11/04 2013

Jimmie Johnson dominates Texas, leaves with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead

Jimmie Johnson dominates Texas, leaves with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead

Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by seven points with two Chase races remaining
By: Steven Cole Smith
The good news about the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway? At least Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won seven straight races like Sebastian Vettel has in Formula One.

But Johnson’s performance was so dominating, so sure-footed, that even Vettel would have been impressed. Johnson won the 334-lap race by 4.4 seconds over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., with Joey Logano a couple more seconds back, and nearly eight seconds ahead of Matt Kenseth in fourth. Johnson and Earnhardt both tested at Texas prior to the race, and it showed.

“Great car, great engine, great pit stops,” Johnson said.

Even so, with 34 races down and two to go, the NASCAR Sprint Cup points battle remains a toss-up with Johnson just seven points ahead of Kenseth. The two drivers came to Texas tied, with Jeff Gordon in third, Kevin Harvick in fourth. Harvick is now in third but he’s beyond a long shot at 40 points back, and Gordon is effectively out of it, dropping to sixth. The fight “is still going to come down to the last lap at Homestead,” Johnson predicted.

“The fastest car definitely won the race,” Logano said. “Every time I started behind him I couldn’t believe how fast he took off. It was just ridiculously fast.”

“The 48 is just in a different class,” Earnhardt said. “Nobody had anything for him.”

The car wasn’t perfect, Johnson said, but after a few adjustments, “We got the thing pretty dang awesome. When you have a dominant car it’s so stressful because you are just waiting for that thing to happen, whatever it is. But we just stayed focused and got the job done.”

“It was,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, “kind of a perfect night.”





The green flag fell under cool, partly cloudy skies with Carl Edwards on the pole, followed by Brad Keselowski, Johnson and Paul Menard. Kenseth started sixth. There was a convenient debris caution at 15 laps, which gave teams a chance to check the wear on the Goodyear tires, which had been unpredictable during the Camping World Truck and Nationwide races Friday and Saturday, respectively.

On lap 57, Kyle Busch brushed the wall, bringing out the second caution, and 17 laps later, the third caution fell when Jeff Gordon smacked the wall, damaging his Chevrolet to the point where he drove it straight to the garage for repairs. It would be the worst, and only, crash of the day. In both incidents, a tire had failed. “The left front went down as I was going down the front straightaway,” Gordon said. “I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn’t get it slowed down enough.” Busch was able to get his Toyota repaired, and by lap 135, he was back into the top 10.

As the race neared the 150-lap mark after long green-flag stint, several of the usual suspects like Keselowski, Kenseth, Logano and Earnhardt were showing strength, but Johnson seemed almost in another class, clipping off lapped cars to the point where only 18 cars were left on the lead lap. After 10 more laps, 15 cars were on the lead lap, with some formidable names, including Kurt Busch and fourth-place qualifier Menard, at least a lap down. Polesitter Edwards was strong at the start, but his car didn’t much seem to like long runs.

Green-flag pit stops began about lap 163, but not much changed. Johnson had about a 3.2-second lead over Kenseth before pit stops, and after they cycled out, that margin was about the same; but immediately, Kenseth was called in for a pit stop speeding violation, he came out in 16th, the last car on the lead lap. This moved Kyle Busch into second, Earnhardt third.

The caution flag flew again on lap 177 for debris on the back stretch, which could be a break for Edwards, who made a green-flag stop moments earlier with an engine problem. Edwards came back out in 24th but the problem remained, and he took his Ford behind the wall and ended up 37th.

All the front-runners pit, giving Kenseth especially a chance to make up a lot of territory lost under his penalty. Once underway, it was Johnson, Kyle Busch, Logano, Keselowski and Earnhardt, with Kevin Harvick in sixth. Kenseth moved up to 13th, but now just six seconds behind Johnson. At lap 200, with 134 to go, Johnson was leading Busch by 1.4 seconds, with Kenseth up to 10th.

At lap 240,with 94 to go, Johnson pit under green for a not-great four-tire stop after losing a lug nut — it took about 17 seconds, five seconds slower than usual — and came out behind Keselowski, Busch and Earnhardt. It was merely an annoyance for Johnson, though, as he drove past leader Keselowski on lap 256, just a second before Juan Pablo Montoya brought out a caution with a blown tire. Johnson’s pit crew was back in form with a blistering 12.1-second pit stop, putting him out first ahead of Busch, a plucky Logano and a resurgent Kenseth, whose crew made some major chassis changes to try and keep him close to Johnson.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon, in the garage since lap 73, returned to the track on lap 260 in 42nd place, 185 laps behind. He picked up four spots by his perseverance.




Racing resumed on lap 262 and Johnson promptly began stretching out a comfortable lead over Logano, Busch and Kenseth. With 50 laps left, the temperature had dropped to 64 degrees and the wind had picked up, and some teams were able to change their cars’ setup to match those conditions better than others.

Green-flag pits stops — the final stop barring a caution flag, which never came -– began with about 40 laps to go. Kyle Busch was caught speeding on pit road, with the penalty dropping him from the top five to 15th but he picked up two spots before the end. Again, Johnson promptly put a three-second gap between his Chevrolet and Logano’s Toyota.

And that’s how it ended, before a crowd that filled maybe 65 percent of the grandstands, which holds 122,377. Considering the pleasant weather, a points championship that was tied coming to Texas, it’s not a great sign for NASCAR that the stands weren’t fuller, though there was a Dallas Cowboys home game opposite the race. But given few meaningful passes, no crashes and not much drama, it was no surprise that the Performance Racing Network had to stretch to find two minutes and 57 seconds worth of highlights for their post-race recap of the three-hour, 18-minute race.

The series moves to Phoenix next week, then to the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway the next week. Anyone betting against Jimmie Johnson for a sixth championship? Not even Sebastian Vettel would do that.