Commentary

TMS finish fuels Jimmie Johnson

Frustration over elusive win for Hendrick seeps out, but signs are encouraging

Updated: April 15, 2012, 1:41 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jimmie Johnson's frustration was evident as he sat in the media center at Texas Motor Speedway moments after elusive victory No. 200 for Hendrick Motorsports slipped away again.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
AP Photo/Tim SharpJimmie Johnson's pit crew at TMS gave him something to build on heading to Kansas.
Johnson complained about lapped traffic -- specifically the No. 39 of Ryan Newman -- violating one of racing's unwritten rules and racing him a little too hard, helping Greg Biffle catch up and pass him with 15 laps to go. And he complained about himself, noting that he tried to push things a little too much and paid for it by scraping the wall in Turn 3.

"We were in contention and had a great race car," said Johnson, whose runner-up finish in Saturday's Samsung Mobile 500 was his fifth second-place finish in his past 12 races at TMS (he also has a win in that span). "The last two or three runs, the 16 and I were pretty equal. I got caught in some traffic and came out of pits and we caught in more lap traffic -- guys that were multiple laps down and didn't show much respect.

"We ran with him and then I made a mistake in [Turn] 3 and hit the fence and at that point needed to make sure I brought it home."

Johnson seemed almost defiant, hoping that a couple of close calls in 2012 turn into trips to Victory Lane soon for a driver who has made frequent visits to that joyous spot over the past six seasons.

Maybe because of that, Johnson's frustration seemed to be blowing at about the speed of the 30 mph wind gusts that Mother Nature imparted Saturday on TMS. The wind didn't exactly wreak havoc, as the race had just two cautions -- both for debris -- and finished with 234 consecutive green-flag laps. That's the longest stretch at a superspeedway since Homestead in 1999.

None of that mattered to Johnson when the race ended. Runner-up finishes for a guy who won five consecutive Sprint Cup championships before Tony Stewart wrested the trophy from him last year don't mean too much.

"I just want to win," Johnson said. "I don't care where it is or for whatever reason. Second is nice, but winning is the deal."

He was in position Saturday and it didn't work out. That wasn't quite as disappointing as Martinsville two weeks ago. Then, with a few laps left, it looked like a possible 1-2-3 finish for Hendrick Motorsports with Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. racing for the win. But a late caution and a three-wide wreck on the green-white-checkered allowed Newman to win, leaving the Hendrick boys out of the mix.

"We've been close the last five or six months," Johnson said. "Even last year at different points, we were leading a lot of races and didn't execute at the end. It's nice to be running well, nice to be in the points, but we want to be back to our winning ways soon."

It was another strong week for Hendrick. Gordon started 34th and despite just two cautions and all those green-flag laps, worked his way up to fourth, just his second top-10 of the season. Earnhardt finished 10th and leaves Texas tied for second in the points, 19 behind Biffle. And Johnson's runner-up allows him to go from 10th to eighth in the points.

Johnson's pit crew had a solid night too, which is something to build on for Kansas, where Johnson last won a race in October 2011.

Still, Johnson wanted to be wearing a cowboy hat and shooting guns at the TMS Victory Lane and instead was explaining the "what ifs" in the media center. He wants No. 200 for owner Rick Hendrick, who watched from the pits Saturday night, but that isn't putting any more pressure on him.

"It hasn't played much on my mind because I want to win," Johnson said. "Winning is what my job is about and winning is what Hendrick Motorsports is about and if we win, we'll take care of it. Martinsville could have been 1-2-3. I think about it more after the fact, not leading up to or after the event."

Johnson and his crew now head to Kansas, a place where he has won twice and feels comfortable. They'll arrive knowing they are close to a victory. Can they finish the deal?

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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