FORT WORTH, Texas -- We'll get straight to the point. There was no question who was going to win Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
It was all Jimmie Johnson. The five-time champion thoroughly dominated the race -- "nobody had anything" for him, teammate and second place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said -- and led 255 of the race's 334 laps.
OK, sure, there could have been a late race debris caution to bunch up the field, but that didn't happen. Johnson reassumed the lead after the race's final round of pit stops and coasted to a win, four seconds ahead of Junior.
If there was a late race caution, it would have taken a serious mistake for anyone to challenge him. That's how good Johnson and car were. Following the race's final restart on lap 262, Johnson had a second lead on the field in just a handful of laps.
The win gives Johnson a seven point lead over Matt Kenseth with two races to go in the Chase. After the two entered the race tied in the points standings, Kenseth finished fourth.
Johnson won here last year, beating Brad Keselowski in a frantic final laps duel to the finish. That 2012 win gave him a points lead identical to this year's. But as Johnson said in victory lane, "I hope history doesn't repeat itself."
The following week at Phoenix, Johnson cut a tire and crashed, handing the points lead and eventual championship to Keselowski. While you could tell an ebullient Johnson was confident in victory lane, he was careful to consider recent history when talking about the title race.
"This thing is going to come down to the last lap at Homestead and it's going to come down to mistakes," Johnson said.
And each of the title contenders had one on pit road Sunday, though they both turned out to be relatively minor.
Kenseth's came first, when he sped on pit road during a round of green flag stops during the race's midpoint at lap 173. The penalty necessitated a pass-through on pit road, and he fell from 2nd to 16th, the last car on the lead lap. But he immediately picked off two positions upon rejoining the race and caught a break when a caution came out following Carl Edwards' blown engine on lap 189 to remove any danger of losing a lap.
After the race, Kenseth conceded that while his team could have ended up with a better finish, it was no match for Johnson and company.
"Honestly, the 48 had us from the time we unloaded until the time we put it back on the truck this weekend," Kenseth said.
"I thought tonight overall was a really good night, if I hadn't messed up, maybe we would have gotten second.
Johnson's happened when his team had a slow 17-second pit stop under green. However, because the No. 48 was so fast, Johnson feel back only to fifth and quickly regained the lead.
Given the dominance of Sunday's win, it's easy to think that Johnson is an overwhelming favorite. Not so fast. He is the favorite, and after his first win at a 1.5 mile track -- the length of track that Kenseth has performed exceptionally at all season -- that confidence was evident. But remember, it's just seven points. Look at last year. Johnson sure is.
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