Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski went head to head over the closing laps of the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as Johnson made a second to last lap pass on Keselowski during a Green-White-Checkered finish to win his fifth race of 2012 and second straight. The win is also the 700th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Chevrolet and helped Johnson extend his points lead to seven points over Keselowski.
The two battled door to door on a restart with eight laps to go where Keselowski was able to hold off Johnson's challenge with some aggressive driving. It looked like he would win until the ninth caution of the race came out on lap 329 of the scheduled 334 to set up the overtime and Green-White-Checkered situation.
"It was an awesome race, a great way to put it, the gloves are off and it's bare knuckle fighting," Johnson said from victory lane. "I have a lot of respect for that 2 team and those guys are doing a great job. Today our cars were pretty equal."
Johnson dominated early in the race but then Keselowski looked to have the best car toward the end. But a pit road mistake by Keselowski on lap 275 dropped him to ninth and then he took two tires on a pit stop to gain the lead with 19 laps to go. It looked as if he would be able to hold off the charge of Johnson and Kyle Busch who had four tires but it was not meant to be for the second place finisher.
"Man I thought we had it but we kept getting all those yellows and it just kept giving them more shots," Keselowski said. "I knew I wasn't going to be able to execute every restart and Jimmie did a great job on the last one. I had to chose between wrecking him and winning the race and it didn't seem right to wreck him."
With two races left in the season Keselowski is still confident that his Penske Racing No. 2 team can win the championship if they keep having performances like they had at Texas.
The race got underway with Jimmie Johnson leading the field to the green. He would go onto dominate through two rounds of green flag pit stops. Kyle Busch was showing his strength early on also as he was running a strong second but on the first stops on lap 45 Busch slide past his pit stall so he did not collide with Matt Kenseth who was leaving his pit stall. The time lost dropped Busch all the way back to tenth in the running order.
By lap 73 Busch had worked his way back to sixth. By the time the second round of green flag stops started Brad Keselowski had worked his way up to third from the eighth starting position. Johnson meanwhile continued to lead besides relinquishing through green flag stops for a few laps all the way until lap 100 when the first caution flew. Juan Montoya had scrapped the wall on lap 96 which might have led to the caution by NASCAR.
Keselowski took two tires on the ensuing pit stops and would pass Ryan Newman, who stayed out, on lap 106 to gain the race lead for the first time. The second caution would then fly on lap 109 when AJ Allmendinger spun off Turn 4 in his No. 51 car. He went into the infield grass where the front of his car was virtually ripped off. He would retire from the race due to the damage and finish in 36th.
On the lap 119 restart things jammed up in the pack and Bobby Labonte suffered some damage that made an oil line come loose. Montoya went to the grass to avoid the stack up and ripped the front of his No. 42 Chevrolet off much like Allmendinger did. The third caution came out right away. Labonte would finish in 34th and Montoya in 35th after both going behind the wall for a period of time before returning to the track.
For the lap 129 restart Johnson was scored the leader ahead of Keselowski and he would again pull away from his competitors.
On lap 161 Clint Bowyer started a round of green flag stops when he had a tire going down. Keselowski pitted on lap 165 and Johnson on lap 166. By lap 174 Johnson was back in the lead after the round of stops had finished but Keselowski had made up ground and Jeff Gordon showed his strength by working his way up to third place and Kyle Busch was back up to fourth.
On lap 186 the fourth caution came out for debris in Turn 1. After the pit stops Johnson led Busch, Keselowski, Truex, and Gordon for the lap 191 restart. Busch was able to pass Johnson right away and Keselowski also slipped into second as it looked like the No. 48 team had lost the handle somewhat.
The fifth caution came out on lap 224 for debris in Turn 3. For the lap 228 restart after pit stops Busch led Johnson, Keselowski, Bowyer and Gordon. On lap 235 Keselowski was able to pass Busch on the high side to take the lead. By lap 250 Gordon had worked his way up to second place as he was able to pass Busch and Johnson.
Gordon's good run took a turn when on lap 270 he slowed and pitted due to his right front tire cording. Then on lap 275 he was caught a lap down when the sixth caution flew for debris. Gordon would take the wave around to get back on the lead lap. On the pit stops Keselowski pitted from the lead but slid deep into his stall and was unable to pull straight out when Danica Patrick was in her stall in front of Brad. The time he lost dropped him all the way back to ninth.
Johnson took advantage of his championship contender's mistake a got off pit road first. But Kyle Busch was able to get by Johnson on the restart and pull out to a lead. On lap 309 the seventh caution flew when Marcos Ambrose blew a tire and slammed the outside wall. He would finish in 32nd place. Kyle Busch led Johnson, Bowyer, Keselowski and Kenseth onto pit road where the No. 2 made a strategy move by taking two tires to grab the lead for the restart with 19 laps to go.
The move looked like it was going to win them the race but then with 14 laps to go the eighth caution flew when Kasey Kahne got into the outside wall when he could not control his car due to a flat left rear tire. The tire was cut when Jeff Gordon made contact with Kahne as he was in a tight battle with Greg Biffle. Gordon had a lot of damage to his right front and had to pit again to make repairs. Gordon would end up finishing in 14th and Kahne was 25th.
The race restarted on lap 326 and an epic battle ensued between Keselowski and Johnson. In Turn 3 Keselowski got loose with Johnson to his outside. He was able to keep his foot in it and the two made door to door contact as they crossed the stripe with seven to go. In Turn 1 Keselowski crowded up the track and broke Johnson's momentum. Jimmie then had to fight off a pass attempt by Kyle Busch for second place.
It looked like Keselowski was going to have the win but then on lap 329 Mark Martin spun off Turn 4 when he pushed up into the battle of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Martin's No. 55 Toyota slid through the grass and then nosed into the outside wall near the flag stand. That set up the Green-White-Checkered finish as the race was extended one lap past its scheduled distance.
Keselowski led the field to the green with Johnson on his outside. It looked as if Brad spun his tires just a touch which allowed Johnson to enter Turn 1 right on Keselowski's outside. Johnson then beat Keselowski back to the gas in the middle of Turn 1 and 2 and speed down the backstretch with the lead. Brad was able to hold off a charge from Kyle Busch to take home second place.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup standings are as follows. Johnson leads Keselowski by seven points and Clint Bowyer by 36 with only two races left. Kahne is fourth 58 points back with Kenseth and Gordon 72 points back in fifth and sixth. Denny Hamlin struggled and finished 20th. He is now seventh, 73 points back. Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. are both 80 points back in eighth and ninth. Greg Biffle is tenth 83 back. Both Kevin Harvick, 101 back and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 151 back are mathematically eliminated with two races left.
Next Sunday the Chase moves to Phoenix International Raceway where all eyes will once again be on Johnson and Keselowski.
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