FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Jimmie Johnson raced to his fourth consecutive Texas fall victory, overcoming Brad Keselowski’s dominating Chase-contending car with three laps to go Sunday.
Keselowski led a track-record 312 of 334 laps after starting off the pole. He worked hard to hold on to the lead after the final restart with 18 laps left in a race he felt he needed to win to get one of the four spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship finale in two weeks.
“I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it at the moment,” Keselowski said.
With the already-eliminated Johnson winning, three spots are still up for grabs at Phoenix, the last race before the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The only championship contender set is retiring four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the Martinsville winner last week and Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Busch leads the points race for at least two of the spots, ahead of defending Chase champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Carl Edwards is next, followed by Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano.
Johnson led only six laps to get his fifth win of the season, his first in 20 starts. The No. 48 Chevrolet also won the spring race at Texas, and won the previous three fall races at the high-banked, 1½-mile track.
After the final restart, Keselowski and Truex were side by side, and even bumped at one point before Truex went in front very briefly.
Keselowski almost as quickly got back in front, and Johnson went charging past Truex as well into second place and right on the leader’s tail. Truex lost his power steering in those closing laps.
Johnson kept pushing and on the backstretch on lap 331, he went to the bottom and was able to get around for the lead. Johnson went on to win by more than a second.
“I did everything I could to hold him off but he was way faster that last run,” Keselowski said. “As I sit right now, and maybe I’ll change my mind, I don’t know what I would have done differently, or could have done differently.”
Harvick finished third, even after he twice had to come in to replace punctured tires after running over something on the track, and having to drive one-handed for a long stretch when he was having to hold on to the shifter to keep his car from popping out of gear.
Logano, Keselowski’s teammate at Team Penske, got knocked from first to last among the eight championship contenders after being intentionally wrecked by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville a week ago. Logano’s title shot took another huge hit when he had a blown tire after only 10 laps at Texas, where he finished 66 laps back in 40th place.
Logano kept the No. 22 off the wall after spinning on the backstretch, but there was still significant damage to the rear fender and the inside of the car. He was 64 laps back when he returned to the track.
“The left rear tire came apart and shredded everything inside the car,” Logano said. “It did a lot more damage than just the tire blowing apart.”
The only one of the title contenders who finished outside of the top nine at Texas, Logano will have to win next week to get to the finale with a championship shot for the second year in a row.
Kenseth was absent serving the first of his two-race suspension from NASCAR after his appeals were denied. That ended Kenseth’s streak of 571 consecutive starts, which was the second-longest active streak behind the Gordon’s 795 in a row. Johnson and Ryan Newman have each started 502 consecutive races since the 2002 Daytona 500.
Camping World Truck Series points leader Erik Jones took over in Kenseth’s No. 22 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, and the 19-year-old finished 12th.