NASCAR Barometer: JJ Wins Wild One at Texas

NASCAR Barometer: JJ Wins Wild One at Texas

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Jimmie Johnson won the second race in the Eliminator round of NASCAR's Chase for the Cup with a consistent Sunday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led more than half of the distance on Sunday in another top effort and took advantage of the late race chaos to pull ahead to the win. The victory gives him four wins this season and the second straight won by a driver already elminated from Chase contention. At least three spots will be available this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway for Chase drivers to advance to the finale at Homestead Miami Speedway on points.

It might have taken a while for Sunday's race to get exciting, but the string of caution periods in the last quarter of the race certainly ratcheted the pressure up on the Chase contenders. Yet again we saw drivers and teams with tempers boiling over on pit road after the race, and again it was Brad Keselowski at the center. This time his opponent was Jeff Gordon after the two had contact on a late restart that ended Gordon's run at the front. The tension is only getting higher as drivers fight for their seasons, and the race at Phoenix will only elevate that pressure.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - After being knocked out of the Chase in the last round it seems as though Johnson and his No. 48 team have regained their mettle. Johnson was the only car able to challenge Kenseth at the beginning of Sunday's race in Texas, and he ran away once he took the lead. A number of late-race incidents enabled Johnson to maintain his position at the front of the pack, and claim the second non-Chase contender win in this Eliminator round of the Chase. Johnson maintained his composure throughout Sunday's long race, rarely making a mistake, and came up with another 2014 win. The six-time champion has four Phoenix wins, along with 18 top-10 finishes from 22 career starts.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski didn't have the greatest history at Texas before Sunday, but being put in a championship hole with last week's Martinsville trouble the No. 2 put himself firmly back in championship contention. He muscled his way past Gordon on the penultimate restart, setting himself up to battle Harvick and Johnson in the final laps. He still needs something special to advance to the finale in Miami, but Keselowski has proven that when the odds are against him he can come up with a big result. His friends on track are quickly dwindling as on-track incidents continue to build up, and that could prove to be a decisive factor at any point as the season draws to a close.

Tony Stewart -
After weeks of working his way back into the groove since his return to racing Stewart has continued to take steps forward. His practice and qualifying efforts for Sunday's race in Texas suggested he was fully back into the swing of things and ready to repeat his top performance at the track from earlier this season. The owner/driver faded from the start, and then was mired in the middle of the pack as the race drew to a close. His pit strategy enabled him to regain position at the front of the field and finish 11th for a solid afternoon effort. Stewart will have to continue making small strides forward in preparation for 2015.

Kevin Harvick -
After a terribly disappointing and short race at Texas earlier this season Harvick banished some of the demons with a second-place finish in Sunday's AAA Texas 500. The Stewart Haas Racing driver had one of the field's fastest cars throughout the distance on Sunday, but only managed to lead two laps as the field cycled through green flag pit stops. His tally of laps led hides the fact that Harvick was never far from the front, though. He needed to have a strong effort this week after a disastrous finish at Martinsville Speedway last week. He came into the weekend last of the eight remaining Chase contenders, but picked up some ground heading into Phoenix. He still virtually needs to win to advance, but has a tremendous Phoenix record.

DOWNGRADE

Matt Kenseth - Kenseth qualified on pole for Sunday's race, and then led more than 50 laps to kick off the battle. He remained at the front of the field throughout the distance, but was squeezed and forced to pit losing track position as the race entered its final laps. It was a terrible result to finish 25th after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver started the afternoon from the pole position. The No. 20 is now just outside of the top four drivers to advance in the championship and needs a strong effort next week if he intends to go to Miami in contention for the Cup. He is a former Phoenix winner with nine top-10 finishes at the track from 24 career starts.

Carl Edwards -
Another driver that suggested he could outperform expectations on Sunday was Edwards. The Roush Fenway Racing driver showed well in practice and qualifying, enough to make some fantasy owners think he could outperform his expectations and pull off a surprise win late in the 2014 season. That wasn't meant to be, though. The No. 99 struggled throughout much of Sunday's race, and was never truly able to make his presence known inside the top 10. Edwards is slipping in the championship standings, and will need some luck next week in Phoenix to move forward and advance to the championship finale in Miami in two weeks. Edwards has two wins and an average finish of 12.1 at Phoenix.

Joey Logano -
After racing to get an extra set of tires from Goodyear for the close of Sunday's race, Logano's crew stumbled in the pits. The No. 22 team was able to pick up a late set of tires, but the glue sticking the lug nuts to the wheel rim did not have enough time to set and fell off as the field was pitting under caution. The right-rear tire changer lost a number of the lugs, which caused a significant delay for the No. 22 who was having an otherwise decent day. Logano was forced to restart outside of the top 20 after that issue, and didn't have the laps left to claw his way any further forward after a subsequent flat on the same tire.

Kasey Kahne -
Both Kahne and Marcos Ambrose got loose late in Sunday's race and collided with one another. Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports car came off the worse of the two from the incident, spinning to the infield with significant damage. Kahne started Sunday's race well after a disappointing effort in qualifying, but wasn't able to close the deal with the late contact. To make matters worse, Kahne also brought out the next caution after colliding with another car again. Things haven't been going well for the No. 5 team since the win that earned them a spot in the Chase, but there are still two races remaining to prove themselves. Kahne has a Phoenix win from 2011 with an average finish of 17.8 at the track after 20 tries.

Ryan Newman -
A late restart forced Newman to pit under caution to take care of a heavily rubbing rear tire, losing track position. The team worked hard to stay up front all day, but stumbled with the contact while losing laps in which to recover. Newman has been the picture of consistency all season, and was second in the Chase standings before Sunday's problems. His 15th-place finish at Texas drops him from second in the standings, and is one position closer to the elimination bubble. He is a former Phoenix winner, picking up the trophy in 2010. He finished seventh there earlier this season, and will need as good of a finish as possible to ensure he advances to fight for the championship the following week in Miami.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Jamie McMurray - McMurray has a long history of turning in a top result at a track he hasn't tasted success at in the past. He was nowhere to be found in practice and qualifying for Sunday's race in Texas, and gave fantasy players little reason to think that trend would change in the race. As the miles wound down, though, McMurray found himself with track position among the leaders. He held on to battle in the closing restarts, and finished a hard-fought fifth position. That finish was just his fourth top-5 effort at the track from 22 tries. Phoenix is another track where McMurray hasn't seen much success in the past, but can it be a repeat of last week?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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