Jimmie Johnson overtook title rival Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkered finish to claim his fifth win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Five-time champion Johnson, who had led nearly half the race distance before the final green flag, drove around the outside of Keselowski with one lap remaining. That followed a close battle at the previous restart where the Penske racer managed to remain ahead while resisting a fierce, fender-banging, attack from the Chase leader.
Keselowski's No. 2 Dodge had emerged up front from the final round of stops after crew chief Paul Wolfe made the call to change two tires while the rest of the leaders took on a full set for the last 21 laps This attempt to make the most of clean air initially paid off but Johnson's final attack, squeezing Keselowski on the inside at Turn 1 to get him loose, sealed back-to-back wins that allowed him to extend his championship lead.
In the process Johnson gave Chevrolet its 700th Cup win a week after helping deliver yet another manufacturers' title for the bow tie brand with his Martinsville victory.
Keselowski, who put on his best performance ever at the mile-and-a-half track, believed the final restarts gave Johnson a shot at his lead but reckoned his two-tire change would have probably cost him in a longer green-flag run as well.
"I think the restarts made the difference," said Keselowski. "Jimmie probably would have got me with an extended amount of laps to go. But with only five or six to go when we had the lead, I felt pretty good about it. But getting that last yellow, I felt like restarts are like rock, paper, scissors. Eventually you're going to lose them. It's just a matter of time. There's always time to counteract the strategy. To win two out of three, I felt lucky to do that. Obviously, I didn't win the last one that counts."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch was the only other car able to keep up with the leading title contenders, though ultimately he was only watching from behind as the duel unfolded in front of him. Busch complained about Keselowski's restarts in the decisive stages.
"I think Brad went early the last two times," said Busch. "From my vantage point, anyway, from compared to where the line starts you're supposed to go within the zone, and I felt like he was a little early on that... But from my experience with Brad, it doesn't surprise me."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished seventh, also had a close look at the action between Johnson and Keselowski and was duly impressed.
“That was pretty crazy,” Earnhardt – who gave Keselowski his first real break in NASCAR when he hired him to drive a Nationwide Series car for JR Motorsports – told NASCAR's wire service. “I was thinking I might have a shot to win if they kept on going like that… but I was glad to see Jimmie take it at the end. What a battle this championship is. Brad is putting up an awesome fight.
Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth finished fourth ahead of reigning champion Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip Racing's leading title contender Clint Bowyer, who lost ground in the final stops after running among the top five for most of the distance. He has dropped 36 points behind Johnson in the standings as a result while Hendrick's Kasey Kahne is now a distant 58 points adrift from the Chase leader after finishing a lapped 25th.
Results - 335 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 3h41m30.000s
2. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 0.808s
3. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 0.966s
4. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1.328s
5. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 1.917s
6. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 2.371s
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.780s
8. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2.883s
9. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 3.117s
10. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 3.361s
11. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 3.399s
12. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 3.545s
13. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 3.923s
14. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.938s
15. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 4.154s
16. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 4.280s
17. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 4.337s
18. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 4.508s
19. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 4.605s
20. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 4.649s
21. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 4.855s
22. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 5.044s
23. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 5.224s
24. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 5.271s
25. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
26. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 2 laps
27. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 3 laps
28. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 4 laps
29. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 6 laps*
30. Scott Speed Leavine Ford + 7 laps
31. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 7 laps
32. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 25 laps*
33. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 51 laps
34. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 56 laps
David Gilliland Front Row Ford 225 laps
AJ Allmendinger Phoenix Chevrolet 107 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 41 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 37 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 37 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 33 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 32 laps
JJ Yeley Max Q Chevrolet 10 laps
Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Toyota 6 laps