Jimmie Johnson didn’t need a paddle to spank the field at Texas Motor Speedway — just a fast race car.
When Johnson extended his lead by more than seven seconds over the competition in the early stages of the race, it was clear the No. 48 car was in a class all to itself.
After leading 255 laps, Johnson bested his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 4.3 seconds at the finish line. And with the win, Johnson broke a tie with Matt Kenseth and took a seven-point lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with two races left. Kenseth finished fourth.
"I have been watching a lot of MMA (mixed martial arts) 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,” Johnson 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."
Johnson understands he will not always have as dominant a car as he had at Texas. He credited the hard work his team did at the test here two weeks ago with providing a baseline of data to build on over the weekend.
Nor can Johnson rely on Kenseth to make a mistake — as he did on Lap 173 when he was busted for speeding on pit road and was forced by NASCAR to drop from first (after Johnson had pitted ahead of the No. 17) to 16th. While Johnson experienced a 17-second pit stop on Lap 240, his car was so stellar that he raced back to the lead in 16 laps.
“He was in a class of his own,” Earnhardt said. “We were joking that we won the GT class. They were super fast.”
Johnson says he hopes “history doesn’t repeat itself.” One year ago, Johnson also held a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski after his victory here. However, Keselowski went on to win the title.
“That is the perfect example of this thing isn’t over until it’s over,” Johnson said. “Last year, we had eight great races and two bad ones and didn’t get the championship. Very important to finish strong. There are two very important races left."
Johnson should have the advantage next weekend at Phoenix Raceway, where he has four wins and his average finish is 11 spots better than Kenseth’s. But Kenseth has a victory at the season-ending race at Homestead — one of only six venues where Johnson has never visited victory lane.
Still, Kenseth remains confident. He said he’s “looking forward to Phoenix” and believes the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team is still “right in it.”
“I wish I was seven points ahead, but at the end of the day it’s in our hands,” Kenseth said. “I have I think the greatest race team out there and we’re going to go there, work as hard as we can and try to get the best finishes we can and see where it ends up.”
After posting consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time since May, Denny Hamlin tweeted:
Another solid run for our @FedEx racing team. I made some mistakes that cost us a better finish. Still stepping in the right direction
24: Number of Johnson’s 66 career wins that have been earned in the final 10 races of the season.
2: Top-five finishes at Texas Motor Speedway for Joey Logano since he joined Penske Racing this season. His third-place finish on Sunday was a career-best. Entering the weekend, Logano’s average finish at Texas was 21.7.
3: Positions lost by Jeff Gordon in the points standings after he blew a tire on Lap 74. Gordon is now sixth, 69 points behind Johnson.
When winning team owner Rick Hendrick was asked his response to hearing Johnson report a vibration on his car in the closing laps of the race, he told reporters, "I started walking towards the port-o-john."