Nobody should be surprised Jimmie Johnson won again at Texas Motor Speedway.
He dominated the final 175 laps of the Duck Commander 500, leading 112 of them, including when the checkered flag dropped. He held off Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final laps to extend his track record to five career wins.
“Texas has just kind of grown for us,” Johnson said. “The surface fits my style, fits [crew chief Chad Knaus], and what our team does together.”
This comes at a race at which some drivers felt hints of change might be on the horizon. As Carl Edwards said before the race, “I believe it will look a little differently here in the next few months.”
Maybe so, but Texas didn’t foreshadow anything to back that statement up. Instead, Johnson re-established himself as a championship threat and reigning champion Harvick continued his impressive run as being the winner or runner-up in nine of the last 10 races.
What’s the saying … the more things change, the more they stay the same?
At least that appears to be the case for now. Here are five takeaways from an uneventful race that probably put more people to bed than kept them up late Saturday:
1 Top drivers separating themselves
It’s early, but the contenders have already begun separating themselves from the field. Harvick has won twice and finished second four times in seven races. Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. have recorded top-10s in every race, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has three third-place runs. Said Earnhardt: “Our cars are really good. Our motors are amazing. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a lot more competitive over the last couple years.”
2 Watch out for Team Penske
They may not be as popular as the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, such as Johnson and Earnhardt, but Logano and Brad Keselowski are just as big of threats to win the series championship. Logano continues to build off his breakout year last season, and had another strong run with a fourth-place finish at Texas. Keselowski, meanwhile, finished fifth after a late commitment-line violation cost him a chance to win the race. Said Keselowski: “I was trying to make my mind up and chose poorly.”
3 Stuck in neutral
It seemed like Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota turned the corner when Denny Hamlin won at Martinsville two Sundays ago. But they followed that up with another disappointing race, with Edwards being the highest finisher with a 10th-place run. That’s the best Edwards has finished this season with Hamlin coming in 11th and David Ragan in 13th. Clearly, this team needs Kyle Busch to return sooner than later. Said Hamlin: “We’ve just got to be patient with it. We know those guys [like Harvick and Johnson] are the ones to beat, but it’s going to take six months for us to get there. I’m confident, though, that by the time we get to the Chase, we’re going to have something that’s capable of running with those guys. We don’t right now.”
4 Concern for Gordon?
Jeff Gordon is the biggest story of the year, his farewell tour in his final full-time racing season. He would love to go out on top, something that most fans would also like to see. He’d make the Chase based on points for now, but Gordon has yet to record a top-five finish. He finished seventh Saturday, a solid race considering some early issues he had to deal with. Does that quiet any cause for concern? Said Gordon: “I don’t know, we just struggled. I’m not really sure where we are missing it. We were not able to get the balance just right, but we didn’t give up, and I’m proud of that.”
5 Up in smoke?
Tony Stewart has gotten off to a horrid start, raising the question whether the 43-year-old driver is on the decline. He has yet to record a top-10 finish in seven races this season, finishing 20th or worse in six of them (he finished 24th Saturday). Stewart’s winless drought is now up to 48 races, and he simply hasn’t been the same driver since a dirt track accident took the life of Kevin Ward last August. He has only one top-10 run in his 19 Cup races since the tragic incident.