For Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson was proof that perfect is the enemy of good.
Kenseth had a good day — a very good day — in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, finishing fourth, his fifth top-five finish in the first eight races of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But Johnson was nearly perfect, leading 254 of 334 laps to put his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in Victory Lane ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Kenseth.
Johnson’s victory was the most dominant of the entire Chase, and while Kenseth entered NASCAR’s playoff round as the top seed and was tied in points with Johnson coming into Texas, he now finds himself second, seven points back of Johnson with just Phoenix and Homestead left on the schedule.
Last year, Johnson won this race and left with a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski, only to lose the championship with two bad races to end the year. But last year, Johnson barely beat Keselowski. This time, Kenseth acknowledged that Johnson had the field covered “from the time they rolled off the truck Friday.”
Kenseth had two bobbles Sunday at Texas. On Lap 60, Kenseth’s normally reliable Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew lost him four spots on pit road. Then, just past the halfway point, Kenseth pitted from the lead under green on Lap 174, only to get a pit-road speeding penalty on exit in sector 4.
In reality, though, those two small gaffes cost, at most, two positions for Kenseth. His No. 20 JGR Toyota was very, very good, but Johnson was the clear class of the field, which Kenseth readily admitted.
All things considered, Kenseth figured it wasn’t a bad outing.
“Things could have been a lot worse than they were tonight,” he said. “We didn’t have any tire problems tonight, which was good. Came back, got a top five. It could be a lot worse.”
Kenseth also professed to like his chances heading into the final two races of the season.
“I feel extremely confident heading into Phoenix,” Kenseth said.
Given that Phoenix is a flat track and he was great at the last two flat tracks NASCAR visited — second at Martinsville last week and first at New Hampshire in the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he has good reason for his optimism.
“I’m looking forward to getting to (Phoenix), and I don’t feel too shabby about Homestead, either,” Kenseth said.
And he knows Johnson will be tough to beat.
“They’re going to be strong down the stretch,” Kenseth said of the No. 48 team. “We realize that.”
And Kenseth has two more shots to win his second championship, even though on this day he came up short.
“We’re still in it, we’re close,” he said.
True enough. But for just the second time in the Chase, Kenseth is out of first place, and the clock is ticking.