FORT WORTH, Texas — Race report by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda for Race Chaser Online — Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America photo —
At least in the fall at Texas Motor Speedway, the winner is getting pretty predictable.
Jimmie Johnson held off the charges of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick to pick up his fourth career win at Texas Motor Speedway, as well as his third straight Chase race at Texas, in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. The six-time champ stayed out on a lap 321 caution and became the second non-Chaser to win in as many weeks.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, took the lead after a restart with nine laps to go and appeared to be on the way to victory until Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota smacked the wall, setting up the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Johnson went three-wide with Gordon and Keselowski and when they cleared turn 2, the No. 48 Lowes Red Vest Chevrolet was back out front.
Johnson then drove by Keselowski on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish at lap 340 to score the win by a half-second on Harvick, who cleared Keselowski in the final moments.
“We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that,” Johnson said in victory lane. “I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week. We were able to bring a lot of that (test) here and get the car off the truck and was right away, quick.”
The defending Sprint Cup champ led 191 laps on the day and notched his 70th career win, now only siting six victories behind the late Dale Earnhardt.
“To win 70 Cup races is just mind-blowing to me,” Johnson said. “Very, very proud of hitting that mark tonight and very proud to have won all my races at one race team, one sponsor.”
“Just an exciting night for us. We had a very fast race car, led a lot of laps (191 of 341). Those cautions at the end, one restart would help me, the other would hurt me — and in the end we got it done.”
Harvick finished second and Keselowski came home in third. Kyle Busch’s bid for a Texas triple ended fairly early when he was lapped by Johnson at lap 125, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver rallied to finish fourth, with Jamie McMurray rounding out the top five.
However, for all of Johnson’s elation, it was the exact opposite for his teammate Gordon.
The four-time Cup champ took the outside lane on the first green-white-checkered, allowing Johnson pulled even with the No. 24 car. Keselowski tried to thread the needle through the middle, but there was no room for him to make it work. The 2012 Cup champ made contact with Gordon, cutting the left-rear tire on the No. 24. In turn 3, Gordon’s car went around and relegated him to a 29th place-finish after he lost a lap in the pits trying to change tires.
Following the race, the fireworks continued. Gordon came over to talk to Keselowski post-race and once Kevin Harvick gave Keselowski a shove towards Gordon, all bets were off. A full-out brawl erupted between the No. 2 and No. 24 teams, leaving both drivers fired up going into the last race of the the Eliminator Round at Phoenix next weekend.
“We drove down into Turn 1, and he just decided to body-slam us and cut our left-rear tire,” an irate Gordon said after wading through a mass of crewmen to get to Keselowski. “It ruined our night. It ruined our chances, ruined our night, might have even ruined our Chase hopes.
“I’m going to race him the same way he races me,” Gordon said of Keselowski. “That’s why everybody’s fighting him and running him down. Emotions are high. It’s just uncalled for. I had to show my displeasure. It got ugly down there, obviously, and you know that’s alright. A lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of weeks.”
Both Gordon and Keselowski had blood on their faces after the post-race scuffle. For the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, it was his second post-race brawl in four weeks after getting into it with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth at Charlotte, but the driver of the Deuce for Roger Penske was unapologetic about his actions on the track.
“We’re just racing for the win,” Keselowski said. “Racing hard and he (Gordon) left a hole and everything you watch in racing, you leave a hole, you’re supposed to go for it. I wanted to win the race and that was our opportunity.”
“I’m not trying to dish out something that I couldn’t take myself,” Keselowski added. “But these guys have their own code, and they race differently than that. That’s their right. We’ll go through these battles. I’ve gone through them before and come out stronger. I’ll go through them again and come out stronger, a better race car driver.
“But what I’m not going to do is back down. I’m not going to get in the spot where I was in 2013 where, you know, I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be, because what they want me to be is a loser, and I’m not here to lose. I’m here to win. That means I’m going to have to drive my car, harder, stronger, faster than everybody out there. That’s what I feel like I did today.”
Keselowski now sits only five points behind Gordon for the final transfer spot to the Championship 4.
Race winner Johnson could only shake his head at the unplanned fireworks after the race.
“I saw a little bit on the big screen going down the back straightaway,” said Johnson. “I would definitely have to go to the tape and watch and see what happened there. I know that second-to-last restart, I got hit from behind and I know Brad got to my outside, and I guess in the process of running into me and getting to the outside lane he ruffled some feathers.”
All of the wild action in the closing stages — which all told included 12 cautions after the halfway point of the race and a track-record 13 cautions overall — jumbled the Chase standings dramatically.
Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin leave Texas tied for the points lead, after Logano rebounded from a spin to finish 12th and Hamlin came home tenth. Gordon sits one point ahead of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards in the race to advance, and all eight drivers are separated by a mere 18 points.
In other words, no one is safe headed to Phoenix next Sunday (3 PM ET on ESPN), where at least three of the four championship positions heading to Homestead will be determined on points.