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article imageNASCAR: Johnson in control in Texas, opens slight gap in 'Chase'

By John Duarte     Nov 3, 2013 in Sports
Fort Worth - Jimmie Johnson drove like a man on a mission Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. He was dominant in his sixth win of the season and sent a loud-and-clear message to anyone intent on mounting a challenge for this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
“That was a great race car,” Johnson said after winning the AAA 500. “When you have a dominant car, it's so stressful because you're just waiting for that thing that can get you... whatever that is.”
While Johnson's pursuers were waiting for exactly that, the five-time Sprint Cup champion just went about his business on the race track. He led for 255 of the race total 334 laps and glided under the checkered flag 4.5 seconds ahead of second place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“There were a couple moments in the race where we had to work on the car from a balance standpoint. Chad (Knaus, his crew chief) said it once on the radio, just keep a positive mindset here, and things are going to work out,” Johnson said. “We did that. We stayed focused and got the job done.”
Earnhardt, Jr. was brief and to the point in his assessment of Johnson's race.
“The 48 was in another class, and nobody had anything for him,” Earnhardt said, summing up the weekend. “He was just super good all through practice and the race.”
The win was the sixth of the season for Johnson, which, while good news, still leaves him one shy of Matt Kenseth's seven victories in 2013. With two races remaining and only seven points separating the two competitors in the Sprint Cup standings, there could be a tie at the end of the year. If Johnson and Kenseth end up even, the tiebreaker is the overall number of race wins. But Johnson knows there's no time to rest on laurels at this point of the season.
“I'm very excited about our performance and what we did here,” he said. “We'll enjoy this, but there is still two weeks of very hard racing ahead of us.”
And that is nothing new for Johnson. Last year, he sat at the top of the standings after the Texas race with a seven-point lead, just as he does this year, and lost the title to Brad Keselowski. He feels he is better prepared for racing in Phoenix next week.
“I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here. I'm optimistic. I feel good,” Johnson said. “I know when I go to Phoenix the balance of the car and what I had felt last year led to a blown right front tire. We learn lessons each and every year.”
And he says he has learned plenty from seasons past, including last year when he seemed to be in control of the Chase only to end the year with two bad races. He says it is simple really. He has to go to Phoenix and race next week and to Florida and do the same the week after that.
“I guess the lesson in all of that is I'm not counting on anything,” Johnson said. “I'm not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I'm going to work real hard and train my butt off.  Stay in this little world that I've been living in for the last five or six months, but more so the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.”
The Advocare 500 is the penultimate race in this year's NASCAR season. The race will run at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 10. And, that too is a message for all hoping to wrangle the NASCAR championship. As it stands now, Johnson leads Kenseth by seven points. Kenseth saved what could have been a huge blow to his title chase. He was assessed a penalty for speeding in pit lane, but rebounded to finish fourth in the race.
Behind Johnson and Kenseth, there is a bit of breathing room. Kevin Harvick is third in the Chase, 40 points back, and Kyle Busch is another 12 behind that. There is a maximum of 43 points to be won per race, but, with one-point increments separating each finishing position, Johnson is the first to say this is not the time to start making space on the trophy shelf for the Cup.
"I've been watching a lot of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting lately, 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," he said. “This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes.”
More about Nascar, chase for the Sprint cup, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Auto racing
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