Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jimmie Johnson takes points lead with win at Texas

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
New leader: 48. 

With his win Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson not only got a black Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hat and pair of six-shooters to match the ones he won last November, but he took sole possession of the points lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. 

The last two Chase races at the Great American Speedway pitted the top Chase contenders against each other: the epic 2011 Tony Stewart vs. Carl Edwards set-to and last year's beating and banging match between Johnson and Brad Keselowski. This year with Matt Kenseth and Johnson tied, with Kenseth holding the tie-breaker, the expectation was that the race would be another tight finish with the contenders standing toe-to-toe slugging it out. 

Instead, Kenseth blinked. On Lap 298 he sped exiting pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty. He managed to say on the lead lap and climb back through the field to finish fourth, but that little slip, when matched against Johnson's virtually perfect run, cost the No. 20 team. Still, Kenseth didn't think it would have mattered much in the long run. 

"We were just being too aggressive. Honestly, the 48 had us from the time they unloaded until the time they put it back on the truck. They were just dominant all weekend ... The speeding penalty got us behind - we definitely didn't need that - but really I don't know at the end of the day if that really affected our finish much. We just didn't have what we needed to get any farther." 

To say that Johnson dominated the race would be an understatement. He led 10 times for 255 of 334 laps, a total second only to Tony Stewart's 278 laps in Novembe, 2006. There were actually 28 lead changes among 10 drivers, but only polesitter Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski led more than three laps at a time. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte adjusted the No. 88 enough to give them a second-place finish, but even with pit strategy could not catch his teammate. 

"We gambled a little bit in the late stages of this race short pitting and getting a lot of track position, and we had a fast enough car to keep it, but the 48 was in another class and nobody had anything for him," Earnhardt said. 

"We started off, we came here to test, and all the Hendrick cars came here to test, and it paid off. We started out Saturday morning in practice really struggling, and we worked on the car and improved it for the second practice and made a lot of changes overnight to go in that direction."

In fact, as the race started, Earnhardt Jr. told his crew, "I've been here a month, let's see if I've learned anything." 

Third-place finisher Joey Logano pitted after Earnhardt Jr. late in the race, "which got Dale in front of me," Logano said. "I tried my heart out trying to pass him. We short-fielded the car, got too tight, and couldn't form a good enough run to get to his outside or pass him up and get underneath him. But, overall, we can't be disappointed with a third place finish. Just the 48 car was ridiculously fast."

Kasey Kahne finished fifth, giving Hendrick three of the top five. Kahne was happy with his run but realistic about running with the No. 48.

"I never saw him. I could only see him on the restarts, so I knew he was really fast," Kahne said.

Last week's winner, Jeff Gordon, qualified well and was running near the front when he had a left front tire go down, sending him into the wall and then to the garage for repairs. His 38th-place finish put an end to his title hopes. 

Johnson's seven-point lead does not make the championship a slam-dunk, however. Last year he rode out of Texas ahead of Keselowski by the same margin. 

Despite the focus on the front of the Chase field, there were other notable finishes.  Parker Kligerman made his Cup debut and brought the No. 30 Swan Energy Toyota home in 18th, and Austin Dillon finished in 22nd. Kyle Larson finally saw the checkered flag in a Cup race, ending up 23rd.

Here is the complete finishing order:

Pos.           Driver
1    Jimmie Johnson
2    Dale Earnhardt Jr.
3    Joey Logano
4    Matt Kenseth
5    Kasey Kahne
6    Brad Keselowski
7    Denny Hamlin
8    Kevin Harvick
9    Ryan Newman
10    Clint Bowyer
11    Mark Martin
12    Greg Biffle
13    Kyle Busch
14    Martin Truex Jr.
15    Paul Menard
16    Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17    Kurt Busch
18    Parker Kligerman
19    Elliott Sadler
20    Juan Pablo Montoya
21    Marcos Ambrose
22    Austin Dillon
23    Kyle Larson
24    Jeff Burton
25    Danica Patrick
26    David Gilliland
27    Aric Almirola
28    David Reutimann
29    Trevor Bayne
30    J.J. Yeley
31    Jamie McMurray
32    Travis Kvapil
33    Casey Mears
34    Landon Cassill
35    Dave Blaney
36    Joe Nemechek
37    Carl Edwards
38    Jeff Gordon
39    Josh Wise
40    Bobby Labonte
41    Timmy Hill
42    David Ragan
43    Michael McDowell

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