A top-10 finish typically will get you through the night during NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
But as darkness enveloped Texas Motor Speedway after Sunday’s eighth annual AAA Texas 500, the respective fourth and 10th-place results scored by Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle stood as consolation prizes after Round 8 of the 10-event playoff.
“The way things have been going, you have to win the race to get the points,” said Johnson, the five-time Cup champion and driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Impala. “To win the pole and lead the most laps, win the race is a big deal. Things are rolling. We’re enjoying it.”
Johnson, whose margin of victory was 0.808-seconds after a race extended by one lap to 335, posted his fifth win and 24th top-10 result of 2012. Johnson also won last Sunday’s race at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, exiting with a two-point lead over Keselowski. Johnson stretched his advantage to seven points (2,339-2,332) over the Penske Racing driver heading into Round 9 next Sunday on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway. The season will end at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.
Actually, Johnson and Keselowski made it look relatively easy, combining to lead 243 laps -- including a race-high 168 by JJ. Factor-in the 80 laps Kyle Busch led en route to a third-place finish in his No. 18 Snickers Toyota Camry and it was pretty much game/set/match.
“Just excited and really wish we were in Phoenix right now, getting ready to start the next race,” said Johnson, referring to the 25th annual Kobalt Tools 500 at PIR. Johnson and “Bad Brad” finished fourth and fifth, respectively, during the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR on March 4, a race won by fellow-Chaser Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. Biffle finished third and exited the reconfigured/repaved desert oval six points behind Hamlin after the season’s second race.
“I remember the race last time and it was a good race,” said Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion. “I think the groove just needs to widen-out a little more and get a little more racey. The back dogleg is a little odd but it’s a fun track.”
Biffle posted his 19th top-10 of the season Sunday but still fell from ninth to 10th in the Chase standings, 83 behind Johnson. However, Biffle is only three points back of three-time/reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. (tied for eighth).
Biffle, who began the day hoping to complete a sweep of TMS’ two Cup races, said he understood the focus on the escalating Johnson-Keselowski title fight. “I’m used to it so it’s not an issue for me,” Biffle said. “We’ll try to win on Sunday and that’s really what I care about _ winning. The points matter and we’re a long way back but each position makes a difference. I just drive my car and do the best I can.”
Kenseth, who is headed to JGR at season’s end, has posted two wins and this fourth-place finish during the Chase’s first eight events. Despite moving from eighth to fifth in the standings, Kenseth fell another four points behind Johnson and now trails the Hendrick Motorsports star by 72.
“I didn’t think we would ever be standing here with a top-five the way our day started,” said Kenseth, who qualified his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion 10th but spent the daylight portion of the race barely hovering inside the top-20. “We started way off and these guys never gave up. They battled hard all day long and got me a good finish.”
Kenseth has one career Cup win at PIR, with eight top-10s in 20 races. Biffle is winless at PIR but has seven top-five finishes in 17 starts. Meanwhile, both Ford Racing drivers have solid resumes at Homestead-Miami. Biffle has won there three times while Kenseth has one win and five top-10s in 12 starts.