html

ThatsRacin.com


Johnson rounding into championship form

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Nov. 05, 2012

With the Chase on, the five-time champion is rising to the occasion.

For the second consecutive week, Jimmie Johnson won everything that counted at the time it mattered most.

Johnson, who started from the pole, passed Brad Keselowski on the next to last lap and held off his nearest Sprint Cup Series championship contender to win Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The win is Johnson’s fifth of the season but second consecutive in the Chase. He won the pole and the race last weekend at Martinsville, Va.

The victory slightly expanded Johnson’s advantage in the series standings over Keselowski from two to seven with two races remaining.

“The way things have been going, you have to win the race to get points. Reminds me of last year’s Chase in some respects,” said Johnson, who is on track for a sixth Cup title.

“It was just a great performance by the No. 48 team all weekend long. To win the pole and lead the most laps and win the race is a big deal.

“I’m just excited and really wish we were in Phoenix right now getting ready to start the next race.”

Johnson’s victory was mired in some controversy.

Keselowski used a two-tire pit stop late in the race to take the lead and was able to hold off the rest of the lead-lap cars who took four new tires through two restarts.

Mark Martin wrecked on Lap 330 and bunched the field one last time and forced a two-lap overtime. Johnson appeared to cross the start/finish line ahead of Keselowski on the restart on Lap 334, then completed a pass for the lead exiting Turn 2.

Johnson, on fresher tires, then quickly put significant distance between himself and Keselowski before taking the checkered flag.

In its rulebook and in pre-race drivers meeting, NASCAR emphasizes that the second-place car cannot beat the first-place car to the line on restarts. NASCAR has black-flagged drivers for violating it in the past, but it has also – like in this instance – elected not to make a call on occasion.

“I think NASCAR has said before it’s not going to get out a micrometer and measure that kind of stuff,” Keselowski said. “That’s kind of the interpretation of the rules now.

“Via that interpretation, I think it was probably fair play on both sides.”

Both Johnson and Kyle Busch, who finished third, had complained of Keselowski failing to follow proper procedure on the previous two restarts.

That prompted Busch’s retort, “I guess there are no restart rules.”

Much like the race, this year’s Chase seems like it will be decided in a one-on-one battle between Johnson and Keselowski, if it didn’t already.

With two races left, Clint Bowyer is the closest competitor left, trailing Johnson by 36 points.

Johnson believes he’s in “a small amount of control” of his destiny.

“We don’t have to catch any or make up any points,” he said. “Seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on.

“We’re still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we’re behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.”

Matt Kenseth finished fourth in the race and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. Jeff Gordon appeared ready to contend for the win late in the race but developed a problem with his right-front tire and was forced to pit under green on Lap 270 of 335.

Danica Patrick, making her ninth Cup start of the season, finished 24th and finished on the lead lap for the first time this season.

“It felt like it was a nice progression of the weekend, where I actually felt like I knew I why I went faster and I knew why I went slower,” she said.

“In the race, we were creeping along. We spent most of the race tight, but there late in the race we finally got it freed up enough to start really running some good speed.”

More racing news, blogs, photos and more at www.ThatsRacin.com.