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Notebook: Chalk up another championship? Not yet, says Rick Hendrick

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

FORT WORTH, Texas -- As dominant as Jimmie Johnson was in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, is team owner Rick Hendrick confident that the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet will deliver the organization's 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title two weeks from now at Homestead?

Yes, Johnson destroyed the opposition at Texas, leading 255 of 334 laps and beating teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., the race runner-up, to the finish line by 4.390 seconds.

Yes, Johnson leads fourth-place finisher Matt Kenseth by seven points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. But Johnson led Brad Keselowski by seven points after eight Chase races last year before losing the title to the Penske Racing driver.

Accordingly, Hendrick isn't ready to stake his claim to the championship.

"Absolutely not," Hendrick said after the race. "We were like this last year going to Phoenix. Anything can happen. You know, we're not going to know how this thing is going to end until the last lap at Homestead. It's so tight. Matt is such a great driver. Anything can happen.

"It happened to us at Phoenix last year (when Johnson blew a tire in the next-to-last race). It's not going to be over until the last lap at Homestead, so we just have to keep doing what we're doing."

Even in Johnson's rout, Hendrick had an anxious moment. With 15 laps left, Johnson reported a vibration in the No. 48 Chevy.

"I started walking toward the Port-o-John," Hendrick quipped in multiple Twitter accounts of the comment. "...I asked him when he had a vibration, please don't say anything on the radio anymore, not with 10 to go."

TOUGH IN TEXAS

The spring race at Texas brought consternation to Penske Racing. The rear housings of drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano failed pre-race inspection, ultimately leading to penalties to both teams.

Though Logano's No. 22 Ford barely made it to the grid in time for the start of the race, he salvaged a fifth-place finish.On Sunday, without the drama, he improved to a career-best third.

To achieve that result, crew chief Todd Gordon paid close attention to the set-up in Keselowski's car, which had qualified second in Friday's time trials.

"Yeah, it was a very uneventful Texas race, which is what we wanted after the first one," Logano said. "So the guys in the AAA Fusion did a great job overnight kind of looking at what Brad's car had and what we went through in practice, because there are times in practice I thought we were one of the fastest cars here, and there were times in practice I thought we were a 10th- to 15th-place car.

"So we kind of went through our notes and made sure we understood all the changes and put together a fast race car today. From the start of the race we started moving our way forward. I felt like I was a second- or third-place car all night."

ROLLER COASTER

Kyle Busch had an up-and-down day at Texas that ended near the middle of the pack.

Busch started fifth but caused the second caution of the race when he brushed the wall on Lap 58. Persistent quick work by his No. 18 crew, and some all-out driving by Busch, got the car as far forward as second in the running order before a pit-road speeding penalty with 35 laps left knocked him back to 13th at the finish.

"We had a tire problem early," said crew chief Dave Rogers, "and the guys did a great job of fixing the race car. That wasn't a bad wreck, but it was bad enough where it could have ruined our day, and they all jumped in there and got the side pulled back out, got it away from the tires and the car still had speed in it.

"Kyle did a phenomenal job of keeping us in the game and just keep chipping there. Kyle thought we had another tire going down, we short-pitted (on Lap 237) and it ended up working out in our favor strategy-wise and gained a lot of track position."

But the strategy came undone with the speeding penalty.

"Things were looking pretty good there, but like I told Kyle after the race -- on a team, everybody is giving 100 percent, and when everybody is giving 100 percent sometime they give 100.1 and that .1 gets you in trouble. Kyle feels terrible today because he sped on pit road late in the race, but this is a team and we've got his back.

"He was giving us all he had to give us the best finish possible, and we took a little bit more than what was there. That's OK -- we'll go to Phoenix and Homestead and race them."
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