With the NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway in the books, here is a look back at the winners and losers from the AAA Texas 500:
With Brad Keselowski nipping at his heels and threatening to wrestle away his points lead, Jimmie Johnson answered his rival's challenge and instead further cemented his dominance.
It all started when Keselowski got the jump on Johnson on a late-race restart that left the five-time champ fuming. That was followed by Keselowski running Johnson high up the race track, which forced the driver of the No. 48 to slow.
But thanks to another timely yellow flag, Johnson made the most of his opportunity. This time, he turned the tables on Keselowski, as Johnson got a perfect restart (some would say too perfect) and powered by Keselowski on the outside. From there, Johnson set sail and drove away with his fifth victory of 2012.
That's important because now both title contenders are tied with five victories on the year in case the championship needs to be settled on a tiebreaker. That is assuming of course, neither driver wins the next two weeks; which seems unlikely.
After back-to-back seasons where he finished third in points and won a combined seven races, it's been a disappointing year for Kevin Harvick. Not only is he winless with just four top-five finishes, he has also endured a crew chief change and, entering this past weekend, he was the only Chase driver not to have posted a top-10 finish in a playoff race.
On top of all this, a weight from a parachutist hit the side of Harvick's car before the race, leaving a noticeable dent in the driver's side door. Nonetheless, the No. 29 team was able to fix the damage and Harvick went on to finish ninth.
If we're going to chide Danica Patrick for her missteps, we also need to give her credit for making strides. In her first race paired with new crew chief Tony Gibson, Patrick turned in her best effort to date behind the wheel of a Cup car. Not did only did she finish a career-best 24th; she also ended the day on the lead lap – something she had failed to do in eight previous starts. Maybe there is a reason to have some hope after all.
Texas Motor Speedway
While the finish to the AAA Texas 500 was stirring, it doesn't erase the fact that much of the race was a bore, featuring minimal passing. More telling, the April event ended with 234 consecutive laps of green-flag, single-file racing, while on Sunday there were 100 straight laps of caution-free racing – which combined is the equivalent of a 500-mile race. It's not exactly the excitement Texas likes to hype itself around and certainly not the best way to go about trying to draw viewers away from the NFL.
With wins at both Kansas and Atlanta and near-misses at Kentucky and Charlotte, intermediate tracks have been a strong suit for Denny Hamlin and his team. But for whatever reason, that previous success didn't translate to Texas, where Hamlin was virtually invisible throughout the afternoon and finished a pedestrian 20th.
Was it a hangover from Martinsville where the team's title hopes unofficially died? Who can say for sure? But for a driver who has shown an inability to overcome disappointment, it makes the next two weeks critical. If the No. 11 team can come out and be the force they've been throughout the year, then it will go a long way to setting the tone for 2013.
Conversely, if Hamlin struggles at Phoenix and Homestead, there will be a giant question mark hanging over his head entering the offseason.
Aside from Talladega, where he was running in the top five before being collected in a multi-car melee coming to the checkered flag, Clint Bowyer has had an outstanding Chase. In eight races, the personable driver has finished in the top 10 in every one – which is what he did again at Texas, ending up sixth in the boxscore.
But as Bowyer himself acknowledged afterward, just getting a top-10 isn't going to cut it when the two guys you're chasing are sparring for the victory. So instead of closing the gap, Bowyer lost 10 points to Johnson and is all but eliminated from title contention.