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NOT LOST IN SPACE: A flag from Texas Motor Speedway that left Earth as part of the final space shuttle mission this summer is back at the track.

Shuttle Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley, who has been a season-ticket holder at Texas since 2005, took the flag with him on the mission in July that closed out the 30-year shuttle program.

Hurley said the flag traveled 5.3 million miles, making 200 orbits around Earth while traveling 17,500 mph _ well more than 100 times the average speed of Sunday’s race, which was a track record of 152.705 mph.

While there was no possibility of a shuttle flyover, the flag was delivered to Hurley and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage at the start-finish line by someone who landed there after flying a jetpack along the front stretch.

In November 2009, four months after guiding Shuttle Endeavour in space, Hurley was in a pace car at Texas that he drove off a Chinook helicopter that landed on the infield _ and he said Sunday that was the scariest thing that he has ever done.

Hurley was already sitting in the pace car that was backed into the helicopter in such a tight fit that the doors couldn’t open. The helicopter remained in the air about 45 minutes before finally lowering to the front stretch and dropping a ramp. Hurley then drove onto the track, leaving skid marks when he hit the pavement.


SHORT ON GAS: Jeff Burton tried to sneak his way to Victory Lane and pull up alongside Carl Edwards, the only three-time Cup winner in Texas. He just didn’t have enough gas to do it.

Burton took the lead by staying on the track after leaders Tony Stewart and Edwards pitted with 31 laps to go. He had about a 6-second lead with six laps to go and hoped a slow go to the finish would get him across the line. Alas, his tank ran empty with just inside of five laps remaining.

Had Burton held on, Stewart would be six points behind Edwards in the points race instead of three.

“Yeah, I never cheered so hard for Jeff Burton in my life,” Edwards said. “If I could have loaned him some fuel I would have, but that’s what they had to do.”

Burton also would have become the second three-time Cup winner at Texas.


SPARKPLUGS: Kyle Petty had always wanted to ride a bull _ a real bull, not a mechanical one. He finally got his chance Sunday during a TMS garage party for season-ticket holders. Among the circus-like setup was a bull ring for a competition among real cowboys. Petty, wearing a colorful getup of his own, took his turn. The bull broke out of the chute and Petty quickly went down. Other than maybe his pride, Petty wasn’t hurt. … Perfect attendance: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin are the only drivers who have started all 22 Sprint Cup races at Texas, which hosted its first race in 1997.