The dominant car doesn’t always win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. That was the exact case on Sunday at the Texas Motor Speedway when Brad Keselowski dominated the race but could not hold off a determined and quicker Jimmie Johnson in the final stint to the checkers.
Johnson led six laps on the afternoon, including the final four when he made a bold pass over Keselowski coming out of Turn 2. Johnson snapped a 20-race winless streak, which was one shy of his career-long coming just a few short years ago. This is the No. 48 team third straight in the Lone Star State and the fourth consecutive win at the fall event at the 1.5-mile speedway. As of late, Johnson has owned Texas.
“You get so caught up in the moment racing those guys and I just like to race guys clean,” Johnson said of his pass for the win on current Chase driver, Keselowski. “I just kept working on him and working on him and I could tell his car was tight, his car wasn’t ideal. Then he moved up to take the high side and then he got real loose off of (Turn) 2 and I had a big run off the top and I went for a big slide job there in (Turn) 3 and 4 and got the win.”
This is Johnson’s fifth win of 2015, but his first since race 13 at Dover. It marks the first time during this year’s edition of the Chase that a non-Chase driver went to victory lane. With the win Johnson moved up to 12th in the point standings and sits just 17 points outside of 10th.
The aforementioned Keselowski was dominant on the afternoon. The No. 2 team had been fastest in everything run this weekend and led 312 out of the 334 laps, but ultimately came up just four laps short of the victory.
This was a race that Keselowski needed to win. After a disappointing 32nd-place finish at Martinsville, Keselowski was put behind the eight ball and needed something magical to happen in order to make the championship race at Homestead. What looked like magic turned into heartbreak after Johnson passed the No. 2 and putting his championship chances at least on hold for another week as he now sits 19 points behind the cutoff.
“The No. 48 car had mega turn that last run,” Keselowski said of how Johnson got by him for the win. “I couldn’t keep the turn in it and just kept pushing real bad. I did everything I could to hold him off, but he was way faster than I was on the last run. We really needed to win this one, but I know that I gave it my all.”
After having two flat tires and a gear stuck in place, Kevin Harvick managed a third-place effort on Sunday. The No. 4 car was out in front for 11 laps and seemed to have one of the better cars on the long runs. But, like many others the flat tires kept Harvick from really challenging for the lead throughout the race. There were over 10 flat tires in Texas and that is worrisome to those who are in the midst of a championship battle.
“I guess you can drive with one hand,” Harvick said. “We just hung in there and fougth like we’ve done the last two years and were able to make something out of the day there at the end. I’ve never had to drive one with one arm for that long, never for 100 laps. We got lucky that the two flat tires didn’t tear the back of the car off and the motor didn’t blow up when it popped out of gear.”
Kyle Busch came into Sunday optimistic. This is the furthest into a season that he has been a part of the championship battle and with his fourth-place finish at Texas he currently sits second in the standings and 11 points above the cutoff going to one of his better tracks in Phoenix.
Busch had a top-five car for the first half of the race, but then began to fall during the longest green flag run of over 100 laps. The No. 18 team has looked good in the first two races and is looking to be in the championship race at Homestead.
“It didn’t have very good short-run speed,” Busch said of his racecar. “We just couldn’t get going and couldn’t fire off. As the race would go and as the runs progressed, especially the long runs and the green flag stops our car was really good. I wish out Camry was just that much better to contend for a win.”
Busch’s teammate Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five in Texas. Edwards is a three-time winner on the mile and-a-half track and was running in the upper half of the top 10 for the majority of the 500 miles. The No. 19 ultimately gained a few points on the Chase cutoff and sits just seven points behind Martin Truex Jr.
After having multiple problems on Sunday, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished just outside of the top-five. The No. 88 had a flat tire on Lap 47 while running fifth and then on Lap 167 he spun from the 19th position after making severe contact with the outside wall. Earnhardt was able to drive back through the field and manage a sixth-place finish.
Kurt Busch finished in seventh, but really needed a victory after a 34th-place finish at Martinsville. Busch ran around the 10th position all afternoon but moved up when it counted but is in a must-win situation going into Phoenix next weekend.
The No. 78 of Truex finished eighth and restarted on the outside of the front row on the final restart. He and Keselowski made contact slowing the No. 78 down and losing critical points in the final 10 laps. To go along with the contact he was fighting a loose wheel and lost his power steering, but Truex is currently sitting in the cutoff position and will look for a solid run at Phoenix and hope that no one behind him scores a victory. He has seven career top-10 finishes at the mile flat track.
“Just thinking about Homestead,” Truex said of how he was able to hold onto his racecar and score the most points possible. “Digging deep. We had a great racecar and we’re right there at the end, right where we wanted to be battling for the lead and the right front wheel started shaking and started getting tight. Then with five or six laps to go the power steering started cutting down. The power steering was screwing with my head. We had a lot to overcome today.”
Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon finished ninth on Sunday. The No. 24 team is the only team can still breathe a side of a relief going into Phoenix as they are locked into Homestead. Gordon struggled throughout the majority of the 500-mile race, but used it as a test for the season finale.
The only Chase driver that struggled on Sunday was Joey Logano. On Lap 10, Logano blew a left rear tire while running in fourth. The No. 22 team spent over 60 laps behind the wall replacing the left rear corner panel as well as the left rear window as the blown tire shredded everything on the left side of the car. Logano must win next Sunday in Phoenix in order to race for his first career championship.
“The left rear tire just came apart and shredded everything inside of the car,” Logano said. “It did a lot more damage than just the left rear tire blown. It just ripped everything apart. It’s not what we needed to do, we needed to win. We’re not out of it, this team is not quitting. We’re going to go to Phoenix and try to win that one.”
After having the dominant car in the past month or so Logano has had two rough races to begin the Eliminator Round of the Chase and is in desperate need of a win at a track that he hasn’t had the best of success at.
Tires were the big deal at Texas as it seemed like early on there was a caution every 10 or so laps from a blown tire. Throughout the race tire management became crucial and the blown tires began to fade and racing was able to finally take place.
This tire has been used three times this year and has shown no particular trouble, but with no practice time on Saturday and very little rubber on the track is the outcome that Goodyear came up with as what was causing the team troubles. This exact tire will next be in use at Homestead.
With just two races remaining in the 2015 season, Phoenix will be the most important race for seven of the race teams as it is their opportunity to make it to the championship race in the season finale on Nov. 22. Even the teams currently sitting in a hole will look at Phoenix as the biggest race of their season.