Bet on Jimmie Johnson in Texas.
New asphalt? New configuration? Starting from the rear of the field? No problem for NASCAR’s most accomplished driver, and same old story at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson found his way back to Victory Lane on Sunday, putting together an impressive run from the back of the field to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Johnson extended his track-record Cup wins to seven and has now won six of the last 10 races in Texas.
Johnson passed Joey Logano with 16 laps to go and held off a late charge from Kyle Larson to win it. He celebrated in his No. 48 Chevrolet with the custom burnout at the start/finish line, and then joined his crew in Victory Lane.
How sweet it was even if Johnson had a lengthy visit to the infield care center afterward. Johnson’s fluid system in his car wasn’t working, leaving him exhausted and dehydrated by the end of the 3-hour, 24-minute race. He needed three bags of intravenous fluids to get back to feeling normal.
But it was worth it for the win.
“I guess I remembered how to drive; and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” Johnson said. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were just able to execute all day.”
For a guy with seven championships and now 81 career wins, Johnson had a frustrating season to date. He had only one top-10 finish in the first six races, looking as though he may have lost a step in his quest for an unprecedented eighth championship.
But the 41-year-old Johnson reminded everyone he still has plenty left in the tank and is still the favorite in Texas even with the new asphalt and configuration.
“I thought the repave might change it, but I still think I have the keys to the front door,” Johnson said.
No question about it.
Johnson had a forgettable qualifying on Friday, spinning out on his second qualifying lap and “starting” 24th. In reality, Johnson started at the back because he had to change tires after the spin.
That didn’t seem to suggest Johnson would win Sunday, as all of his previous wins had come when he started eighth or better.
But Johnson meticulously made his way to the front of the pack.
“A lot of just trying to manage the slick surface,” Johnson said. “Once we got to about the third run things really started coming together and our car was super-fast. … I drove up through there, passed all those cars and won this thing. An awesome car.”
Johnson and his crew will take it. So will Hendrick Motorsports, the powerhouse team that had been shut out of wins until Sunday. Johnson’s teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., also had his best run of the year by finishing fifth.
Ryan Blaney dominated the race early on, winning the first two stages and leading a race-high 148 laps. Blaney, though, might have cost himself contending for the race win by staying on track to keep his position for a Stage 2 win instead of making a pit stop under caution from Laps 165-167.
Johnson, on the other hand, made no questionable decisions on the day. He and his crew showed their veteran savvy, and were leading by Lap 273. Johnson only led that lap until taking the lead for good on Lap 318.
Again, bet on Johnson. Those in the garage would.
“You can’t ever count Jimmie Johnson out,” said Larson, whose runner-up finish was his best in six Cup races at Texas.
“He’s the best out there. I know all the media was wondering why he wasn’t running up front, but they’re a great team. He’s a great driver. He’s going to win a lot more.”
Yes, he is. But so is Larson, who has won once and finished second four times in the past six races.
Larson just couldn’t get by Logano soon enough to make a true run at passing Johnson in the closing laps.
“If I could’ve gotten by Joey with maybe five to go, I definitely would’ve caught Jimmie,” Larson said. “Passing him is obviously another story.”
Especially at Texas. Say it one more time — bet on Johnson.