Johnson pads Chase lead in Texas

Win a win at the Texas 500 on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson grabbed a seven-point lead in the Chase for...

Win a win at the Texas 500 on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson grabbed a seven-point lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Two races remain.

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:58 PM ET

If Jimmie Johnson goes on to win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship he should send a big share of his prize money to Martin Truex Jr.

It was a crash by Truex with five laps to go in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday that handed the race win to Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet team after he was losing ground to rival Brad Keselowski on the previous re-start.

Keselowski, who had taken just two tires on his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge on the last pit stop, pulled away from Johnson in what the No. 48 team alleged was a “sketchy” re-start.

Another re-start after an incident involving Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle in Turn 2 saw Keselowski once again pull past Johnson to take an eight-car-length lead until the No. 56 Toyota of Truex wrecked on the front straight.

That resulted in a green/white/checkered overtime finish.

This time Johnson timed his start perfectly and got by Keselowski and never looked back.

“Those last three re-starts were a bit like playing rock, paper, scissors,” Keselowski said. “Eventually you are going to lose one.”

The win gives Johnson a seven-point bulge in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with two races left.

He had started Sunday’s race just two points up on Keselowski.

Kyle Busch finished third in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, with Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford and Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet fourth and fifth respectively.

Now Johnson and Kesleowski head to Phoenix International Speedway next week where the No. 48 team has a huge advantage, with four wins.

But in spite of that Johnson cannot be thinking he has it all wrapped up.

Keselowski came back to finish second on Sunday after he had dropped to 10th on a botched pit stop where he skidded through his stall.

And without the final caution, the race win was in his hands.

Johnson said as much in a past race scrum.

“I have got a lot of respect for the No. 2 team,” he said. “We thought our car was pretty equal to theirs. On that (final) re-start we got in front and brought our Chevy to Victory Lane.”

Johnson said that he wished he could go to Phoenix right away for the next race.

“I would like that race to start right now,” he said.

There was a moment on the next to last re-start when the both Johnson and Keselowski were door-to-door and came perilously close to wrecking.

Johnson said he gestured to Keselowski not to get too close.

“I just pointed at him to tell him to use his head,” he said. “There was no use in taking us both out.”

In the end, though, the pair shook hands.

“Brad actually came over to Victory Lane and shook my hand,” Johnson said. “The cool thing was we went right to the edge and then it stopped. It was classy for him to come to Victory Lane.”

Keselowski, rather than being despondent about the loss, appeared upbeat that he was able to take the race to Johnson in the closing laps.

“It was a pretty good fight, Jimmie just has some good speed at the end,” he said. “I thought I had it but we kept getting all those yellows and it just kept giving (Johnson) more shots.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to execute every re-start and Jimmie just did a great job on the last one.”

Keselowski said he can leave Texas knowing he ran a good race.

“I think our two cars were the cars to beat all day long,” he said. “I really thought that once I got out front I had a good shot at the win.

“It was a good effort we just came up a little bit short.”

Keselowski said that he is excited to be in what is now a two-man race for the series crown and he thinks in spite of Johnson’s superior record at both Phoenix and the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway, the No. 2 team will be tough to beat.

“One race win and we can be on top,” he said. “And we are confident that we can still win the final two races. We are going to keep fighting.”


 

 

 

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is down to the final three races.

The Toronto Sun’s Dean McNulty is at Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500 and will be sending reports live from the track from start to finish on Sunday afternoon starting at 2 p.m. EST.

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen won a Formula One race for the first time in three years after taking Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in dramatic fashion.

Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 world champion, grabbed the lead on lap 20 when McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, the pole sitter, stalled on the track and retired from the event due to a reliability issue. The Finn then ran in front for the remainder of the 55-lap race at the 3.451-mile Yas Marina Circuit. He held off Fernando Alonso from Ferrari at the finish by 0.8 seconds for his first win since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. It was also Lotus' first F1 victory since the 1987 United States Grand Prix in Detroit.

Raikkonen left Ferrari at the end of the '09 season and competed in the World Rally Championship as well as the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series for the next two years before joining Lotus for this season.

"I'm happy for the team," Raikkonen said. "It's been a hard season and not easy times lately. Hopefully, this will give everyone belief and turn the tables so we can win more races, if not this year then next year."

Two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel made an amazing comeback to finish third after he had to start from the rear of the field. The Red Bull driver qualified third on Saturday, but he was later disqualified after race stewards determined there wasn't enough fuel in his car to provide a one-liter sample in post-qualifying scrutineering, as required by the sport's technical regulations.

"There are still two races to go, and we've seen how quickly it can change," Vettel said. "If we'd started third, it would have been a different race. We can be proud that we only lost a little (in points)."

Alonso finished second and trimmed Vettel's lead from 13 points to 10, as two races remain -- Austin, Texas (Nov. 18) and Brazil (Nov. 25).

"We had to fight throughout the race, but we had a very good strategy," Alonso said. "We wanted victory, but we think it was a perfect Sunday, as we kept fighting right until the end."

Jenson Button from McLaren was running in third until Vettel overtook him for the position with three laps remaining. Button settled for fourth. William's Pastor Maldonado completed the top-five.

Despite winning the Abu Dhabi GP, Raikkonen was eliminated from the championship battle. Vettel and Alonso are the only drivers who remain in title contention.

A year ago Tony Stewart was leading the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship coming into Texas Motor Speedway, a championship he would win three races later at Homestead by the thinnest of margins over Carl Edwards.

This year, Stewart is in the Chase, but is pretty much destined to finish mid-pack.

He is currently in ninth place, 69 points back of leader Jimmie Johnson.

It has not stopped him from giving advice, however, on what it takes to win at Texas.

"You have to be comfortable or you're not going to go fast," he said of TMS. "This track, the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We've seen the track get wider and it's made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side."

He said in order to win drivers should stay close to the bottom of the track.

"The fastest way is the shortest way because it all has the same amount of grip, so the shorter distance is faster," Stewart said. "Every year we come here, I think the racing just gets better and better, as far as being able to move around on the race track and guys not having to just follow each other and get stuck behind each other. You can actually pass. You can race. You can get away from guys if your car's fast."

 

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson will start Sunday's AAA Texas 500 in first place, both on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval and on the leaderboard in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

It is the kind of statement that the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team likes to make at this time if year: We are here to win another championship.

And it isn't bragging, as they say, if it is true.

This is a guy who, except for last season's hiccup, has won five championships in a row.

No one in NASCAR history — not Richard Petty, not Dale Earnhardt, not Jeff Gordon — has been able to do make their mark on the sport the way Johnson has.

With his pole position-winning lap in qualifying, Johnson just put another shot across the bows of his competitors.

The thing is, Johnson knows it too.

"I look over the last couple of weeks and what our team was able to accomplish at Kansas with a damaged race car and then what we did last week (winning at Martinsville), is quite a statement in that we're serious about this championship and we're doing the right things to go out there and try to win this thing," he said.

He is going into these final three races -- Sunday at Texas, next week at Phoenix and the finale Nov. 18 at Homestead -- with a head of steam.

It is a pattern that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have perfected.

"As you get closer to the end of the year, (the races) feel like they mean a little bit more," he said after his pole winning run. "But, it's just another pole. Not saying that in a negative way, but the benefits that come with it are the same that you would have at any other track.

"We have 500 long, gruelling miles on Sunday. So the larger battle is definitely on Sunday here at the track. Hopefully all of these battles that we are winning right now will total up to winning the war at the end of the year."

Johnson said the late-season spurt gives him and everybody on the No. 48 Chevrolet team a boost, a feeling that the championship is somehow inevitable.

"It's funny, because when you run really well, you build confidence in your own head, and around your team about how things went," he said. "Getting poles are pretty special, and we got a good one (at Texas), and in a timely point in the season."

Johnson, however, is not building his pole performance into a guarantee that it will lead directly to a sixth championship.

He just sees it as a step in that direction -- one in conjunction with what else he has done to get to the top -- even if it is just a two-point bulge over second-place Brad Keselowski..

"Honestly it's really been the same thing throughout the Chase, and that's to go out and get as many points as possible," Johnson said. "I'm in the mindset of sitting on the pole and winning the race. I think that's what you have to do with as tight as the points have been and with how strong the competitors have been on the race track."

He said the razor-thin gap between him and Keselowski still gives some hope to the other three or four Chase drivers who are still in championship contention.

Denny Hamlin, for instance, was third in the points until his No. 11 Toyota suffered electrical problems at Martinsville and ended his title hopes.

"Denny's troubles have put a gap for Brad and I over third spot," Johnson said. "And I guess in some respects, you can look at a two-guy breakaway right now, but I'm not putting too much stock in that.

"A mid-pack finish for myself and Brad will bring everybody back into it and that's not too big of a margin in my eyes. So, I'm still very focused in getting as many points as possible and trying to win the races."

FINISH LINES

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton put an end to Red Bull's Formula 1 qualifying poles on Saturday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

F-1 points leader Sebastian Vettel could only manage a third place on the grid behind Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, will start seventh on Sunday. ... In an effort to spice up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Texas Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith, only half jokingly, suggested on Saturday the trucks have a hog tied on the back during the race. ... Speaking of trucks Johnny Sauter passed Parker Kligerman with 10 laps left to win the Winstar World Casino 350 on Friday night at TMS.

 

 

Clint Bowyer is not giving up on his chances for a first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. But even in his most optimistic moments he knows there is a steep hill to climb for him and the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota team.

Bowyer sits in third place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, 20 points behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team with three races left — Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway; next week at Phoenix International Raceway; and the finale at Homestead Miami Speedway Nov. 18.

Bowyer joked on Friday that not even Hurricane Sandy could slow down Johnson, but he mused there might be other ways to keep the No. 48 driver from winning his sixth Sprint Cup trophy.

Johnson, of course, lives in New York City with his former-model wife Chandra and daughter Genevieve.

“Well, Jimmie wasn’t in New York when Sandy hit; he was in North Carolina so it looks like he made it (to Texas),” Bowyer said. “So, scratch that from the list of (ways) that I could win this championship.

“I think a hitman is probably out of order. He rides his bicycle a lot — I was hoping maybe he would blow his knee out or something. Nothing career-ending or anything. Maybe painful — something painful to keep him out of the car.”

On the serious side, Bowyer said he has to admire Johnson and knows that the way to a championship for anybody in NASCAR Sprint Cup has to go through the No. 48 team.

“You have to beat him,” he said. “It’s incredible the job they do each and every year and it’s a challenge for everybody to try to outrun him. They are so solid.”

Bowyer said even when misfortune strikes Johnson, as it did when he hit the wall at Kansas two weeks, he still managed a top-10 finish in a bashed-up race car.

“We saw in Kansas, just about the time you think, ‘Oh boy, they’ve done stubbed their toe now,’ they had a hell of a Band-Aid and got it fixed right back up,” Bowyer said. “I think he finished right behind me and its like, ‘How did they possibly do that?’ That’s what it takes to win a championship and if we do that, it’s going to be pretty cool.”

The 33-year-old native of Emporia, Kan., isn’t about to roll over and play dead, however, no matter that the odds are stacked against him catching and passing Johnson.

“We just have to keep digging,” he said. “We came up a little bit short in Martinsville. We had a good car we just unfortunately lost a few points there. Nonetheless, we have to make up for it here in Texas. We’ve got three races to go and everyone is still set on kill.”

Bowyer said it is particularly frustrating because the team has been very good in the first seven Chase races, giving him good cars every time out.

“We’ve been solid,” he said. “We’ve been more solid than I think I’ve ever been in the Chase and still we found ourselves losing points and it’s just incredible to me how competitive this sport is. It just keeps getting harder and harder and harder.”

For his part Johnson said on Friday that he fears Bowyer, even if he is 20 points back, and fourth-place Kasey Kahne, who is 26 points back.

“Clint is a serious threat, so is Kasey,” Johnson said. “Those guys have been very strong. I think both have shown their best in the Chase and have really delivered and stepped up.

“I’m glad that we have a gap over those guys. If we slip up they are going to be right there.”

Bowyer agrees, saying, he is willing to be patient and pounce if Johnson does make a mistake over the final three Chase races

“Anything can happen,” Bowyer said. “Three races is still a lot of racing. You can go into Homestead 20 points out and win this thing. You never know what’s going to happen.

“It could come down to the last lap, Jimmie runs out of gas and you win the championship. We’ve seen that before. There’s just so many crazy things that could still happen.”

FINISH LINES

Sad news Friday that former Canadian racing champion Craig Hill, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1996, passed away at his home in West Lorne, Ont. ... After a season without a win by either Juan Pablo Montoya or Jamie McMurray, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will use Hendrick Motorsports engines to power its Cup cars next year, ending a four-year relationship with Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines.

WINNING FORMULA PRICIER

The cost of winning in Formula 1

just took a dramatic and expensive turn upward.

FIA, the governing body of F-1, shocked teams on Friday by releasing new entry fees for 2013 that would add about

$4 million US to the cost of the championship team.

According to the new scheme, the constructors’ champion would be forced to pay an initial $500,000 plus $6,000 for each point earned during the season.

Everybody else pays the same initial fee but just $5,000 per point.

Based on last season’s Red Bull championship team, which ended up with 650 points, that would mean a jump from about $400,000 per season to $4.4 million a season.

 


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