FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson was still chasing Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick, trying to get back in front as the laps wound down at Texas Motor Speedway.
Then Johnson got the break that led to his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at the track.
“They slid up high through (Turns) 3 and 4 and left the bottom wide open for me,” Johnson said. “I thought I’d at least get (Harvick). When I came off of Turn 4, I was alongside (McMurray).”
Johnson passed both of them, regaining the lead for good with 14 laps left. He held off Harvick and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his second victory this season – and 72nd of his career.
Harvick, the series points leader who has also won twice this season, had been trying to get around McMurray, who had taken only two tires for the final restart on lap 314 of 334.
Then Harvick went high and scraped the wall with about three laps to go.
“I looked up in the mirror and I saw smoke and sparks,” Johnson said.
“Just lost a little bit of time and tried to make too much of it up in too many chunks, and about spun out and got in the fence trying to make up ground,” Harvick said. “All in all, it was a lot of fun. Fun to race that way.”
Johnson led nine times for 128 laps. He also won in November at Texas, where all four of his previous wins had been in fall races.
The runner-up finish for Harvick comes after he was eighth in Martinsville in the last Cup race two weeks ago. That ended his run of eight consecutive races finishing first or second, the longest such stretch since Richard Petty did it 11 times in a row in 1975.
“I’m not disappointed at all, racing for wins is what we’re here to do,” said Harvick, who led 96 of the 334 laps but is without a win in 25 Texas starts. “Nothing at all to hang your head about.”
This was the fifth time in Johnson’s last seven starts at the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track that he led at least 100 laps. This is fourth win in the span that also includes a runner-up finish in the spring race three years ago.
Earnhardt, with his third third-place finish this season, gave Chevrolet a sweep of the top three spots in the first Sprint Cup night race this season. But he was disappointed with one move that he didn’t make that could have made the night even better.
“I had Harvick cleared off two. I had passed him on the bottom,” Earnhardt said. “I still had Jimmie behind me at that point, and I should have pulled up in front of Kevin and made it a little more difficult on him. We weren’t as good as the 48 (Johnson) or the 4 (Harvick) early in the race, but we definitely improved it.”
Team Penske rounded out the top five in a pair of Fords, with defending race winner Joey Logano finishing fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth.
Harvick, Logano and Martin Truex Jr., who finished ninth, are the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in all seven races this season. Keselowski got his sixth top 10.
Jeff Gordon, who in his last full season, is the only driver who has started all 29 Sprint Cup races at Texas since the track opened in 1997. He finished seventh after starting 12th.
Unlike after Johnson’s win in November, the only postrace fireworks this time were in the sky.
There was late contact between Keselowski and Gordon in the race five months ago. That led to a post-race melee on pit road involving both of their teams, a fracas that broke out after Harvick pushed Keselowski into the fray.
The only other driver with more than two Cup wins at Texas is Carl Edwards, a three-time winner. He finished 10th, ending his career-long streak of eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10. .
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