Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sports

Jimmie Johnson spoils Brad Keselowski's dominant run at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas — Brad Keselowski was dominating at Texas Motor Speedway, leading lap after lap and getting oh so close to a victory that would give him one of the four spots in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship finale.

Until Texas fall favorite Jimmie Johnson came charging after the final restart.

Keselowski led a track-record 312 of 334 laps in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 after starting on the pole, but he couldn't keep Johnson from his fourth consecutive victory in the Texas fall race.

"Just one step short of having the awesome day we needed to have," Keselowski said. "I'm not sure exactly how to feel about it at the moment. The (No.) 48 car had so much speed those last 10 laps."

Johnson, eliminated from the Chase after the first cutoff, earned his 75th series victory.

Three Chase spots are up for grabs next week at Phoenix, the last race before the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The only title contender set is retiring four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the Martinsville winner last week and Johnson's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.

Kyle Busch, defending Chase champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex hold points spots two through four, followed by Carl Edwards, Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano.

"It's not a must-win situation for us like it is for some other guys," said Kyle Busch, who ran fourth Sunday. "Couldn't be more pleased with the position we got right now."

After the final restart with 18 laps left, Keselowski and Truex were side-by-side, and made contact at one point before Truex went in front very briefly.

Keselowski almost as quickly got back in front, and Johnson charged past Truex into second place and right on the leader's tail. Truex lost power steering in those closing laps and finished eighth.

On Lap 331, Johnson got past as Keselowski got loose out of Turn 2.

"That was the first I had seen him that vulnerable all day. I just kept the pressure on him, kept searching for line," Johnson said.

Minutes later, suspended driver Matt Kenseth tweeted, "Good work @JimmieJohnson! Textbook pass for the win at the end of the race when someone is trying to take your lane. #quintessential"

After Logano chalked up contact with Kenseth at Kansas last month as aggressive racing for a win, NASCAR chairman Brian France referred to the move as "quintessential."

Logano got knocked from first to last among the eight title contenders after being intentionally wrecked by Kenseth at Martinsville a week ago as payback. NASCAR then suspended Kenseth for two races.

"Clearly he was watching and bored at home," Johnson said of Kenseth's tweet. "That's a nice buzzword. … Thank you, buddy. I don't know how to even answer that."

Logano's title shot took another huge hit Sunday when he had a blown tire after only 10 laps at Texas, where he finished 66 laps back in 40th place.

Johnson led only six laps for his fifth win this season, bringing him within one of Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the seventh-most in NASCAR history. The No. 48 Chevrolet also won the spring race at Texas and is the first driver to win three consecutive Cup races at the high-banked, 11/2-mile track.

Harvick finished third after pitting twice to replace punctured tires, then driving one-handed for a long stretch while holding the shifter to keep his car from popping out of gear.

"We just kept gouging away and everything worked out in the end," Harvick said.

Kenseth's streak of 571 consecutive starts was the second-longest active streak behind Gordon's 795.

NASCAR truck series leader Erik Jones, 19, took over in Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, and finished 12th.

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Published: 02/19/18