At any given NASCAR Sprint Cup race there is a finite number of drivers who will contend for the win. At Texas, winning was critical for the top drivers in the standings, but after a wild battle it was Jimmie Johnson who was first to take the checkered flag.
Winning is priority No. 1 for any driver able to run in the lead pack with spoilers lurking throughout the field. The unexpected caution can be game-changing.
With Texas leaving just two races to settle the battle for the championship, it was inevitable that the top two drivers in the standings were going to pull out all the stops.
Let's review some of the factors that enabled Johnson to win against Brad Keselowski in the AAA Texas 500.
Jimmie Johnson put his Lowe's No. 48 Chevrolet on the pole at the Tums Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville last week and won the race.
Johnson sat in his car for more than 30 minutes after he qualified with the fastest speed for the AAA Texas 500. After the last car made the run, he climbed from the car and celebrated being on the pole.
Once again, Johnson started first and finished first at Texas. Momentum is a good thing, and the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion may be on a roll for the next two races.
Last year Jimmie Johnson put a great deal of pressure on himself to get a sixth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title. It didn't work out as he had hoped.
This year we see a more relaxed Johnson who takes each race as it comes with confidence in his team and his ability.
He is relying on strong Hendrick Motorsports support and experience he gained from winning five titles to get victories and likely a sixth championship.
His family life, with the support of his wife and the fun he is having as a father of his little daughter, helps to take the pressure off the task at hand.
Goodyear brings the best possible tire compound for each race, but it is up to the teams to manage the tire strategy.
Texas is a rough track, and many teams saw tires going down or worn to the degree that the driver had to bring the car into the pit stall.
It may well have been tire strategy that allowed Jimmie Johnson to win. On the final pit stop, Brad Keselowski asked for two tires and Johnson took four.
Both drivers had fast cars, but Johnson was able to take the lead when it counted.
Restarts are critical with a battle as tight as the one between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in the fight for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Restarts must be executed perfectly without tire spin or jumping the start.
Johnson led 168 laps at Texas, but it was his restart during green-white-checker conditions on lap 333 of 335 that allowed him to pull ahead of Keselowski and take the checkered flag.
The AAA Texas 500 began under sunny skies and warm temperatures, but darkness began creeping over the track and temperatures dropped when the race got down to the final 100 laps or so.
It is the teams that can adapt to the changing track conditions that run the best. Cooler temperatures make for faster cars that often have less grip.
The No. 48 team had a handle on it's car as the race went from daylight to dark, and it paid off.
With a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title on the line for Rick Hendrick and his No. 48 Lowe's team, he will do what it takes to get the edge.
One such lucky charm may have been the presence of Hall of Fame driver/owner, Junior Johnson. He was Hendrick's guest, and he was present atop the pit box for Jimmie Johnson during the race.
Junior was an innovator and winner, so it never hurts to have that wealth of knowledge as support.
There is little doubt that Jimmie Johnson will go down in the NASCAR history books as one of the greatest drivers in the sport.
Despite Johnson's talent, it takes a brilliant crew chief to guide a team to five consecutive Cup titles with a good chance of the sixth coming in 2012.
Chad Knaus is the guiding hand for the Lowe's No. 48 team, and it is his ability to make the right calls, keep the team on target and encourage his driver that allows them to win races and championships.
Johnson is atop the point standings over Brad Keselowski by seven markers. He got his second consecutive win and fifth of the season with 18 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes.
In the final laps of the AAA Texas 500, Brad Keselowski was in the lead with his Penske Blue Deuce. Mark Martin appeared to have a tire go out, and he made contact that brought out the final caution flag.
The game changed at that point. Johnson got the lead and powered away with his four fresh tires over Keselowski with two older tires on the final restart.
Keselowski had been roughing up Johnson while he pulled to the lead prior to Martin's problems.
Johnson said after the race, "The gloves are off and it's bare-knuckles fighting."
Sandra MacWatters is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.