Jeff Gordon heads to the garage after he brushed the wall at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Gordon came into the day third in the points standings but left in sixth place.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
FORT WORTH — Jimmie Johnson led 255 of 334 laps for a dominating victory Sunday that put the five-time champion back in the Chase for the Sprint Cup lead with two races left in the season.
Johnson and Matt Kenseth arrived at Texas Motor Speedway tied in points, though Kenseth was the leader based on his seven wins.
Johnson got his sixth victory this season, becoming only the second three-time Cup winner at Texas. The No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet team takes a seven-point lead to Phoenix next week.
"I've been watching a lot of MMA fighting lately, and you'll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody's got a fight won, and it doesn't end that way," Johnson said. "It's how this is going to be. Matt didn't have maybe the best day, but he still finished fourth. This thing is going to the last lap at Homestead. It's going to come down to a mistake."
Kenseth was running second behind Johnson for much of the first half of the race before getting penalized for speeding. That dropped Kenseth to 16th place and more than 28 seconds back, although the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota recovered to finish fourth.
"We were just being too aggressive. Honestly, the 48 had us ... they were just dominant all weekend," Kenseth said. "That speeding penalty got us behind. We definitely didn't need that, but really don't know if at the end of the day that it really affected our finish much."
Johnson got his 66th career victory and won at Texas for the second fall in a row. He has a record 24 Chase victories.
Last November, Johnson also left the Lone Star State with a seven-point lead. Brad Keselowski overcame that the last two races to give Roger Penske his first Cup championship.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., had his fifth runner-up finish of the season, rolling across the line more than four seconds after his Hendrick teammate. Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in all but one of the eight Chase races so far, but has still gone 55 races since he has won.
Joey Logano finished third ahead of Kenseth.
At Phoenix, where the Chase goes next Sunday, Johnson is a four-time winner and finished second earlier this year. His average finishing spot of 6.4 there is significantly better than the 17.2 for Kenseth, who has one victory at Phoenix and finished seventh there eight months ago.
Kenseth was running second just past the midway point at the high-banked 1½-mile Texas track when Johnson pulled down pit road, a lap before Kenseth came in as the last to pit on a cycle of green-flag stops.
But Kenseth was caught speeding on pit road and had to serve a drive-through penalty. By the time he got back on the track, he was the last car on the lead lap and about 25 seconds further behind than he had been before the two had pitted on consecutive laps.
There was a caution a few laps later that got Kenseth up three spots, and more importantly tightened up the field.
Within a few laps after the ensuing restart, Kenseth was back in the top 10 and within eight seconds of Johnson.
By then, Kyle Busch had moved back into second, the same spot he had been before a right front tire went down and he went high to scrape the wall on lap 57 to bring out a caution. Busch, who won the spring race in Texas, finished 13th.
When Busch went into the wall, he was between Johnson and Kenseth, who were 1-2 going into pit road. The top two Chase contenders didn't exit that way.
While Johnson had a quick stop, he was second out behind polesitter Carl Edwards, who had the stall closest to the scoring line. Kenseth has an issue on his stop that dropped him to sixth.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was in contention for another championship after his win a week earlier at Martinsville moved him up to a season-high third in points.
But on lap 74, the front left tire on the No. 24 Chevrolet blew, sending Gordon high and hard into the wall between the first and second turns. His team took a long time to make repairs and he was able to return to the race late, finishing 38th and 187 laps off the pace.