Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway had major ramifications on the 2013 championship.
Jimmie Johnson wanted to defend his victory from last fall. Matt Kenseth wanted to make it a second-straight week of scoring more points than Johnson. And Jeff Gordon hoped to follow his win a week ago by taking another bite from the points lead of Johnson and Kenseth.
500 miles at Texas Motor Speedway had plenty on the line for the drivers in the top-3 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It also featured Carl Edwards starting on the pole for the second time this season and a young driver making his Sprint Cup debut.
Find out who mastered the eighth race of the Chase and who left the Fort Worth track disappointed.
Jimmie Johnson led 255 of 334 laps in Sunday's race.
Last week, Matt Kenseth beat Jimmie Johnson at Johnson's best career track. This week, Johnson flipped the script and took it to Kenseth at one of Kenseth's best tracks.
Johnson utterly dominated Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, walloping the field by leading 255 of 334 laps. The finish was never really in doubt—save a brief panic Johnson instilled in team owner Rick Hendrick when he reported a vibration with about 15 laps to go—as Johnson cruised to a win by 4.3 seconds.
The win is Johnson's sixth of 2013 and 66th of his career, and edged a 7-point lead for the No. 48 team in the standings over Matt Kenseth with two races left.
Jeff Gordon's car is repaired in the garage after he crashed during Sunday's race.
A mediocre qualifying position and consecutive bad restarts left Jeff Gordon mired just outside the top-10 in the early portions of Sunday's race at Texas. Gordon, however, was starting to recover as he advanced positions and cut time off his distance to the race's leader during a 39-lap run that started on Lap 19.
Gordon blew a left front tire 10 laps after a pit stop on Lap 74 and smacked the right side of his car in to the Turn 1 wall. He would return to the race but could only muster a 38th-place finish after completing 147 laps. The crash eliminated Gordon from his outside shot at the championship, leaving him 69 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson with two races left.
Matt Kenseth played catch-up in Sunday's race to a fourth-place finish.
The front half of Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway proved to be more about surviving than attacking for Matt Kenseth. But by the end, it was Kenseth picking up spots and pulling closer to an mostly uncatchable Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth reported an odd sound from his engine early in the race, leaving his team worried about a possible terminal issue that would have derailed Kenseth's race and title hopes. But then Kenseth sped on pit road during a round of green flag pit stops—a NASCAR official said Kenseth was clocked at 50.6 miles per hour in the 50 mph zone—and lost a lap while serving the drive-through penalty.
Kenseth rallied, however, and was back on the lead lap in hardly no time. By the end, despite driving a car that he routinely called "wobbly" and "loose," Kenseth salvaged a fourth-place finish.
Is a lack of action at Texas pushing attending fans away?
It may have been competition from the home Dallas Cowboys game that left an eye-opening number of seats empty Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway outside of Fort Worth. Or, it could have been the result of a number of recent races at the 1.5-mile track just simply not providing the action necessary to entice returning ticket buyers.
Whatever the issue, Sunday's race didn't do much to move the needle. Jimmie Johnson's domination was only one part of an otherwise calm and orderly race. There was but one major incident—Jeff Gordon walloped the wall after blowing a tire—and side-by-side racing often proved too difficult for the show to be mesmerizing.
That's nothing new in NASCAR, of course. But that it has such an effect on one of the sport's largest tracks by attendance has to be a concern.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second for the fifth time in 2013 at Texas.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew Sunday's race at Texas would be another opportunity for his No. 88 to readily challenge for a top-5 finish and potentially a win thanks to a recent test at the track with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and a what-could-have-been finish at Texas in April.
At the checkered flag, nearly everything about that presumed result had come true.
Earnhardt finished second for the fifth time in 2013 Sunday night and boosted back inside the top-5 of Sprint Cup Series points. He never led a lap and never had a car that could topple that of teammate Jimmie Johnson, but he was impressive enough all day long to score his best Texas finish since 2003.
Kyle Busch's pit road mistake likely ruined his outside hopes for a Sprint Cup title this season.
Kyle Busch was disappointed in his lack of performance last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. He won't be feeling any better after a mistake left him stuck with a 13th-place finish and an outsized deficit in the championship battle.
Busch recovered nicely from a brush against the wall early the race to a top-5 running position late in the event. With Johnson handling the field easily, Busch was set to lose more ground to the No. 48, but not by much.
Then Busch sped on pit road during the final pit stop and was forced to serve the penalty during green flag conditions. He rallied back some, sure, but still left Texas down needing to score 53 more points than Johnson in the final two races.
Parker Kligerman was impressie in his Sprint Cup debut.
Before Sunday's race, Parker Kligerman had 98 career NASCAR national series starts in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, split exactly evenly at 49 in each. Now, he's officially made a start in the Sprint Cup Series—and scored a great result to boot.
Kligerman raced for Swan Racing in Sunday's 500-mile race and nabbed an 18th-place finish after starting 23rd. All told, the finish was Swan's third-best in the history of the two-year-old team owned by Brandon David and the best ever on an intermediate track. Kligerman has a single win in the Truck Series and three top-5 runs in Nationwide, but might be getting a look for further opportunities after taking a back-running car and edging out the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton and more.
Carl Edwards was strong in the early part of Sunday's race, but wound up not finishing.
He had the pole. He led laps. He never made it to the checkered flag.
Carl Edwards suffered engine problems during Sunday's race at Texas and finished 38th. It was a disastrous end to a race in which he led the second-most laps (38) to eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, if only because it continued a disappointing Chase for the Sprint Cup for Edwards.
In eight races of the championship fight, Edwards has one top-5 finish at Kansas and just three top-10 finishes.