Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, eliminated from contention in the previous round, played spoiler Sunday as he captured the AAA Texas 500 in a dramatic second green/white-checkered overtime finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
While Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet) was celebrating his third consecutive AAA Texas 500 victory with burnouts on the frontstretch, chaos ensued on pit lane after an angry Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet) confronted Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) and a fray quickly developed. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet) pushed Keselowski while Gordon was jawing with him and then the crews got involved in the melee involving the Chase championship contenders.
The disagreement stemmed from the first GWC finish, where Gordon took the restart with the lead and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson beside him on the front row. Johnson grabbed the lead as a bold move by Keselowski resulted in contact with Gordon and ultimately a flat tire that led to a 29th-place finish for the four-time series champion.
The caution flew for Gordon’s flat tire and eventual spin in Turn 3 that set up another GWC finish. Keselowski found himself lining up front against the leader Johnson on the restart. Johnson, on the inside lane, grabbed the lead on the restart while Keselowski found himself also trying to fend off a charging Harvick. Harvick got past Keselowski on that lap but he did not have enough time to chase down Johnson, who won by 0.513 of a second for his fourth victory of the season and 70th of his career.
“I saw a little bit (of the melee) on the big screen going down the back straightaway,” Johnson said. “I would definitely have to go to the tape and watch and see what happened there. I know that second to last restart I got hit from behind and I know Brad (Keselowski) got to my outside and I guess in the process of running into me and getting to the outside lane he ruffled some feathers in the process.
“Just and exciting night for us, we had a very fast race car, led a lot of laps. Those cautions at the end, one restart would help me the other would hurt me and in the end we got it done.”
Johnson is now the all-time career Sprint Cup Series victories leader with four, but it didn’t appear he was in for all this drama given his dominant performance. He led nine times for 191 laps, but a record 13 cautions continually bunched the field as well as changed race strategies to give a number of drivers a shot at the victory.
Johnson, Harvick and Keselowski took the top three positions, respectively, while Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota), who was looking to sweep all three NASCAR races after truck and Nationwide wins earlier, finished fourth and Jamie McMurray fifth (No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet).
The AAA Texas 500 is the second of the three Eliminator 8 Round races that did not heed a winner by a Chase driver that would have provided an automatic berth to vie for the series championship in the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Heading to Phoenix next weekend, four of the eight remaining Chase drivers will advance by virtue of a win and the remaining positions via their points position.
Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Ford), who finished 12th, and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota), who finished 10th, are now the co-points leaders going to Phoenix. Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), who finished 15th, is two back; Gordon is 12 back; polesitter Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota), who finished 25th, and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford), who was ninth, are 13 back; Keselowski is 17 behind and Harvick 18.