 36th. Joey Logano had issues with his hood that needed to be repaired and placed 17th. A forgettable day for this organization.