Posted By: Brian Eberly – Follow at @beberly18
November 8, 2015
In the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Era, 80 percent of the NASCAR playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway have been won by Chase-eligible drivers. Brad Keselowski looked to continue that trend in Sunday’s AAA 500, leading 312 of 334 laps in an absolutely dominating performance. However, six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson would spoil Keselowski’s day, taking the lead with four laps to go en route to victory lane.
Martin Truex Jr. gave Keselowski a challenge for the lead on the final restart with 18 laps to go, but Keselowski was able to pull away before a final challenge from Johnson.
Johnson, who had won four of the last six races at Texas Motor Speedway entering this weekend, beat Keselowski to the checkered flag by 1.082 seconds in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. The victory was the fifth of the season for Johnson, who is no longer in the Chase but was able to prevent Keselowski from clinching a birth in the Championship Round.
“I just kept pressure on him. I could see that he was really tight and that was the first I had seen him that vulnerable all day,” Johnson said of the pass for the lead. “I just kept the pressure on him, kept searching for a line. He saw me coming on the top and protected it. I just kept trying to put pressure on him hoping for a mistake. He got real loose off of Turn 2 and I had a big run down the backstretch and drove it in really far into Turn 3 hoping to hear clear. Once I did I knew I was home free.”
Entering the weekend, Keselowski had the worst average finishing position among the eight Chase-eligible drivers at Texas (17.3) and was 24 points below the cutoff line for the Championship Round.
Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion, started from the pole in his No. 2 Wurth Ford and shattered the track record for laps led at Texas, but finished second and will need a win next weekend at Phoenix to keep his championship hopes alive.
Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, must win next weekend at Phoenix or his chance at a championship this season will officially come to an end. On Lap 10, Logano suffered a flat left rear tire that shredded the sheet metal on his No. 22 Ford and sent him for a spin.
“The left rear tire came apart and shredded everything inside the car,” Logano said. “It did a lot more damage than just the tire blowing apart. I don’t know. We needed to win.”
Logano wasn’t the only driver to experience issues with their Goodyear Eagles on Sunday, as Harvick cut a tire on Lap 36 and Ryan Newman suffered the same fate on Lap 43. Kyle Larson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also suffered from tire issues.
Harvick was running second at the time of his tire issue, but was able to immediately get to the apron and the tire didn’t explode like Logano’s, leaving Harvick with no damage on his No. 4 Chevrolet. Harvick restarted in 40th but was able to quickly work his way back toward the front of the field.
Crew chief Rodney Childers indicated over the radio that the debris was a piece of sheet metal and believed it was a piece of the window shim from the Logano wreck. Harvick believed it was possible, saying that the debris from the Logano wreck was still on the track and that track cleanup crews just blew it to the bottom of the track.
The early tire issue wasn’t the only problem for the defending Sprint Cup champion during the race, as Harvick had to battle the shifter slipping out of gear before a second tire failure, this time the right rear tire, with 53 laps to go.
Harvick, who finished second in his previous two starts at Texas, battled his way to a third-place finish as he heads to Phoenix, where he has won the last four races.
Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr, Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10.
Gordon, who clinched his spot in the Championship Four with the victory last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, is the only driver locked in as the remaining seven Chase drivers will battle for the final three spots next weekend at Phoenix.
Kyle Busch (+11), Kevin Harvick (+10) and Martin Truex Jr. (+7) currently occupy those three spots, while Carl Edwards (-7), Brad Keselowski (-19), Kurt Busch (-28) and Joey Logano (-63) have their work cut out for them next weekend.
The race was slowed by nine cautions for 47 laps and featured 15 lead changes among eight different drivers.
Stay tuned as this post will be updated with quotes and further post-race content.