Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson entered the Nov. 4 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway separated by only two points with the Sprint Cup champion’s trophy waiting only three races into the future.
Fans hoping to see a high-stakes, toe-to-toe battle between the two point leaders – Johnson had a two-point edge over Keselowski as the race began – got their wish.
Although the race did not showcase consistent action at the front (three drivers led all but 12 laps), the event’s closing miles were packed with drama. SPEED has chosen the Texas race as the 10th best of the 2012 season.
Keselowski used pit strategy, taking only two tires instead of four, late in the race and moved into first place with 19 laps remaining.
There would be two more restarts before race’s end, however, and one of those featured Johnson and Keselowski banging their cars side to side as they wrestled for first place.
Neither driver lost control, remarkably, and they raced again on another restart as the race went to one lap of overtime. Johnson won that three-mile sprint to score his second straight victory and move into the point lead.
“It was an awesome race,” Johnson said. “It’s a great way to do it when the gloves are off and it’s bare-knuckle fighting.”
Keselowski had rallied from problems to put himself into a position to challenge Johnson for the win. During a caution period with 59 laps to go, Keselowski was delayed in his pit because he stopped too close to the car in front of him – Danica Patrick’s, causing him to have to back up to return to the track. That dropped him to ninth for the restart.
But he gained spots steadily, eventually moving into fourth before the next caution, and that pit stop enabled him to use the two-tire strategy and gain positions to challenge Johnson.
Then they went head-to-head in the race’s twilight laps, Johnson eventually winning by .808 of a second.
Johnson’s victory lifted him past Keselowski in the point standings, with races at Phoenix and Homestead remaining. Momentum clearly switched to the No. 48 team, but Johnson sagged in the season’s final two races and Keselowski took home his first championship.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.