Jimmie Johnson wins AAA Texas 500, seizes Nascar Chase lead
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FORT WORTH — Jimmie Johnson finally closed out his first Sprint Cup victory this season on a 1.5-mile track.
The question now shifts to whether he can close out a sixth championship this time.
Johnson seized command of the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a dominant victory Sunday in the AAA Texas 500, taking a seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth with two races remaining. But the five-time champion held the same margin over Brad Keselowski after a Texas victory last year and squandered it.
“I hope history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Johnson, who finished outside the top 30 in the final two races last year. “That’s the perfect example that this isn’t over until it’s over. Last year we had eight great races and two bad ones (in the Chase). It’s very important to finish strong.”
He did that at Texas, leading 255 of 334 laps for his sixth victory of the season – a total that could have been much greater if similarly strong performances at 1.5-mile tracks Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway hadn’t been negated by mistakes on restarts. Strategy errors also kept Johnson from victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.
But aside from one slow pit stop that briefly knocked Johnson from first to fourth, the No. 48 Chevrolet team was flawless in becoming the first to notch back-to-back wins in Texas’ fall race since it was added to the schedule eight years ago.
“The 48 was in another class,” said Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who scored his fifth runner-up of 2013 and third in the last six races. “Nobody had anything for him.
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.
“(Johnson) was just kind of playing with us,” said Kenseth, who rebounded to finish fourth after a speeding penalty in the pits. “We weren’t going to beat him on speed tonight no matter what. We were just off a little bit and they were just extremely on.”
With the Chase effectively narrowed to himself and Kenseth, Johnson expects a battle from his Joe Gibbs Racing rival at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kenseth has won both; Johnson is winless at Homestead.
PHOTOS: Chase for the Sprint Cup standings through Texas
How the 13 drivers stand after Chase race No. 8 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’ve been watching a lot of MMA fighting, and you’ll (be) thinking someone’s got the fight won, and it doesn’t end that way,” Johnson said. “That’s how this is going to be. Matt didn’t have maybe the best day and still finished fourth. This thing is going to go to the last lap, and it’s going to come down to mistakes.”
Kevin Harvick moved up to third in the standings, 40 points behind, and Kyle Busch (who finished 13th) is trailing by 52 points in fourth. The maximum points available in a race is 48 (which is how many Johnson scored Sunday).
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon effectively was eliminated from title contention a week after scoring his first victory of the season at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet slapped the turn 1 wall on Lap 75, and heavy right-side damage sent his team to the garage for repairs.
Gordon said it was a problem with his left-front tire on the front straightaway, and he couldn’t slow down before making contact. He returned to the race two hours later and 184 laps behind.
“It is so unfortunate,” said Gordon, who was added to the Chase as an unprecedented 13th driver after a team orders scandal at Richmond International Raceway. “This team has done such an amazing job. I am so proud of them to get us where we are.”
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, born Sept. 17, 1975, made his Sprint Cup debut in 2001. He became a full-time Cup driver in 2002.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Johnson, 10 times for 255 laps; C.Edwards, 6 times for 38 laps; B.Keselowski, 4 times for 30 laps; M.Kenseth, 2 times for 3 laps; R.Newman, 1 time for 2 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 2 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 1 lap; G.Biffle, 1 time for 1 lap; D.Ragan, 1 time for 1 lap; M.McDowell, 1 time for 1 lap.