Jimmie Johnson proved once again on Sunday at Texas that if any other driver in the sport is serious about winning a championship, they should just sit back and take notes on how it is done. The clinic for winning a title actually begins on qualifying when Johnson shows the rest of the sport that regardless of how much pressure there is, when you are in a championship hunt the best place to start a race is on the pole.
Qualifying at Texas may not be as important as it is at a place like last week’s race in Martinsville, but along with the top spot comes the opportunity to pick first when selecting pit stalls. That may not sound like much, but it can become very important when you can control what is in front of you when you are in your pit stall.
Brad Keselowski qualified in the eighth spot and while he did get an early pick in selecting his pit, he didn’t have the control of who would pit in front of him that Johnson had. Danica Patrick and her team took the stall immediately in front of Keselowski and that would later hurt him on a stop when he was leading the race.
When the caution flag waved on lap 274, Keselowski was in the lead and took advantage of the caution to come in for service. He really started his own problems on the ill-fated stop as he slid all the way to the front of his stall but the problem became worse when Patrick also came in for service and stopped at the top of her pit stall.
Keselowski’s position in his pit box combined with Patrick’s position of her car made it impossible for him to pull straight onto pit road. His crew had to push him back and in the process, he found himself getting back on the track in eighth place.
There was nothing illegal about Patrick’s car in her stall and it could have been totally avoided if Keselowski had put the car where his crew wanted as he entered his pit. It was a small mistake on his part, but it is the kind of mistake that makes you have to race harder and work your way back through the field while the leaders are racing without having to use their cars up just to get back in a position to go for the win.
Keselowski came back on the track with a strong race car and once again took the lead and at one time in the closing laps held a lead of around eight car lengths on the field, but a caution bunched the field back up and gave Johnson the opportunity he needed on a green-white-checkered finish to drive his Chevrolet to victory lane.
The win was the 60th of Johnson’s career and it was the 12th time in his career that he has won back-to-back races. Maybe more importantly and the reason why he has five Chase titles to his credit is that the win on Sunday was also the seventh time in his career that he has posted back-to-back Chase wins. These last two wins at Martinsville and Texas come after he started each race on the pole.
Keselowksi finished second, but he found himself losing five more points to Johnson as the three bonus points for winning a race is really beginning to show up in the point standings. Johnson’s seven-point lead over Keselowski can be found in the six total bonus points that he has earned for winning the last two races.
Only two races remain on the schedule and it now appears that unless Johnson gets caught up in a wreck or has some mechanical issues at either Phoenix or Homestead, Keselowski’s best chance for winning the title is by winning the final two races.
CHASE NOTES: Johnson’s win on Sunday tied Keselowski for the number of wins on the season as both drivers now have five each. Total number of wins is the first tiebreaker that NASCAR uses if the points end in a tie. If both drivers have the same amount of wins, the tiebreakers goes to the driver with the most second-place finishes. If both drivers are still tied, the tiebreaker procedure continues until one driver has an advantage. Entering the race this weekend at Phoenix, only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick have been eliminated from the Chase.
Event: AdvoCare 500 (k)
Track: Phoenix International
Raceway (1-mile oval, turns 1 &
2, 9 degrees of banking, 3 & 4, 9
Date: Nov. 11, 3 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kasey