Five things we learned from the AAA Texas 500 Chase race

Jimmie Johnson’s stunning late-race pass of Brad Keselowski to win Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway certainly provided a surprise ending, given that Keselowski led 312 of 334 laps in the race and appeared headed to an easy victory.

But in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it’s never over until, well, it’s over, as Johnson proved once again on Sunday.  

Here are five things we learned from the eighth race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

5. The low downforce package can’t come soon enough — Let’s call a spade a spade here: Until the last 20 laps, the only drama in the race was wondering which driver would suffer the next tire failure. The current aero package at 1.5-mile tracks simply does not produce compelling, dramatic racing most of the time. Hopefully, that will change next year when NASCAR adopts its low-downforce package.

4. Team Penske is in deep trouble — Keselowski was four laps away from being locked into the Championship Round of the Chase. But when Johnson passed him with four laps to go, that all went out the window. Combined with teammate Joey Logano’s early tire failure, Team Penske has its back to the wall. Logano can’t advance to the finals unless he wins at Phoenix next week and Keselowski’s situation is almost as dire. Two weeks ago, it seemed Penske would have two cars in the final round. Now, they probably won’t have any.

3. The title race is still wide open — The only driver guaranteed a spot in the Championship Round of the Chase is Jeff Gordon, who won last week’s race at Martinsville Speedway. For the moment, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. hold the next three spots, but that could all change at Phoenix, where seven drivers will square off for the final three Chase berths. No one other than Gordon is safe, which ought to make for high drama in the desert.

2. Chase races don’t have to end in controversy — What didn’t happen at Texas is almost as interesting as what did: Two drivers didn’t wreck each other for the win. No driver punched another driver after the race. No one was called to the NASCAR hauler for bad behavior. Instead, over the closing laps, Johnson and Keselowski put on a great show that featured hard, clean racing. It was an intense, high-stakes battle that saw two champions race like champions instead of racing like middleweight boxers. It was refreshing to watch.

1. Johnson is still pretty damned good — Once he was eliminated from the Chase because of a parts failure, it became easy to overlook Johnson, especially with all the controversy going on. But you know what? There’s a reason that he, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have combined for 75 race victories and six Sprint Cup championships: They are pretty damned good at what they do.