FORT WORTH, Texas – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the running of the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway:
• It never ceases to amaze me how Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus always find a way to rise to the top at just the right time. They're never afraid to lose track position early on in order to fix the car to make it good later, which is exactly what they did Sunday.
When it came time to go for the checkers, Johnson blew past Matt Kenseth with barely a lap and a half left. No one has more patience than Johnson, and for good reason. He always seems to come through in the end.
"I think a lot has to do with Jimmie's determination," Knaus said. "He does a very good job training on a weekly basis; he pays a lot of attention to what he's doing to prepare for for a long race. And honestly, I thought a lot of guys, if they get towards the end of the race, they start to fall out of the seat a little."
• It will be a shame if Jeff Gordon doesn't win this championship. But it will also be a testament to the season Johnson is having. He won't back into this title. If he does win, he'll beat one of the sport's greatest drivers at his absolute best.
• Once again, Kyle Busch led a bunch of laps – he was in front for a race-high 153 laps – but didn't win. This is becoming an ugly trend for Shrub. For now we can chalk it up to being young, but if this continues, we'll be talking about one of the great talents who couldn't get his head into the game.
I will say this about Shrub: You have to love watching him race. You don't have to love him as a person, but as a driver, it's a must, because if you like drivers to race for wins – not points – Kyle is your man.
• For the record, Clint Bowyer still has more points with two races to go than Johnson did a year ago.
• The Chase is officially over for Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. It's unofficially over for everyone not named Johnson or Gordon. Imagine if either of them had one bad race. The Chase would be as dramatic as the World Series.
• It was nice to see some long green-flag runs for once. Sure, there were a bunch of cautions, but we also saw some of the best racing of the season. The door-to-door battle between Kenseth and Denny Hamlin was one of the best we've seen this year. And the Kenseth-Johnson scrum for the lead at the end was a close second.
• Did ABC's Brent Musburger really say Jimmie Johnson was threatening to leave Texas with an "insurmountable" lead? I think so. Problem is, even if Johnson had finished first and Gordon last, the lead would have been 128 points, which is not insurmountable.
• I hope you didn't miss Dirk Nowitzki giving the command to the drivers to start their engines. Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks forward, put everything he had into the call, which was nearly as good as Kevin James' rendition early this year.
• If it wasn't for clinching the Busch championship on Saturday, this would have been a nightmare of a weekend for Carl Edwards. He was terrible in practice, finished three laps down and wound up 26th in Sunday's race.
• Texas Motor Speedway is one of the nicest facilities in all of sports. They do everything right, all the way down to the Texas-shaped tiles on the infield. Also, prior to the race they lined the cars up on the track (as opposed to on pit road), which allowed fans in the stands a closer look at the drivers.
• Tough luck for Juan Pablo Montoya, who looked so good early on, leading 10 laps. He broke a valve spring and never contended after that, finishing 25th – three laps down. Still, the stock-car rookie continues to prove he's figuring out the ovals. It's only a matter of time before he and his team put it all together.
Whatever happens over the next two weeks, the battle between Johnson and Gordon will go down as one of the best in recent memory. They haven't been good; they've been great. Both will have a lot to be proud of when the season is over.
Unfortunately, one of them will end the season without a championship, while the other will have a trophy that will serve as a testament to a truly remarkable victory.
I'm just glad to be a witness to it.
- Texas Motor Speedway
- Jimmie Johnson
- Matt Kenseth
- Chad Knaus