For much of the day Sunday Brad Keselowski was the belle of the ball. But it was Jimmie Johnson who stole the show, and the win at Texas Motor Speedway. Keselowski led a race record 312 laps but didn’t have enough to hold off Johnson in the final laps and it was Johnson who was celebrating in victory lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500.
Johnson set up his race winning move on a final restart with 18 laps to go. Johnson moved from his third place spot to second and was stalking Keselowski for the lead with 14 laps to go. He continued pressuring Keselowski and with three laps to go, Johnson was able to get by for the win.
“I could see that he was really tight and that was the first I had seen him that vulnerable all day,” Johnson said. :I just kept the pressure on him, kept searching for line. He saw me coming on the top and protected it. I just kept trying to put pressure on him hoping for a mistake. He got real loose off of Turn 2 and I had a big run down the backstretch and drove it in really far into Turn 3 hoping to hear clear. Once I did I knew I was home free.”
Keselowski was gracious in defeat. He led the only practice session on Friday, after NASCAR cancelled Saturday practices, won his first Texas pole and led the most laps Sunday only to finish second.
“The 48 (Johnson) car had mega turn that last run and I couldn’t keep the turn and it kept pushing real bad,” Keselowski said. “I did everything I could to hold him off but he was way faster that last run. Their team did a hell of a job and found speed and my team did a hell of a job too. We led 300-some laps and these debris yellows always favor someone and it wasn’t our day for them to favor us. I am still very proud of our effort today. We will have a great shot at winning next week. We really needed to win this one and I know I gave it my all.”
Johnson and Keselowski were among the few drivers who didn’t suffer issues during a race that was stop and go for much of the first half with only one green flag run of 44 laps happening before halfway. There were also six cautions all for failed tires.
Tire issues were the story of the day for many, starting with Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano. Logano, who had been a Chase favorite only a few race ago, was crashed out at Martinsville after leading a race high 207 laps and came into Texas at the bottom of the Chase grid. Sunday at Texas, Logano was in fourth on lap 9, when a left rear tire exploded causing extensive damage to his Ford. Logano was forced to the garage for repairs and did return but finished 40th 66 laps down.
“Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches,” Logano said. “We will be ready for Phoenix. This team is strong. We didn’t take any wind out of our sails today and we showed how fast this thing was even after we crashed. I am very proud of our team.”
Third place finisher Kevin Harvick also had tire issues. He lost first a left rear, than a right rear tire later in the race. In addition, he was forced to drive with one hand on the wheel and the other on his shifter as it kept popping out of gear in the second half of the race.
“As you look at the things we’ve had,” Harvick said. “We’ve had really good race cars and that allows us to overcome things like today with two flat tires. Even with the shifter problem we were able to maintain what we had. But all in all, we just kept gouging away and everything worked out in the end.”
Chase driver’s Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards finished fourth and fifth respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had two flat tires and several meetings with the wall recovered for sixth. Chase contenders filled the next three spots; Kurt Busch was seventh, Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, Jeff Gordon was ninth and non-Chase driver Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10. The full results can be found here.
The win for Johnson was the 75th of his career, his fifth of the season, and his fourth consecutive at Texas Motor Speedway. The win comes after 20 winless races and after Johnson was eliminated from the Chase after Dover in October.
“We have just been focused on winning races and help our teammates advance through the rounds,” Johnson said. “This No. 48 team worked all year to be in championship contention. We clearly don’t have a shot at it. It’s tough to work so hard all year long and not have a shot at the championship. This is kind of a silver lining in that.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday for the penultimate race of the season next Sunday with live coverage on NBC starting at 2:00 p.m. ET.