Jimmie Johnson scored his second win of the season when he held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Duck Commander 500 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet led nine times for a race-high 128 laps en route to his fifth career victory at the mile-and-a-half oval.
“We have had an awesome, awesome start to the year. The end results don’t show it, but the great support from our fans, our sponsors….” Johnson said after the race. “We just kept plugging at it and I think the off-week was good for us to sit down and relax, reboot and come back to the track. They brought me a fast racecar that was good all weekend.”
Harvick, who struggled trying to pass Jamie McMurray in the late stages of the race would up second, followed by Earnhardt Jr. Joey Logano, who won this race last spring, led 19 laps after a call to stay out when the rest of the field pitted and ended up fourth. Brad Keselowski, who was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel early in the race and suffered a late commitment-cone violation, rounded out the top five.
“We had a really strong car. It was an up-and-down night,” Keselowski said after the race. “We led some laps early, faded in the middle and then found a little bit at the end and charged hard to get back up to fifth. I think we were a second or third-place car there at the end. We just have to keep working and find a little more speed.”
McMurray came home sixth, following a pit-road gamble to take two tires instead of four like the rest of the field. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Martin Truex Jr. continued his top-10 streak with a ninth-place finish, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 10.
Most of the race, the field was strung out, with the leader pulling ahead by as much as ten seconds following a round of green flag pit stops. But the action increased late in the going when four cautions in the final 85 laps tightened up the field. The streak of cautions began when Michael Annett appeared to lose a tire and went straight up the track into the outside wall, causing terminal damage. Just six laps later, his teammate Justin Allgaier also shot straight up into the wall, causing enough damage to force the team to push the car back to the hauler on casters.
Ryan Newman, who was assessed a P5 penalty and docked 75 points after Martinsville, was the only car to drop to the rear of the field on the start due to an engine change. By the halfway point of the race, he had moved inside the top 15 and remained there before settling into a 12th-place finish. Meanwhile, polesitter Kurt Busch led 45 of the first 80 laps before losing the handling on the No. 41 Chevrolet. Crew chief Tony Gibson threw everything but the kitchen sink at the car, which alternated between tight and loose, and the duo managed to salvage a 14th-place finish.
Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, both of which have struggled all season, have started to show some sings of life nearly a third of the way through the regular season. RFR put all three of its cars inside the top 20, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading the charge in 15th. Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne finished 17th and 18th, respectively.
“I definitely thought we had a better car than what we ran all night. Obviously, I sped on pit road there and cost us a lap, and then we were just fighting back from way behind,” Stenhouse said after the race. “The cautions fell our way and we got some good breaks toward the end and made some better adjustments and was able to salvage a 15th, so that was good.”
At one point in the late stages of the race, all four JGR cars were inside the top 15, and though they didn’t end up finishing the night that way, the only one that didn’t was Matt Kenseth. The driver of the No. 20 brought out two cautions, one for a solo spin and one after he scrubbed the wall in the late stages, though the official cause was given as debris.
Edwards, who was racing for $1 million for the Children’s Miracle Network, finished 10th in his best finish since joining the organization during the offseason, and Denny Hamlin came home right behind in 11th. David Ragan brought home the No. 18 Toyota in 13th in his continued substitute role. The finish moved him to 10th in points for the second time in his career and the first time since the second race of the 2009 season.
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