Brad Keselowski can’t seem to leave the November race at Texas Motor Speedway in a good mood.
A year ago, he was involved in a post-race brawl with Jeff Gordon. This year, he’s left scratching his head after losing a race, and possibly a championship berth, in which he led all but 22 laps.
But what did he expect with Jimmie Johnson in the field?
Johnson continued his dominance at Texas, playing spoiler in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the second consecutive year in winning the AAA Texas 500 on a perfect Sunday afternoon that saw seven Chase drivers finish in the top 10.
But nobody could top Johnson, who extended his track record to six wins, including winning the past three TMS Sprint Cup races and four straight November races.
6 Career wins at Texas for Jimmie Johnson
“Just very rewarding for the team,” said Johnson, who led only six laps on the day. “This No. 48 team worked all year to be in championship contention. We clearly don’t have a shot at it … it’s tough to work so hard all year long and not have a shot at the championship. This is kind of a silver lining in that.”
As Johnson went through the customary Texas celebration by donning a cowboy hat and shooting six-shooters in Victory Lane, Keselowski tried to find his own silver lining in a disappointing day.
Sure, he was proud of his team taking advantage of the pole position and setting a track record by leading 312 laps. But, deep down, a dejected Keselowski knew the opportunity ultimately lost.
A win would have given him one of four automatic Chase berths into the championship race Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now, he remains in a dubious must-win situation going into the Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix next week, much like Team Penske teammate Joey Logano.
“There is a lot to be proud of. We came up one spot short, which is unfortunate,” said Keselowski, who won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race but remains winless in Cup races at TMS.
Just one step short of having the awesome day we needed to have
“Just one step short of having the awesome day we needed to have. But we know if we keep running like we have the last two weeks, we’ll win races.
“We need to win the next two. I understand that. But I think we have a great opportunity to do it, as well.”
Keselowski had no regrets about how he and his team handled the final laps. Coming out of the race’s last caution with 18 laps left, Keselowski appeared to be in the driver’s seat. He couldn’t hold Johnson off, however.
Johnson eventually caught him and had a textbook pass with four laps remaining.
“I kept working on him and working on him,” Johnson said. “I could see he was tight and his car wasn’t ideal.”
Said Keselowski: “The 48 car [of Johnson] had so much speed the last 10 laps. I don’t know what I could have done differently.”
Keselowski wasn’t the only Chase driver who exited in a tough spot. His teammate, Logano, blew a tire on the ninth lap and is also on the brink of elimination.
So is Kurt Busch, who finished seventh but needs to win his way into the championship.
On the flip side, Johnson’s victory helped some Chasers by guaranteeing at least two of the final four spots will be determined by points. Kyle Busch, who finished fourth, and Kevin Harvick, who finished third, are sitting in good shape, as each have a double-digit points cushion from the cutoff line.
Martin Truex Jr. is fourth in the points standings after an eighth-place run. He has a seven-point cushion over Carl Edwards, who finished fifth.
7 Chase drivers posted top-10 finishes Sunday
“There’s no denying that us as the 18 car cheering for the 48 helps our situation,” Kyle Busch said. “It makes those guys that are in dire need of a win have to work hard for it. Sometimes you can’t put yourself in that situation.
“It’s frustrating I’m sure for Brad. For what we’ve got going, to focus on the 18 car, it was a good thing for us today.”
The same can be said for Johnson.
Even though he’s out of the championship picture, wins matter for Johnson. And Sunday marked his 75th career win, putting him one shy of tying Dale Earnhardt with 76 for seventh all time.
“Wow. That is all there is to it,” Johnson said. “I forgot about that. So happy to be where we are at. So honored, been so fortunate with great cars, great teammates and look forward to that day to tie such a stud.”