FORT WORTH, Texas — There was more Texas trouble for Jimmie Johnson, so now there's a new leader in the closest three-way Chase for the Championship with two Sprint Cup races left.
Denny Hamlin won at Texas Motor Speedway for the second time this year Sunday and took over the NASCAR points lead from four-time defending season champion Johnson.
Johnson's drive for five suddenly got real bumpy. Fourteen points ahead at the start of the Texas 500, he finished ninth to fall 33 points behind Hamlin.
"We're on the cusp of trying to get our first championship, and as long as we keep doing what we've been doing, we should be okay," Hamlin said. "I'm going to race like we need to win from here on out."
Hamlin took the lead with 29 laps to go and overcame a push from Matt Kenseth on the final restart with three laps left, holding on for his series-best eighth victory this season. Kevin Harvick finished sixth and stayed third in points, 59 back.
On two early stops, Johnson lost ground because of problems changing the front right tire. He had climbed to as high as second before those stops, the second poor change dropping him to 13th while Hamlin and Harvick both ran in the top six.
"I had speed in the car," Johnson said. "We gave away so much track position."
Hamlin's crew had picked the stall on pit row in front of Johnson in a bit of gamesmanship.
"We went beside them, and those guys faltered, and it made them panic and push to the point where they made changes," Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford said.
The troublesome pit stops led to an unusual midrace crew change when Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon's crew became available because he wrecked.
So Gordon's crew worked on the No. 48 while Johnson's crew packed up the No. 24 car.
"You watch pro sports, and if people aren't getting the job done you've got to pull them out and put somebody else in," Johnson said.
Gordon was hit by Jeff Burton during a caution. An angry Gordon walked from the top to the bottom of the track then gave Burton a hard shove and took some swings before they were separated by safety officials.
"I wanted to do a whole lot more to him," Gordon said, and added, "I like Jeff, he's a guy that's usually very rational and I respect his opinion and he apologized, said it was his fault. … It's over."
The drivers rode together in an ambulance to the care center.
Greg Biffle led 11 times for 224 of the 334 laps but finished fifth. The race at the 1½-mile track included a record 33 lead changes.
Hamlin won at Texas in April less than three weeks after surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. His first race after the surgery was a 30th-place finish at Phoenix, where the Chase goes next weekend.
"I'm going to race Phoenix as if I'm 33 behind," Hamlin said. "There's no comfortable margin going into Homestead because anything can happen."
Last fall, Johnson crashed at Texas but it didn't derail his championship run. This time, he's chasing. "This is racing. It doesn't come easy," he said. "You're not going to get what you want every single year."
Kyle Busch, who went from fifth in the standings to seventh, was penalized three laps; the first for speeding on pit road and two more for flashing an obscene gesture at the official who signaled the infraction.