Victory lane, and Jimmie's celebrating with crew chief Chad Knaus (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
It was simply a stunning performance.
And Matt Kenseth has his work cut out over the season's finale two races if he hopes to wrestle this championship away from Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson was untouchable in winning Sunday's Texas 500.
And Kenseth really had to rally hard to finish fourth, after a pit road speeding penalty, which can be devastating.
"Nobody has said Jimmie is unbeatable this year," team owner Rick Hendrick said, also quite mindful of how the championship slipped away last season in the final two events.
"But we've led so many laps.... The car has been fast all year but we just haven't always been able to close the deal. Which isn't typical for Jimmie and his team."
Only six wins now, ahem.
Kenseth has seven wins...and victories could be a tie-breaker at Homestead in the finale. Kenseth and Johnson were tied in points coming here.
Pit road at Texas Motor Speedway, where things can get frantic (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Johnson insists it's not over yet, though he was on top of his game in this race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I have been watching a lot of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting lately," Johnson says. "And you'll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody has got the fight won... and it doesn't end that way.
"That's how this is going to be.
"Matt didn't have maybe the best day and still finished fourth. This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes.
"I'm very excited about our performance and what we did here. We'll enjoy this, but there is still two weeks of very hard racing ahead of us."
Johnson remembers leaving here a year ago with a seven points lead....and then crashed at Phoenix and wound up losing the championship.
"I hope history doesn't repeat itself," Johnson says. "That is the perfect example of this thing isn't over until it's over.
"Last year we had eight great races (in the playoffs) and two bad ones, and didn't get the championship.
"There are two very important races left."
But Johnson's strength here Sunday had his rivals reeling: "His car was so much faster than the field that it was pretty embarrassing, to be honest," Brad Keselowski said.
Tires were troublesome for teams all weekend, for some reason. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Johnson's teammate Jeff Gordon started the afternoon within sight of Johnson and Kenseth, just 27 points down -- about the difference in winning and finishing 22nd.
But a blown tire early in the race doomed him. He fell 69 points down, and out of the title hunt.
"I just know that the left-front went down as I was going down the front straight," Gordon said dejectedly. "I felt it before I got there, and I just couldn't get it slowed down enough.
"The wind was so strong that the car was doing funky things down the straightaways.
"I don't know if that was a slow leak, or if it just went all of a sudden.
"Our car just didn't take off very good, but, boy, was it strong on the long runs. We just needed to get some better track position.
"This is definitely going to hurt. We just get what we can out of this day and go on to Phoenix.
"I knew I was going to hit the wall.
"I am so proud of the guys to get us where we are. You just can't have things like this happen if you are going to make a run at a championship or battle with those guys."
Carl Edwards' day ended on a downer too. "I think a valve spring broke... so it beat up that cylinder pretty bad.
"We don't usually have a lot of engine trouble."
That continues a curious run of weak races for the Ford camp this season.
One issue that may be key to Johnson's strength this season and Kenseth's strength, and their rivals' too many off-days may be in the rear end setups. NASCAR this season has given teams a lot of room to play around with under the of these cars, and with so many variables it appears that some teams have simply gotten out in left field.
Plus, there are indications that some of the baseline work the Ford teams developed early in the season was in internal error, thus leading those crews astray.
Jeff Gordon's crew, trying to repair his banged up car after blowing a tire in Sunday's Texas 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)