Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

Johnson wins to edge ahead in NASCAR Chase

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jimmie Johnson is the leader again in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship after a dominating victory Sunday in the Texas AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The five-time Sprint Cup champion knows all too well that his seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth is far from overwhelming with two races left in the season.

Johnson also left Texas last November with a victory and a seven-point lead but lost the title to Brad Keselowski.

"I hope history doesn't repeat itself," Johnson said. "That is the perfect example of this thing isn't over until it's over. Last year we had eight great races and two bad ones and didn't get the championship. … There are two very important races left."

Kenseth and Johnson were tied in points when they got to Texas, though Kenseth was considered the leader based on his seven wins.

Johnson led 255 of 334 laps Sunday for his sixth win this season while becoming only the second three-time Cup winner at the high-banked 1½-mile Texas track. The No. 48 Chevrolet finished more than four seconds ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"The 48 was in another class and nobody had anything for them," said Earnhardt, who had his fifth runnerup finish this year.

Joey Logano finished third, ahead of Kenseth.

"I've been watching a lot of (mixed martial arts) fighting lately, and you'll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody's got a fight won, and it doesn't end that way," said Johnson, who got his 66th career victory, including a record 24 wins in Chase races. "It's how this is going to be. Matt didn't have maybe the best day, but he still finished fourth. This thing is going to the last lap at Homestead. It's going to come down to a mistake."

Kenseth was running second for much of the first half of the race before a penalty for speeding dropped him to 16th.

"We were just being too aggressive. Honestly, the 48 had us. … They were just dominant all weekend," Kenseth said.

At Phoenix, where the Chase goes this week, Johnson is a four-time winner and finished second in March. His average finishing spot of 6.4 there is better than the 17.2 for Kenseth, who has one victory at Phoenix and finished seventh there eight months ago.

"I'm still confident," Kenseth said.

Kenseth was second when Johnson pulled down pit road, a lap before Kenseth came in during a cycle of green-flag stops. But Kenseth was caught speeding on pit road and had to serve a drive-through penalty. By time he got back on the track, he was about 25 seconds further behind than he had been before the stops.

A caution a few laps later got Kenseth up three spots, but it also tightened the field. Within a few laps of the restart, Kenseth was back in the top 10.

Then when Kyle Busch went into the wall, he was between Johnson and Kenseth, who went onto pit road 1-2. While Johnson had a quick stop — he was second out behind Carl Edwards — Kenseth has an issue on his stop that dropped him to sixth.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was in contention for another Cup title after his win at Martinsville moved him up to a season-high third in points. But on Lap 74 Sunday, the front left tire on the No. 24 Chevrolet blew, sending him hard into the wall. He returned to the race after repairs and finished in 38th place, 187 laps off the pace. He dropped into a tie for sixth the standings with Clint Bowyer, 69 back.

"I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn't get it slowed down enough," Gordon said. "Our car just didn't take off very good, but boy was it strong on the long runs."

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