Johnson steals Texas from Keselowski, Logano in deep hole
The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway looked like it would be an unmitigated disaster in the first 50 or 60 laps. With heavy rain and then nagging weepers
Joey Logano (40th) cut a tire and spun on lap 11, bringing out the race's first caution. The damage from the rubber that shred as Logano tried to right his car and drive it to the pits impacted the interior of the No. 22 Ford and sent the team to the garage for the second-straight week. Logano rejoined the race over 60 laps down and now is in
Then Logano's satellite teammate Ryan Blaney (43rd) graced the wall and cut a tire on lap 26. Another Chaser in the form of Kevin Harvick (3rd) cut a left-rear tire (same as Logano's) on lap 37, bringing out a yellow. That caution kept Harvick on the lead lap and he drove back into contention, only to cut a tire again with over 50 laps to go. But that kept him in sequence with the other drivers that had to pit and Harvick salvaged a podium finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6th) also cut a tire in the early stages and hit the wall later on. Both times the No. 88 drove through the pack and into the top 10.
With tire wear a major concern, Goodyear engineers investigated each instance and the tire wear for other teams, too. There was not just one cause for the downed tires, so blaming Goodyear for the failures is hard to do. One place to lay blame could be
Behind the potential brewing "tire gate" was sleek homeostasis in the front of the field. The pole-sitter Brad Keselowski (2nd) became the race dominator out of the gates and through the whole day. Through each pit sequence, restart, and green flag run, the No. 2 Ford was the class of the field. After Martinsville trouble put Keselowski in a points hole, he needed the win and had it in hand...until the very end.
Jimmie Johnson (1st), winner of five previous Texas races, lurked in the top 5 for much of the day, but never could get on the front row to really challenge Keselowski. A debris caution with 23 laps to go bunched the field a final time and put Keselowski on the front row with Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. (8th).
Keselowski and Truex Jr. raced hard and made slight contact as the No. 2 came up the track in one of the turns.
But that hard battle kept Johnson in the fray and the No. 48 Chevy was lightning quick. He stalked Keselowski, trying the high, low, and middle lanes. And then finally, with four laps to go, Johnson launched low and into the lead as Keselowski drove hard and looked on in horror. Keselowski's ticket to the Homestead final Chase round just got swiped by a six-time champ out of the title hunt.
Keselowski and Johnson have jostled for the lead late in at least two previous Texas Chase races and each time...and this one...Johnson got the big trophy. This was Johnson's 75th-career win, one shy of the great Dale Earnhardt.
After a mostly tepid race up front at Texas, the Johnson-Keselowski battle took the cake for the day and showed that hard racing is possible without wrecking someone. And that is just what Matt Kenseth, suspended for two races for retaliating against Logano for spinning him out of the lead at Kansas two weeks prior, tweeted post-race:
Kenseth obviously objected to NASCAR chairman Brian France's calling Logano's
The top 10 were: Johnson, Keselowski, Harvick, Kyle Busch (barely a top 5 car most of the day, stayed in the hunt), Carl Edwards (also stayed in top 10 all day, but could not get away from fellow Chase drivers), Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch (had to come back from making second pit stop under a caution and also passed several cars on final restart), Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon (had the quietest top 10 a Chase driver could have, because he won last week), and Jamie McMurray (a top 15 driver most of the day).
The only Eliminator Round driver guaranteed a Homestead berth is still Jeff Gordon. Johnson is the also the last non-Chase driver to "steal" a Chase race, doing so at Texas a year ago. The points are very tight heading to Phoenix: Ky. Busch (+11 points from 5th place cutoff), Harvick (+10), and Truex Jr. (+7) are the drivers in the safe zone. Edwards, thus, is seven points back, then it gets hairy for those remaining: Keselowski (-19), Ku. Busch (-28), and especially Logano (-63) have to win at Phoenix.
What could have been a disaster of a race with tires going down or a humdrum affair with Keselowski dominating turned into a barnburner final 20 laps and a late pass for the
RaceTweet: Keselowski dominates and has heart broken by Johnson with
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Brad Keselowski - Easy. Driver No. 2 led a blazing 312 of 334 laps, only losing the lead during pit sequences...that is until Johnson blew his doors off with a pass with four to go. Keselowski went from advancing in the playoffs to needing a first at Phoenix, with just one pass. Keselowski also garnered his fifth runner-up finish of the year. And he led 143 laps last week at Martinsville, en route to a bad finish after a wreck.
North Korean Missile Dud: Joey Logano - On the other side of the spectrum at Team Penske, Logano, at no fault of his own, cut a tire and made his Chase standings even worse. A popular pick to challenge for the win, Logano instead limped his damaged car around to a 40th-place finish and a statistical "have to win" at Phoenix next week. Logano and the No. 22 team have been money in 2015, leading the Sprint Cup Series in wins and just two weeks ago having won their third race in a row. These last two crash-impacted finishes are only the second time all year Logano has had back-to-back sub-top 10 finishes. The last were 13th and 11th at Charlotte and Dover...in May.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kevin Harvick - Harvick cut two tires, the second of which happened just in the cusp of pit sequence and the first of which was early enough to drive through the field and recover from. But Harvick also drove the last third of the race with his hand on the shifter lever, as his car kept popping in and out of gear. That, folks, is a clutch performance and one that could have cost even just a few positions. But with Harvick, Ky. Busch, Edwards, and Truex Jr. so stressfully close in points, every position matters in the utmost. Harvick put his circumstances and his team on his back and avoided disaster yet again. And this time he didn't even have to cause a wreck to swing the odds in his favor (allegedly, yes).
Ghost Driver: Kasey Kahne - While the rest of Hendrick Motorsports and half of Stewart-Haas Racing (with that team's engine and chassis coming from HMS) running in the top 10, Kahne again proved to be the weak link on the four-team squad. The No. 5 team struggled much of the race, never really gracing the top 10 and ended the race a lap down in 20th. Earnhardt Jr. experienced the same funk in 2009 and 2010 and went through two crew chiefs to get out of it. After Keith Rodden replaced Kenny Francis on the No. 5 pit box, expectations were high and the results have been medium-at-best.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Erik Jones - Faced with a tough task of making only his second-and-a-half (because he only ran part of Bristol as a sub driver) Sprint Cup start and doing so in place of the suspended Kenseth, Jones did an excellent job for an excellent team. He finished
Wheel of Misfortune: Kyle Larson - A cut tire and a spin ruined his run while leading Saturday's NXS race (which Keselowski won). The same fate befell the No. 42 team Sunday during a sure top 10 run. Larson ended up out of the race and 37th. This season just has not gone his way.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Kevin Harvick - The driver that coined the term gets it Sunday for a.) his first cut tire
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: The fallout from the Kenseth suspension pretty much stopped before the NSCS teams rolled into Texas. For all the fervor felt by many in the driver's fraternity on social media after the decision, the tone of the drivers seemed pretty simple. The message most gave was, "NASCAR needed to draw a line and now we know where it is. This doesn't change how I
That paraphrased quote is basically what some drivers said either during the race
We really will not know how much the Kenseth suspension has affected how drivers stand up for themselves until that situation poses itself again. When Keselowski and Truex Jr. made contact on the last restart, it looked similar to how Keselowski got into Gordon and cut his tire in 2014. But as it turned out, that isn't what hurt Truex Jr.'s car and the two talked pleasantly after the race and chalked that contact up to hard racing. If Johnson had wrecked Keselowski, a la Logano-Kenseth at Kansas, we may have gotten to see the new line put to use. But in the end, both of
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan had a mediocre-at-best Texas race. He started
Saturday's NXS race was decent for the Georgia gang. Chase Elliott started 10th and finished 8th, gaining three points on standings leader Chris Buescher. Elliott will need Buescher to slip up, to gain 24 points in the final two races. Ryan Sieg did what Ryan Sieg does - had a decent race and finished on the lead lap in 13th and ahead of some better-funded teams. John Wes Townley's No. 25 skipped its second race of the year, as it prepares for a part-time NXS schedule next year.
Friday's Camping World Truck Series
NXS RaceTweet: Which Cup driver was it at Texas? Not Larson, not Dillon, no, Keselowski wins it. And the No. 22 clinches the owner's points title.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Erik Jones dominates and extends points lead over Matt Crafton and Tyler Reddick at Texas. One of the series' youngest drivers is a man amongst boys in KBM equipment.
Next: Phoenix International Raceway is where we find all three NASCAR national series. The NSCS cars roll Sunday in front of sold out grandstands at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The NXS cars run Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. And the NCWTS penultimate race is Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1. All races can be heard on