Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jimmie Johnson pads points lead in shootout at Texas Motor Speedway

Credit Skirts and Scuffs
Maybe Eddie Gossage should have kept with the boxing motif for this year's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway instead of the election theme. Although the defending champ, in this case Jimmie Johnson, had the points lead coming into the race this year, it was only by a slim 2-point margin over the contender Brad Keselowski.

Five hundred miles of hard racing where the No. 48, No. 2 and third-place points holder Clint Bowyer in the No. 15 stayed in the top four or five. After a flurry of body punches by Keselowski, who also pulled a little rope-a-dope with the restarts, it all came down to a shootout between the champ and the contender. The two stood toe-to-toe; Johnson came out with the win. Since he led the most laps with 168 and and got a point for leading a lap, Johnson earned a fitting 48 points and padded his lead to five over the brash Keselowski.

“It was an awesome race," Johnson said. "Great way to put it and the gloves are off and it’s bare-knuckle fighting.  I have a lot of respect for that No. 2 team. Those guys are doing a great job. Today I think our cars were pretty equal throughout the course of the race and at the end of the race we were on four (tires) had to take advantage of it. That second-to-last restart was pretty sketchy a couple of times how close we were and how hard we were racing. Luckily we brought the cars back, another caution came out and got a great restart and got by him. We knew that we had the speed if I could just get by him and got this Lowe’s Chevy to Victory Lane.”

Keselowski's view? "I thought I had it until that last yellow came out, but there is nothing you can do when somebody's wrecked on the track. So I can understand that. Just a good effort, came up a little bit short. Felt great about the speed we had. I feel like we caught a couple of bad breaks today and still put out a solid effort. So I feel confident if we keep putting efforts out like this, that we can win races and be tough to beat for the championship."

"But it was a fun day for sure. I really enjoyed this race," he said with a broad grin. "I guess some people did too in the stands. I heard they were pretty excited, so that's great to know, and we'll keep fighting."

Both drivers now have five wins, so the next two races assume even more importance in determining whether the next Sprint Cup champion makes history with a sixth title, or whether the newcomer becomes the first non-repeat champion since 2004.

Kyle Busch tried his best to play spoiler, leading 80 laps and running all over Keselowski's bumper at the end, but Busch couldn't pass the Blue Deuce and wound up third, his fourth top-three finish in the last five Cup races. Busch said that he was told he should curtail his truck and Nationwide driving to focus on Cup racing but that he pulled a triple-header this weekend, qualified in the top three in each series, and earned top-three finishes in NNS and Cup, fourth in truck, so he thinks the more he's in the seat, the better.

"This is a good race weekend for us," Busch said. "I'd love to say I"m doing the triple in the next two but I've got Brian Scott running my truck next week at Phoenix. But beyond that, I'll be running every other race from here on out, so it's good."

Fourth place went to Matt Kenseth, with defending race-winner and reigning champ Tony Stewart rounding out the top five.

Despite the dramatic finish, the race started out with a long green run and when combined with the April 2012 race, 334 green-flag laps played out at the Great American Speedway, the length of a full race. With the caution at Lap 101 for debris, that streak was broken and eight more followed for a total of 49 laps, mostly for debris. However, on Lap 110, AJ Allmendinger spun and crashed, and on Lap 120 Bobby Labonte's engine expired and dumped fluids on the track. The ensuing slowdown caused Juan Pablo Montoya to bump Trevor Bayne. Montoya made it back on the track and eked out a 34th-place finish, while Bayne came home in 22nd.

But it was the final caution on Lap 331 that changed the complexion of the race. Mark Martin and Carl Edwards got together, with Martin spinning to set up the green-white-checkered that extended the scheduled 334 laps by one.

The No. 48 team's win made 700 Cup wins for Chevrolet, with the Hendrick organization also earning the 400th, 500th and 600th wins as well.

"I'm not superstitious. Why would you think that?"
Credit Skirts and Scuffs
Johnson, who sat in his car after qualifying until it was certain he won the pole, carried a good luck charm in his car from the rifle awarded the pole winner: the shell casings from firing the weapon (blanks of course.) Yet he denies being superstitious. "I'm just covering that base in case it does weigh into things. I've set my alarm to 6:48. I get up every morning at 6:48 if not earlier. Microwave, I put at 48 seconds instead of a minute. But no, I'm not superstitious." While he said they'd be using a different car at Phoenix, and "Phoenix is Phoenix," he said, "Now you have me thinking about it. I might have to cover that base and take them to Phoenix.

The Chase standings: 
(1) J. Johnson 2,339 (2) B. Keselowski 2,332 (3) C. Bowyer 2,303 (4) K. Kahne 2,281 (5) M. Kenseth 2,267 (6) J. Gordon 2,267 (7) D. Hamlin 2,266;(8) T. Stewart 2,259 (9) M. Truex Jr. 2,259 (10) G. Biffle 2,256 (11) K. Harvick 2,238 (12) D. Earnhardt Jr. 2,188.

Full race results can be found here.

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