|Jimmie Johnson took home a big Texas win and sits pretty in Chase. He's now 1-to-5 favorite to win his 6th title.|
FORT WORTH, Tex. -- The speed in Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was positively jaw-dropping.
Able to pull away from his pursuers with apparent ease, Johnson finished three positions ahead of Matt Kenseth in Sunday's AAA Texas 500, breaking a tie for the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but -- make no mistake -- Johnson's performance amounted to a brutal bludgeoning of Kenseth and the rest of the opposition.
Kenseth hurt his own cause with a pit-road speeding penalty, but not even a perfect day on pit road likely would have overcome the dominance of the five-time champion, who led 255 of 334 laps en route to his third victory at Texas Motor Speedway, his sixth of the season and the 66th of his career.
With two races left in the Chase, Johnson heads to next Sunday's event at Phoenix with a seven-point lead over Kenseth, who rallied from the speeding penalty he incurred on Lap 173 to finish fourth.
Similarly, Johnson left Texas last year with a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski -- and lost the title. But the emphatic nature of Johnson’s win on Sunday sent an unmistakable message.
"We came here and tested and did an awesome job of understanding what I needed in the car and what was going to create speed," Johnson said after the race. "We came back and had a very smooth qualifying session and practice sessions (Saturday), and just kept putting more and more speed in the car.
"It paid off today. Obviously, we need a lot of speed in the car and a win to get any points because Matt is there in the top five. Nice to gain just a few points on him. But just a dominant day for this Lowe's team."
Despite the emphatic whipping he administered to the rest of the field, Johnson is anything but overconfident.
"I’ve been watching a lot of MMA fighting lately, and you'll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody has got the fight won, and it doesn't end that way," he said. "That's how this is going to be. Matt didn't have maybe the best day and still finished fourth. This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes.
"I'm very excited about our performance and what we did here. We'll enjoy this, but there is still two weeks of very hard racing ahead of us."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran second, 4.390 seconds behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Joey Logano came home third.
Neither Earnhardt nor Logano, however, had a prayer of beating Johnson, and they knew it.
"The 48 was in another class, and nobody had anything for him," Earnhardt said. "He was just super good all through practice and the race."
"Overall, we can’t be disappointed with a third-place finish," Logano added. "Just the 48 car was ridiculously fast."
Johnson is the first back-to-back winner of the fall race at Texas since the race became part of the Chase in 2005. Johnson also tied Carl Edwards for most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories at the 1.5-mile track.
Kasey Kahne finished fifth, followed by Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. Harvick climbed to third in the series standings, but at 40 points behind Johnson and 33 behind Kenseth, it will take a miracle to put him back into the championship picture.
The race was a disaster for Jeff Gordon, who entered the event third in the standings but blew a tire, hit the wall on Lap 74, finished 38th and fell out of contention for a possible fifth title. Gordon fell to sixth in points, 69 behind Johnson.