A suffocatingly tight Chase race got a Texas-sized shake-up on Sunday.
Denny Hamlin held off Matt Kenseth in a three-lap dash at the finish to win the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, and in the process seized the Sprint Cup Series points lead with two races remaining.
Hamlin’s win, his eighth of the season, combined with Jimmie Johnson’s 10th-place finish left Hamlin with a 33-point advantage over Johnson. Kevin Harvick is third, 59 behind Hamlin.
No driver with the points lead with two races left has failed to win the championship since the Chase for the Cup’s inception in 2004.
Now with a points lead, Hamlin and his crew chief, Mike Ford, were not shy about their intentions going forward.
“I think our race team is better than their race team, and I’m not going to tip-toe around them because of where they’re at,” Ford said of Johnson’s team.
Hamlin beamed with confidence, as he has much of this Chase.
“I wasn’t going to expect them to make a mistake so I needed to go out there and outperform them straight-up,” he said.
Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team made its share of mistakes.
Johnson’s pit crew lost positions on four pit stops in the race. And during a caution on Lap 192 when Johnson’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, got wrecked by Jeff Burton, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, replaced Johnson’s pit crew with Gordon’s.
Ford called the move one of “desperation.”
“They removed their team,” Ford said. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out. So this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team.”
Sebastian Vettel took the lead at the first corner and cruised to victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, prolonging the Formula One title race until next weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was second and championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was third.
Alonso has an eight-point lead over Webber and a 15-point advantage over Vettel.