Given that there was a great deal of attention paid to the Jeff Gordon-Brad Keselowski fracas after the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, some folks might have overlooked the fact that Jimmie Johnson won the race.
Let’s face it, Gordon and Keselowski got a lot more ink than Johnson.
But it should be noted that Johnson’s victory was significant for a few reasons: It was his third consecutive win in the fall Texas race. It was his first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and it was the 70th of his career.
He’s eighth on NACAR’s all-time list.
As mentioned, Johnson won in the Chase for the first time, as hard as that might be to believe. Truth is he was mediocre in NASCAR’s “playoff,” and that’s the reason he was eliminated from championship contention after the second round.
Before Texas, Johnson’s best Chase finish was third at Dover, the second of the three opening races.
At Kansas, the opening race of the second round, Johnson finished 40th after being involved in a multicar accident.
He was 12th in points and on the bubble. He almost had to win to advance.
He didn’t come close. He was 17th at Charlotte – where he normally runs very strong – and 24th at Talladega, after which he stood 10th in points and out of contention.
Johnson’s struggles led to speculation that he was at odds with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus, acknowledged as one of the best in the business.
To some, tense radio transmissions between the two at Charlotte offered evidence things were not going smoothly.
Once out of championship contention, the only thing left for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to do was to perhaps prepare for 2015 – and to definitely win as many races as possible.
Victory seemed as distant as ever after Johnson finished 32nd at Martinsville, but it was at Texas that everything was set right.
Johnson looked like the six-time champion he is. He led 191 of 341 laps, the most he’s led since his victory at Dover in June.
He survived two green-white-checkered restarts, pulling away from Keselowski and runnerup Kevin Harvick on the last one.
Now, for Johnson, this was more like it.“We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that,” Johnson said. “But I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week.
We went down there and Chad and the guys started making me happy. I guess I’ve been unhappy for a while.
“These guys put some great speed in the race car, got me really comfortable with the car.
We were able to bring a lot of that here and get the car off the truck right away, it was quick, qualified third, and then dominated and won the race.”
Johnson acknowledged he would like to be in the hunt for the championship.
But he said that to be able to run as well as he did at Texas takes away some of the sting.He also emphasized that his relationship with Knaus is as it always was.“It’s tough when you’re going through watching, you know, a championship opportunity slip away from you,” Johnson said. “People ask me questions about us raising hell with one another on the radio. But that’s part of the process. “That’s one thing that has been good about us.
We’ve always been able to be honest with one another and say tough things.
“Sure, you might not want to hear it, it might sting a little bit. But it’s what has kept us together for all these years and provided the 70 wins and six championships.”
Knaus said that not winning created a lack of confidence for him and Johnson, a situation that has been removed with victory.
“It was difficult,” he said. “My confidence was definitely low. I know Jimmie’s was definitely low.
“You know, look, winning cures a lot of things, but the proof is in how we react beyond this point, how we go to Phoenix, how we produce there, how we go to Homestead, how we race there. “Those will be the true tales of where we’re at.”