Jimmie Johnson flashed his championship form at the Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, as the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion totally dominated the AAA 500, the 34th event of the season.
Powering to the front early-on in the 334-lap race, Johnson wasn’t to be denied as he led every lap that counted, including the all-important final stanza. In total, he led 255 laps and his margin of victory was 4.3 seconds.
The victor drove the well-tuned Lowe’s Chevrolet fielded by the Hendrick Motorsports team. He won for the sixth time in 2013 and for the 66th in his accomplished career.
Johnson credited a recent test as the deciding factor in the race outcome. “We came here and the team did an awesome job,” he said. “It helped us understand what I needed in the car, and when we came back, we just kept putting more and more speed into the car, which paid off today. It was a dominant day for our team. We had a great car, a great engine and had excellent pit stops.”
Regarding his potent Chevrolet, Johnson said, “This was an awesome, awesome race car. 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.”
Regarding the important point standings, Johnson’s victory pushed him into the lead over challenger Matt Kenseth, who finished a strong fourth. Going into the race, the two former champions were tied for the lead. Johnson now leads Kenseth by seven with Kevin Harvick, who finished eighth, a distant third 40 in arrears.
While Johnson exited Texas with the point lead, he wasn’t ready to celebrate a forthcoming championship, as he knew he had a similar lead after this race a year ago, only to lose out to Brad Keselowski in the season finale.
Addressing points and reality checks, Johnson noted,"I have been watching a lot of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting lately, and you'll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody has got the fight won, and it doesn't end that way. That's how this is going to be. Matt didn't have maybe the best day and still finished fourth. This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes. I'm very excited about our performance and what we did here. We'll enjoy this, but there is still two weeks of very hard racing ahead of us."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second for the fifth time this season and for the 23rd time in his storied career. “Jimmie (Johnson) was in a class of his own, and we won the GT class today,” the runner-up told reporters. “The No. 48 team was super-fast, and I was super impressed with that guy’s car. I am happy to have had a good effort, and I am looking forward to the last two and hope we can get a win.”
According to Earnhardt, his team’s focused changed after falling out of the Chicagoland race. “We really changed our approach, and it was all about winning a race. That’s what we are working for now. Winning would lift the team’s spirits; you work all season not to go winless. I know how much the guys want a win. We gambled in the late stages of the race, short-pitting and gaining track position.”
Third went to Joey Logano.
Said Logano, “It was a very uneventful race for us. My crew did a great job over-night. In practice, at time, I thought we were the fastest car and at other times, I thought we were a 10th or 15th-place car. We checked our notes and put together a fast race car. We started moving forward right away, and I thought we had a second or third-place car all night. I tried very hard to pass Dale (Earnhardt) but couldn’t catch him, and the No. 48 car was ridiculously fast.”
Kenseth held down fourth ahead of Kasey Kahne.
Kenseth’s finish was remarkable as he had to battle back from a mid-race speeding penalty on pit road. The penalty dropped him to 16th in the standings. “My team did a great job but I didn’t do so well,” he noted. “I was a little too aggressive on pit road. We had some good adjustments but never had the car to run with the No. 48. We are still in this thing, and I am still confident (about championship). We will work as hard as we can and see how it ends up.”
The second-five finishers were Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Harvick, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.
Tire issues temporarily derailed Kyle Busch and solidly derailed Jeff Gordon. Busch’s car had no significant damage but Gordon’s car needed substantive repairs. Busch ended up 13th and Gordon was far back in 38th, completing 147 laps.
Engine woes thwarted Carl Edwards, who dropped out on the 187th lap. He finished 37th.
Five caution laps slowed the race for 26 laps.
With two races remaining in the Sprint Cup season, the series travels to the Phoenix International Speedway next weekend.