FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Brad Keselowski was dominating at Texas, leading lap after lap and getting oh so close to a victory that would have given him one of the four championship-contending spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup finale.
Until Texas fall favorite Jimmie Johnson came charging after the final restart.
Keselowski led a track-record 312 of 334 laps Sunday after starting from the pole, but couldn’t keep Johnson from winning the Texas fall race for the fourth straight year.
“Just one step short of having the awesome day we needed to have,” Keselowski said. “I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it at the moment. The 48 car had so much speed those last 10 laps.”
With the already-eliminated Johnson getting his 75th career victory, three spots are still up for grabs at Phoenix, the last race before the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The only championship contender set is retiring four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the Martinsville winner last week and Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Busch leads the points race for at least two of the spots, ahead of defending Chase champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Carl Edwards is next, followed by Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano.
“It’s not a must-win situation for us like it is for some other guys,” said Kyle Busch, who finished fourth Sunday. “Couldn’t be more pleased with the position we got right now.”
After the final restart with 18 laps left, Keselowski and Truex were side-by-side, and even made contact at one point before Truex went in front very briefly.
Keselowski almost as quickly got back in front, and Johnson also went charging past Truex into second place and right on the leader’s tail. Truex lost his power steering in those closing laps, and slipped to finish eighth.
Johnson kept pushing and on the backstretch on lap 331, he finally got past when Keselowski got really loose out of the second turn. Johnson went on to win by more than a second.
“That was the first I had seen him that vulnerable all day. I just kept the pressure on him, kept searching for line,” Johnson said.
“I did everything I could to hold him off but he was way faster that last run,” Keselowski said. “As I sit right now, and maybe I’ll change my mind, I don’t know what I would have done differently, or could have done differently.”
Minutes after the race, suspended driver Matt Kenseth tweeted, “Good work JimmieJohnson! Textbook pass for the win at the end of the race when someone is trying to take your lane. #quintessential”
After Logano chalked up contact with Kenseth at Kansas last month as aggressive racing for a win, NASCAR chairman Brian France referred to the move as “quintessential.”
Logano got knocked from first to last among the eight championship contenders after being intentionally wrecked by Kenseth at Martinsville a week ago as payback. NASCAR then suspended Kenseth for two races, and his appeals were denied.
“Clearly he was watching and bored at home,” Johnson said, when asked about Kenseth’s tweet. “That’s a nice buzz word. … Thank you, buddy. I don’t know how to even answer that.”
Logano’s title shot took another huge hit when he had a blown tire after only 10 laps at Texas, where he finished 66 laps back in 40th place.
Johnson led only six laps to get his fifth win of the season, his first in 20 starts and one within Dale Earnhardt for the seventh-most in NASCAR history. The No. 48 Chevrolet also won the spring race at Texas and is the first driver to win three consecutive Cup races at the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile track.
Harvick finished third, even after he twice had to come in to replace punctured tires after running over something on the track, and having to drive one-handed for a long stretch when he was having to hold on to the shifter to keep his car from popping out of gear.
“We just kept gouging away and everything worked out in the end,” Harvick said.
Logano kept the No. 22 off the wall after spinning on the backstretch, but there was still significant damage to the rear fender and the inside of the car. He was 64 laps back when he returned to the track.
“The left rear tire came apart and shredded everything inside the car,” Logano said. “It did a lot more damage than just the tire blowing apart.”
The only one of the title contenders who finished outside of the top nine at Texas, Logano will have to win next week to get to the finale with a championship shot for the second year in a row.
Kenseth’s streak of 571 consecutive starts, which was the second-longest active streak behind the Gordon’s 795 in a row. Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman have each started 502 consecutive races since the 2002 Daytona 500.
Camping World Truck Series points leader Erik Jones took over in Kenseth’s No. 22 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, and the 19-year-old driver finished 12th.