If there’s one thing that is for certain, it’s that mistakes can be costly. In NASCAR, a mistake by a driver or crew can cost positions, victories, and championships.
That was what Texas was, at least in one aspect. Entering Sunday, both Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were tied in the Chase, with Kenseth holding the tie-breaker due to the amount of victories. But on Sunday, despite a strong effort, in the end it was a big mistake by Kenseth and another by his crew that ultimately cost him.
A slow pit stop early on set him back in the line-up, but he managed to overcome that quickly. But the one that set him back more was of his doing, and one that occurred without the aid of being under caution, because the penalty would have been different. NASCAR mandates a pit road speed, and gives teams a limit of being five miles per hour over it. Under caution, because all the teams are already bunched together, NASCAR’s penalty for going beyond that limit, whether it occurs entering pit road or exiting, is going to the end of the longest line.
Unfortunately for Kenseth, his penalty occurred under green, and meant a bigger loss.
Under green, speeding on pit road means a “pass-through” penalty, where they must come down the full length of pit road, without stopping, under pit road speed. Considering that the speed limit is 45 mph on the pit road at Texas, while at full speed cars are going 190 mph on the track, it’s costly. Kenseth went from coming out in second place all the way back to 25th. Had he then sped down pit road while serving the penalty, he then would have to do the stop-and-go penalty, which likely would have put his chances of sticking with Johnson all but eliminated.
Did Johnson make mistakes, sure. His team on the next-to-last pit stop had a 17-second stop due to dropped lug nuts. Considering they were averaging about 12 seconds heading into that service, it would have cost them more, but Johnson made it up…and did so in a big way.
All afternoon he was the dominant car, and was on a mission to get back the points lead. Johnson would lead over two-thirds of the race, and even with that mistake, he just was in a league of his own.
The best way to make sure the competition doesn’t catch the leader is simply to dominate in each aspect. His team was consistently the fastest on pit road, and he himself had the fastest car for the entire 500-mile race. He would lead the most laps, giving him two bonus points. He would then take the checkered flag, his second win in the Chase, and then got an additional three bonus points for that, getting the maximum amount of points one can get in the race, 48…the same as his car number.
With two races left, Johnson now has a slim 7-point lead, and it seems to be down to a two-man race. Sure, Kevin Harvick is mathematically in the hunt, but realistically the two drivers that were the most dominant during the first 26 races are now dominating the Chase.
Time is running out. Who is going to take the title?
RESULTS: 1-Johnson 2-Earnhardt Jr. 3-Logano 4-Kenseth 5-Kahne 6-Keselowski 7-Hamlin 8-Harvick 9-Newman 10-Bowyer
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Biffle 13-Kyle Busch 17-Kurt Busch 25-Patrick 37-Edwards 38-Gordon
CAUTIONS: 5 for 26 laps. Lap 16-18 (Debris), 58-64 (#18 accident-T3), 75-79 (#24 accident-T1), 189-193 (Oil on track-BS), 257-262 (Debris).
LEAD CHANGES: 28 among 10 drivers. Edwards 1-9, Johnson 10-15, Edwards 16, McDowell 17, Edwards 18-32, Johnson 33-57, Kyle Busch 58, Edwards 60-70, Johnson 71-74, Edwards 75, Keselowski 76-79, Edwards 80, Keselowski 81-91, Johnson 92-124, Kenseth 125-126, Johnson 127-171, Kenseth 172, Johnson 173-189, Kyle Busch 190, Johnson 191-239, Newman 240-241, Keselowski 242-255, Johnson 256, Keelowski 257, Johnson 258-298, Logano 299, Biffle 300, Johnson 301-334.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 18 Mins, 5 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 151.754 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 4.39 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Johnson, 2342 points; 2. Kenseth, -7; 3. Harvick, -40; 4. Kyle Busch, -52; 5. Earnhardt Jr, -62; 6. Gordon, -69; 7. Bowyer, -69; 8. Biffle, -73; 9. Logano, -91; 10. Kurt Busch, -96; 11. Edwards, -116; 12. Newman, -118; 13. Kahne, -133.