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Texas win puts Hamlin in Sprint Cup lead

After all that, Biffle and Logano rejoined their battle for the lead on lap 163. Logano eventually took the lead and he, Biffle and Reutimann made a three-car breakaway at the front. Further back, Johnson - after initially gaining a couple of positions - then fell back again, that pit stop hold-up really hurting the #48 now.

Lap 191 saw the seventh caution of the day: accident-prone Truex Jr. was into the wall again at turn 3. But even as the caution came out, back in turn 2 there had been a coming together of the two Jeffs, Gordon and Burton: after an earlier mild confrontation, Gordon had slid up the track in front of Burton, who had then run into the back of the #24 and put it into the wall. If the move had been intentional payback, then it was a very costly one because it also collected Burton's car in the process.

Gordon was furious, and as the two stood by their wrecks waiting for the NASCAR recovery crews and ambulances, Gordon was steamed up enough to let Burton know what he felt. Right there on the backstretch, in front of the entire crowd, words turned into shoves and thrown punches between the two until the NASCAR officials intervened.

"I just lost so much respect for Jeff for doing something like that," said a fuming Gordon. "That was really stupid." Burton for his part denied that the wreck had been intentional and said that the setting sun had got into his eyes on the exit of turn 2, momentarily blinding him. Gordon didn't accept that: "He thought I came up on him and he didn't mean to wreck me. But I'm sorry. I will never believe that. I've been driving a race car long enough to know what your intentions are, and I know what they were right there."

Bizarrely, NASCAR then opted to put both drivers into the same ambulance rather than separate vehicles as is the norm, but further fights were avoided. NASCAR said that the incident would be reviewed by officials early this week to see whether the drivers would receive any penalties, but it's not seen as likely. Jeff Burton was subsequently able to go back out for a half dozen laps with a makeshift right hand side, which boosted him a couple of positions up in the points standings in the final classifications.

One driver's misfortune was another's opportunity, however: Chad Knause seized upon Jeff Gordon's retirement to commandeer the entire #24 pit crew to replace his own, such was his and Johnson's anger at the amount of time lost in the pits today. Johnson was back in 15th as the race got back underway, with Biffle back in the lead.

A solid green flag stint of over almost 100 laps gave Johnson the opening to get the car back into the groove, and he was soon passing cars every two or three laps. He was up to sixth by the time the next round of pit stops cycled through under green flag conditions around lap 248, and this time Johnson's pit stop was much better with his new loaned crew, dropping only a single place despite the ad hoc arrangements.

The next round of pit stops was also under green, after which Greg Biffle was still leading on lap 291 ahead of Chase rivals Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin with David Reutimann, Scott Speed (yet to pit), Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Martin.

Harvick was complaining of a loose car and had lost second spot when a caution for debris came out on lap 300, allowing everyone who wanted to the opportunity to make a quick return to pit road under slightly less high speed conditions. With everyone taking in an assortment of late-race adjustments to compensate for the cooling evening conditions, there was a shakeup in the running order: Mark Martin and Tony Stewart stayed out altogether and made up the front row at the restart ahead of Harvick and Hamlin; Johnson was in eighth, while the big loser this time around was former leader Greg Biffle. Not only had the pit stop itself been slow, but it seemed like there was a problem with his transmission and the car seemed to have mislaid second gear altogether; but he had enough still going for him to keep the car running in the top ten, if not to compete for the win anymore.

At the restart, Hamlin put his two fresh tyres to good use by immediately jumping ahead of the front row duo to take the lead. Even better for his Chase hopes, Kevin Harvick was falling back, quickly overtaken by Matt Kenseth who seemed set to be the strongest threat to Hamlin at this point as he soon passed Tony Stewart and Mark Martin to move up to second place. Jimmie Johnson was also suddenly struggling, his car simply not as strong as it had been in the first half of the race resulting in him finding it hard to make any progress from ninth place.




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