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Race Rewind: Looking back at the AAA 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Nov. 03, 2013

Johnson falls short of Stewart’s Texas dominance

• Certainly Jimmie Johnson’s performance in Sunday’s AAA 500 was dominant as he led 255 of the 334 laps. Strangely enough, that was not the most dominant performance by a driver in the Sprint Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway. That record is held by Tony Stewart who led 278 of 334 laps on his way to victory in the November race in 2006, the first season he failed to make the Chase.

• The crowd for Sunday’s race was probably one of the worst since Texas began hosting NASCAR events in April 1997 and clearly the worst since the track began hosting two Cup events per season in 2005. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys were playing a home game on Sunday, which could have contributed to the problem. But there was a significant drop-off in attendance from the spring event, which of course is not one of the 10 Chase races. Hosting Chase races just doesn’t seem to have any added advantage for a track, if it ever did.

• Nationwide Series regular Parker Kligerman made his Cup debut with Swan Racing, a small, underfunded team. He ran competitive most of the day and finished 18th. What does that say for drivers with more experience on a much higher quality teams who finish far worse with no obvious mechanical issues? Clearly track-time isn’t everything.

How the Chase contenders fared

1 Jimmie Johnson (2,342): As good as Johnson was on Sunday he only picked up a seven-point advantage on Matt Kenseth. Johnson left Texas last year with a seven-point advantage over second place but ended up not winning the championship.

“This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes,” he said. “I’m very excited about our performance and what we did here.”

2 Matt Kenseth (-7): Kenseth was doing his best to keep pace with Johnson throughout the race but his run got derailed on Lap 173 when he was penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road. After the penalty, he fell to 16th and the last car on the lead lap but rallied to finish fourth.

3 Kevin Harvick (-40) : Harvick could crack the top-five and contend for the race win, but he finished eighth and moved into third place in the series standings. The only other driver at this point with a plausible chance at winning the championship besides Johnson and Kenseth.

4 Kyle Busch (-52) : Early in the race, Busch had a tire problem and slapped the wall. He fought back to run as high as second and was still running in the top-five late in the race when he was penalized for speeding on pit road during a green-flag pit stop.

5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-62) : Earnhardt has done everything but win this season and his runner-up finish Sunday was his fifth of the season, including three during the Chase.

“We want to put forward a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you're in there for a reason and you don't want to be an also ran,” he said. “So we feel like we're doing a lot of good work and getting really close to probably breaking through and getting a win.”

6 Jeff Gordon (-69): Gordon’s championship chances took a likely-fatal hit early when he had a tire go down and slammed into the wall on Lap 74. He was forced to the garage for extensive repairs.

7 Clint Bowyer (-69): Bowyer had a long battle from the back after a tough day in qualifying on Friday. He short-pit on the final round of green-flag pit stops and grabbed a 10th place out of the race.

8 Greg Biffle (-73): There was a point in the race when Biffle thought he might have an engine issue but it appeared to be debris on the grille. He still managed to finish 12th.

“That was a tough one. The car wasn’t very good in traffic,” he said. “We just weren’t where we wanted to be. It was a tough day.”

9 Joey Logano (-91): After a tough start to the Chase, Logano has slowly crawled back into the Top 10 in points. His third place finish on Sunday tied for his best performance of the Chase (he was also third at Dover).

“From the start of the race we started moving our way forward and I thought I was a second or third place car all night,” he said.

10 Kurt Busch (-96) : Busch had problems in qualifying and was never able to get to the front. He ended up 17th.

11 Carl Edwards (-116): Edwards, the pole winner, had been running well but on Lap 188 he pulled down pit road with an engine problem and ended up done for the day.

“We had such a great weekend going. The car, during the middle part of the race we were struggling but we were starting to get it worked out,” Edwards said.

12 Ryan Newman (-118): Throughout the race Newman fought an exceedingly loose condition – in fact at one point he asked his team to check his tires to see if he had a loose wheel. He rallied for a ninth-place finish – his third top-10 finish of the past four races.

13 Kasey Kahne (-133) : Kahne has had his two best performances of the Chase in the last four weeks and both on 1.5-mile speedways. He was second at Charlotte and fifth at Texas.

5 key moments

1. Johnson took early command of the race, leading 35 of the first 74 laps.

2. Jeff Gordon was forced to the garage after he had a tire go down and slammed the wall on Lap 74. He ended up 38th.

3. During a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 173, Matt Kenseth was penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road. He was running second at the time and dropped to 16th, the last car on the lead lap.

4. Johnson had a slow pit stop during green-flag stops on Lap 240 and came out in fourth. Twenty laps later, he had powered back to the lead.

5. With Johnson firmly in command several drivers tried short-pitting during the final round of green-flag pit stops to gain an advantage. Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up to second but had nothing to stop Johnson’s sixth win of the season.