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Johnson, The Lone Star In Texas

Johnson, The Lone Star In Texas

by November 3, 2013 0 comments

Jimmie Johnson surpassed Matt Kenseth in the Chase after dominating Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The two drivers were tied in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase standings heading into Sunday’s event, but now Jimmie Johnson is ahead by only 7 points. Matt Kenseth overcame adversity to finish fourth, but it just wasn’t enough to hold on to the points lead.

“I don’t know,” Jimmie Johnson said when asked if Sunday’s dominance would put more pressure on Matt Kenseth and his team. “I’d like it to, but I don’t.  At this point of the season if you’re in contention, you’ve got more pressure than you ever wanted to you.  It’s just there.  So I don’t know if this puts anymore.  They were able to get some points on us last week.  We got some on them this week, so I’m not sure.”

Leading 255 of the scheduled 334 laps, Jimmie Johnson just flat, outperformed Matt Kenseth to claim the second Chase win for the No. 48 Lowe’s team this season. Johnson and Kenseth were within sight of each other in the first 100 laps, but Kenseth was caught speeding on pit road while leaving his stall during green flag stops on lap 173. Kenseth fell from second, to 16th, the last driver on the lead lap.

Just seconds ahead of leader, Jimmie Johnson, a broken valve spring on Carl Edwards’ car on lap 189 saved Matt Kenseth from being lapped. The caution put Kenseth back into the fight, and erased the mistake made on pit road. However, the caution also helped Johnson to a degree. With Carl Edwards retired from the event, Johnson picked up another valuable bonus point for leading the most laps.

Matt Kenseth wheeled his way into the top-10, and thanks to a 17 second pit stop by Jimmie Johnson’s crew, the two drivers were running fifth and sixth with only 95 laps to go. With fresher tires, Johnson was able to maneuver through lapped traffic a little faster and put distance on Kenseth.

“There were a couple moments in the race where we had to work on the car from a balance standpoint,” Johnson said. “There was one cycle of pit stops that came out fourth or fifth and had to drive back through those guys. Just got the lead from Brad before the caution came out, so there were a couple of tense moments in there. But when you have a dominant car, it is so stressful because you’re just waiting for that thing that can get you, whatever it is. So it was nice to keep a — Chad said it once on the radio, just keep a positive mindset here, and things are going to work out.  We did that.  We stayed focused and got the job done.”

On lap 257, Jimmie Johnson had just got done passing Brad Keselowski for the lead when Juan Pablo Montoya had issues, bringing out the fifth and final caution. Johnson got off pit road first while Matt Kenseth gained two spots to move into the fourth position. Unfortunately for Kenseth, that’s as close as he got to the rear bumper of Johnson’s car.

While Johnson and Kenseth did what they were expected to do, other Chase drivers didn’t fair very well in Texas.

Kevin Harvick entered the weekend fourth in points, only 28 back from the lead, but after finishing eighth, he’s now third, 40 points back, almost an insurmountable feat with only two races to go. A driver can only earn up to 48 points in an event. Anything is possible, but more than likely, Harvick is eliminated from the Chase.

Kyle Busch was fifth in the points with a chance to close in on Kenseth and Johnson before Sunday’s race, however, just like Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race; Busch had a tire issue that put him in the wall on lap 58.

Able to rebound from the flat right front tire, Kyle Busch even reached the top-five, but on his last green flag pit stop, he was caught speeding on pit road and dropped from fourth, all the way back to 15th. He couldn’t make up the ground and finished a disappointing 13th. Busch moved up to fourth in the Chase, but he’s trailing Jimmie Johnson by 52 points, too far back to challenge for the championship.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a very stout runner-up finish, but the performance has come a little too late to challenge for the championship. Earnhardt Jr. moved up to fifth in the Chase but is 62 points back.

“Junior came on strong,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “He’s been running really well.  I didn’t think Jimmie would get him at Dover, but Dale and Stevie are really clicking.  Dale’s confidence is higher than I’ve seen it since he’s been with us.  You know, if he hadn’t had that motor problem early in the Chase, he’d be right there”

Last week’s winner, Jeff Gordon also had a tire issue. After scoring his 88th career victory in Martinsville, Gordon entered the AAA Texas 500 weekend with a shot to potentially take over the points lead, but on lap 75, the left front tire that only had 10 green flag laps on it, blew out and slammed the No. 24 Chevrolet SS hard into the turn one wall, ending his day and championship hopes. Jeff Gordon finished 38th and fell to sixth in the Chase points, 69 back from the lead.

“Yeah, Jeff was leading this race, I think, early this year and had a bearing failure, which we never have,” Hendrick said. “He was really pumped up after getting in the Chase and winning Martinsville and felt really good about this race.  I was with him this morning, and I think — I hated for that for the team because they have really come together and he’s put a bunch of good runs together.  You know, you just can’t help stuff like tire problems or failures or things like that happening to you”

With only two races to go in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it appears as if Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are the only two left to compete for the championship. Jimmie Johnson is looking to earn his sixth title, while Matt Kenseth hopes to capture his second.

“I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here,” Johnson said. “Then last year we did not test Homestead and we just came back from Homestead, and that test went really well. So I’m optimistic. I feel good.  But, man, it’s so weird because I’ve been in position before where I’ve had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row.”

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

Hunter Thomas
Hunter Thomas is a journalist who grew up in Darlington, S.C. His first motorsports-based endeavor was working as the Public Relations Director at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C., and his journalism start came while he was freelancing at his hometown newspaper, the News & Press while in college.

Hunter has been working within the NASCAR industry since 2010, and throughout the years, he has done everything from PR/Marketing for drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to working at Rockingham Speedway. As a journalist, Hunter has covered everything from regional short tracks to NASCAR, ARCA Racing Series, World of Outlaws, Red Bull Global Rallycross, NHRA and much more.

Follow Hunter Thomas on Twitter by following, @HunterThomas08

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