It was just a matter of time before Jimmie Johnson won again at a mile and a half. Johnson got that win Sunday with a dominating performance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson led a total of 255 of the 334 laps in route to his sixth win of the season and his first since September. Matt Kenseth, Johnson’s nearest rival in the championship Chase, overcame pit road issues including a slow stop and a penalty that dropped him back in the field. He was able to rally back to finish 4th. Jeff Gordon who won a week prior at Martinsville to get back in the Chase saw his hopes end when he hit the wall early in the race; he would return but finished 40th 184 laps down.
Carl Edwards led the field to the green from pole but was chased by Jimmie Johnson. It wasn’t long before the top runners stretched out into a single line. On lap 10 Johnson passed Edwards for the lead on the high side entering turn 3. The first caution came out on lap 15 for debris. The leaders came in for their first stops; all got four tires with Edwards leading the race off pit road, Johnson second.
By lap 31 Johnson caught Edwards and the battle for the lead was on. After a side by side battle Johnson took the lead on lap 35 and began to stretch his advantage out. Behind them Chase contender Matt Kenseth had worked his way to 4th. By lap 47 Johnson had stretched his lead out to nearly 2 seconds while Kyle Busch had moved into second. By lap 56 Johnson was starting to lap the field and Kenseth had caught Busch for second. A lap later however, Busch hit the wall entering turn 3 bringing out the second caution. The leaders his pit road for the second stop; Edwards again took the lead off pit road with Johnson second. Kenseth lost four spots and lined up 6th.
The restart came on lap 65 with Edwards again jumping out front. Unlike previous restarts, Johnson couldn’t get going on the outside and Dale Earnhardt Jr. slipped into second. It didn’t take Johnson long to recover and on lap 69 he was back in second. Two laps later he was again battling Edwards for the lead; on lap 70 Johnson was again in front.
Jeff Gordon, who won at Martinsville the previous week, hit the wall on lap 74 bringing out the third caution. Gordon took the 24 to the garage with heavy damage.
All the leaders came in for stops. Brad Keselowski took only two tires and won the race off pit road. The restart came on lap 80 with Keselowski and his two tires on the inside and Edwards with four on the outside. Keselowski was able to fall into the lead and Johnson began to fight Edwards for second. Johnson took over second on lap 85. Kenseth made his way to third on lap 90. A lap later Johnson rocketed by Keselowski for the lead. Kenseth moved into second on lap 101. By lap 106 Johnson had a three second lead.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 121 with Keselowski the first among the leaders to come in. After most of the lead group came in, Johnson pitted on lap 125; Kenseth stayed out to lead a lap, he pitted a lap later. Johnson reassumed the lead after the cycle of stops ended. Several laps later Kenseth was back in second. By lap 138 Kyle Busch who hit the wall earlier and fell to 29th, was back inside the top 10.
Kenseth had cut Johnson’s lead from 3 seconds to 1.5 on lap 151. The lead was stable as green flag stops started on lap 166. Johnson pitted on lap 173 after the rest of the lead group with the exception of Kenseth had been in, he pitted a lap later. Kenseth was nailed for speeding on pit road and was hit with a pass through penalty by NASCAR. Kenseth came back in track in 16th, the final car on the lead lap.
"Everybody tries to use the lines to your advantage as much as you can,” Kenseth later said. “I just got out of my stall faster than I thought so when we got to that next segment I guess we were just going too fast. It was my bad. Even though I didn't go past where we were supposed to go past, we just miscalculated a little bit and should have backed that down a little bit."
Polesitter Edwards coasted into the pits on lap 187 reporting engine trouble; NASCAR threw the fourth caution for oil on the track possibly from Edwards’ Ford. Edwards was out for the day.
“We don’t usually have a lot of engine trouble,” Edwards said. “Doug Yates and the guys at Roush Yates Engines build great engines. The car, during the middle part of the race we were struggling but we were starting to get it worked out. Aflac has coverage for just about everything but I don’t think they cover sick engines which is too bad.”
The caution was good for Kenseth as a 27 second defect was erased and he fell in 12th.
Johnson led the field to the green on lap 194 with Kyle Busch on his outside in second. Johnson soon moved ahead while Busch fell into second. Busch soon told his crew that his Toyota was overheating; teammate Joey Logano in third moved by in an attempt to clean off Busch’s front grill. Busch dropped to 4th before he got behind Keselowski and cleared the debris.
By lap 218 Kenseth was up to 6th and continuing to move forward. He came in from 6th for a green flag stop on lap 237. The leaders began to follow. Johnson came in three laps later. A 17 second stop for Johnson combined with pitting later than the rest of the leaders left Johnson in 5th and Keselowski in the lead; Kenseth was just behind in 7th. It didn’t take Johnson long however as he quickly began to move towards the front. By lap 250 he was second; three laps later Johnson passed Keselowski just as Juan Pablo Montoya blew a tire bringing out the fifth caution. The leaders all pitted. Johnson won the race off pit road with Kyle Busch second; Keselowski lost seven spots.
“I thought we had decent speed at times,” Keselowski said. “Then we were leading at one point and the yellow flag came and we pitted and came out ninth which ended our shot of being able to derail Jimmie if there even was one. His car was so much faster than the field. It was pretty embarrassing to be quite honest.”
Johnson led to the green with Busch in second with 72 laps to go. Five laps later he had a one second lead. Logano had moved to second as Kyle Busch fell to third, Kenseth was fourth. The final round of green flag pit stops began on lap 295 while Johnson was holding just over a two second lead. Johnson pitted on lap 298. Kyle Busch was caught speeding on pit road and sent back in for a pass through penalty. After the cycle of stops, Johnson led by nearly three seconds with Earnhardt Jr. in second; Kenseth was 4th.
From the final round of stops, Johnson stretched out his lead to just over three seconds and cruised to victory.
“This was an awesome, awesome race car,” Johnson said. “I have to go back to the test session we had last week or the week before. We did a nice job of developing a plan on how we wanted to show up in qualifying trim and in race trim. We had an awesome, awesome race car. And we needed it. Matt (Kenseth) didn’t have the best day and he finished fourth or fifth. So it’s hard to get points in this championship battle, and we got a couple today.”
Earnhardt held on for second, Logano was third, with Kasey Kahne coming home fifth behind Kenseth.
Keselowski was 6th, Denny Hamlin 7th, Kevin Harvick 8th, with Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
The win for Johnson was the 66th of his career, the 6th of the season; his victory was also the second most dominating win at Texas second only to Tony Stewart who led 279 laps here in 2006.
Johnson also broke a tie at the top of the standings and leads Kenseth by 7 points as the series heads to the next to last race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday. Coincidently that’s the same lead Johnson had last year leaving Texas; he lost the title to Brad Keselowski in the final race at Homestead.
"I hope history doesn't repeat itself,” Johnson said. “That is the perfect example of this thing isn't over until it's over. Last year we had eight great races and two bad ones and didn't get the championship. Very important to finish strong. There are two very important races left."