Johnson vs. BK one heckuva show
FORT WORTH, Texas -- What more could you ask for? Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski -- the two men neck and neck for the Sprint Cup championship, racing side by side in the closing moments that included three dramatic restarts in the last 19 laps.
It was one restart too many for Keselowski, who couldn't stop Johnson's charge past him to the outside on a green-white-checkered dash at the end.
Johnson got one last chance to get by his new rival and he made the most of it, earning the 60th victory of his career and taking a seven-point lead over Keselowski with two races remaining to decide the 2012 title.
But what a show this was. It sure didn't start that way. Sunday's event at Texas Motor Speedway was long and uneventful for a good part of the day, but the finish was worth the wait.
Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings
Jimmie Johnson won at Texas to extend his lead to seven points atop the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings.
|1. Jimmie Johnson|
|2. Brad Keselowski (-7)|
|3. Clint Bowyer (-36)|
|4. Kasey Kahne (-58)|
|T-5. Matt Kenseth (-72)|
|T-5. Jeff Gordon (-72)|
|7. Denny Hamlin (-73)|
|T-8. Tony Stewart (-80)|
|T-8. Martin Truex Jr. (-80)|
|10. Greg Biffle (-83)|
|11. Kevin Harvick (-101)|
|12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-151)|
Bad Brad was Brave Brad down the stretch, gambling on a two-tire pit stop to get the lead, then holding off Johnson (who had four fresh tires) when Johnson tried to pass him with eight laps to go.
Not many racers can stop Johnson in that situation, but Keselowski didn't give an inch when Johnson challenged him. Frankly, it was Keselowski at his best, showing skills as a driver that few people believe he had by keeping the five-time champ behind him as they raced inches apart at 185 mph.
You had to see it to believe it. This is what NASCAR racing should be, what everyone wants it to be on the 1.5-mile ovals that so often disappoint us.
Not this time. This was the 15th round of a heavyweight fight with both men trading blows until the final bell.
"It was an awesome race," Johnson said in Victory Lane. "I have a lot of respect for [Keselowski] and that team. I thought our cars were pretty equal. I expect hard racing. They are keeping us honest and pressing us hard."
A little too hard in Johnson's eyes on the restart with 19 laps to go. Keselowski came out of the pits fourth, but got out first after taking only two tires when the other leaders took four.
Moments after the green flag flew, Johnson was screaming on his radio that Keselowski jumped the start. Kyle Busch, who was second on that restart, agreed.
"I guess there are no restart rules," Busch said after the race. "Brad went early the last two times from my vantage point. From my experience with Brad, it doesn't surprise me."
Keselowski was walking into the interview room as Busch made that comment. The two men never looked at each other.
Busch isn't Keselowski's problem. Johnson is. And it appeared Johnson was the restart violator on the GWC when his car got to the line before Keselowski, a no-no in the rule book.
"NASCAR has said they are not going to get out a micrometer to measure that kind of stuff," Keselowski said. "By that interpretation, it was fair play on both sides."
To argue over restart rules misses the point. This was go-for-broke racing for a victory between two guys vying for the championship -- brute force versus brute force.
It was edge-of-your-seat racing that bordered on losing control. That's racing the way it should be. Johnson thought it was a little too aggressive on Keselowski's part when Johnson tried to go by outside on one restart.
"I was a little shocked by [Keselowski's] commitment into Turn 1," Johnson said. "The 2 car [Keselowski] was coming up the track and took us to a fourth or fifth lane. I've joked about seeing Elvis in the past. This was past seeing Elvis.
"I pointed at [Keselowski] that I wanted him to use his head. It just doesn't need to come down to that. We walked right up to the line and went to the edge. It's the first time we raced each other to that level. But he came up and shook my hand in Victory Lane."
Keselowski offered no apologies for trying everything he could to keep Johnson behind him in the final laps.
"I raced hard," Keselowski said. "We both came back around, so there's something to be said for that. It was a good fight, just a dogfight. I fought as hard as I could.
"I came up a little bit short, but I thought I had it until that last restart. Those restarts are like rock-paper-scissors. You are going to lose eventually. I won two out of three."
The two title contenders were there at the end fighting for the win because they do the things they must do to overcome mistakes and have a shot when it matters.
Keselowski went from first to ninth on a pit stop with 54 laps to go when he slid too deep in his pit stall and had to back out to get around Danica Patrick's car in front of him.
He made up five spots on the track before gambling on two tires for his last stop. Crew chief Paul Wolfe let his driver make the call, just as he did in Martinsville when Brad elected not to pit at the end.
The two-tire stop got the No. 2 Dodge to the front, and surprisingly, he stayed there until the GWC restart with two laps to go.
"It was worth a shot," Keselowski said. "It's something I thought was the right way to go. Paul and I made the call together, but I might have helped him a little."
They went for it, something the No. 2 team has done all season. But Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy team came out on top at the end, as they have so many times in the past seven years.
However, the title fight is far from over. The Big Two put of a big show at TMS. And there's more to come.
"The 48 caught some breaks today on the yellows,'' Keselowski said. "But I feel confident if we put out an effort like this we can win and be tough to beat for the championship."
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