Lone-Star Craziness! (2014 AAA Texas 500)
November 2nd, 2014 was undoubtedly one of the greatest days at the racetrack that a race fan could ask for. If time travel were ever invented, this day would be my first stop without contest.
I had been to only one NASCAR event prior to this, back in 2012. Ever since that first race, I have been going to races again, and again ever since.
Just before summer ended, I asked my folks if I could go to the November race at Texas Motor Speedway, with my uncle, and Grandfather. My folks agreed that if they paid for my ticket, that it would count as my Christmas gift that year. I wasn't going to complain, that's for sure!
The tickets, and pit-passes arrived in early October. The anticipation, is the most exciting part of attending A NASCAR Race.
I counted down the days for 3 months, until race day arrived! Everyday just felt like a prelude to the AAA TX 500.
Back in 2014, NASCAR had a very high down force car type for the cup series. The rear spoiler was just over 9 inches tall, and the cars also had a front splitter that kept them planted to the track. There were no ride-height rules. This aerodynamic setup, along with the 950 horsepower engine rules were one heck of a crazy fast combination.
In Friday's qualifying, Tony Stewart posted an average lap time of over 200 miles an hour! This is unheard of on a mile and a half track! It is absolutely crazy to think of the speeds he must have carried and maintained through the middle of those corners, in order to post a lap time like that. Texas is notorious for having abrupt transitions coming in-out of the corners, especially on the back straightaway.
November 2nd, 2014; the big day. Three hours of driving felt like an eternity, but once we saw "No Limits, TX" on the horizon, it was so worth it.
This was the first year we attended, that Texas Motor Speedway had "Big Hoss TV" installed atop the back straightaway. Big Hoss holds the Guinness World Record for the largest HD screen, in the world! These pictures definitely do not do it justice.
Up to this point, I had never had this much fun in one day in my entire life; the day had just barely started. We pulled into, "No Limits Texas" just before lunch time, and I have never been more ready for anything.
When I redeemed my on-track pre-race access pass and walked past Brad Keselowski's pit stall, little did I know about what would transponder right at that same spot later in the night.
The pre-race concert performer was Deejay Silver. I wasn't paying much attention to the concert though, because I was carrying my freshman art portfolio, in hopes of meeting a driver or two.
Soon enough, the fans returned to their seats, the national anthem was sung, and it was time to race. I was a huge Hendrick Motorsports fan at the time, so I was pretty happy to see Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson starting up front like they were to say the least.
It was a really good race, with plenty of passing/battles throughout the field all day long. This was the 8th race out of the 10-event "Chase for the Sprint Cup" format they had installed at the time. There were elimination rounds, that cutoff the last three in the championship hunt every three races throughout the 10 "Chase" races. They were in the semi-final round that day. The week after, they would head to Phoenix Arizona to find out who the final four drivers would be, before heading to Homestead-Miami Florida to see who the 2014 Cup Series Champion was going to be.
The race for championship points was getting incredibly tight between Jeff Gordon (number 24), Brad Keselowski (number 2), and Kevin Harvick (number 4) who would end up winning the title in Miami that year.
I was on the edge of my seat with excitement when Jeff Gordon was lining up first on a restart with only a handful of laps to go. When the announcer started revving up the fans' excitement for the restart, we were definitely under-hyped for what was about to happen right in front of us.
Gordon was in a two-wide situation going into turn one, when one of the most iconic moments in the last decade of NASCAR racing happened. Brad Keselowski poked into the gap between he and another car, causing contact. The fender damage would cause one of Jeff's rear fenders to rub against the tire, causing it to go flat, and change the course of history.
Jimmie Johnson ended up winning the race, but as JJ did his victory burnouts, the whole racing world was focused elsewhere. Jeff pulled up to Brad's pit-box after the race, and slammed on his brakes, stopping side-by-side with Brad. Jeff gets out, and doesn't even stop to take his helmet off. He was on a mission. First some comments stirred the pot, until fellow competitor Kevin Harvick pushed Brad a little closer to Jeff. I don't know why that happened, but it definitely led to one of the most entertaining brawls in NASCAR.
Jeff grabs Brad, and they get lost in the mob crowd of the two pit-crews going at it. It was both the most bizarre thing ever, and the most entertaining thing ever, all simultaneously.
Emotions ran high, because Jeff likely knew that his poor finish that day on account of the events on track, would put him in a must-win situation in Phoenix International Raceway the next week. Jeff didn't get that win, and it ultimately cost him a shot to run for the title in Homestead-Miami. Despite one of my favorite drivers having a bad race, I am proud to say that I was there for this moment in NASCAR history. I would re-live it in a heartbeat. It was a very long day, and I was tired by the end of the night, but it is still worth it.
What do you think? Would Gordon have won the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship title to make him a 5-time champ if things played out differently? Would he have still retired the following season if that were so? Let me know in the comments!