Jimmie Johnson Takes Late Lead, Earns 7th NASCAR Win at Texas

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2017

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 09:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates by shooting guns in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson fended off Kyle Larson and Joey Logano to earn his first Monster Energy NASCAR Series victory of the 2017 season in Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Johnson cruised to the finish line. Fox Sports: NASCAR shared a replay of the final lap:

XFINITY Racing and the Texas Motor Speedway provided a look at Johnson's post-race celebration:

Hendrick Motorsports also shared his celebratory burnout:

Here's a look at the top 10 finishers, with the full results available on NASCAR's official site:

O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Leaderboard—Top 10
Pos.DriverLaps Led
1Jimmie Johnson17
2Kyle Larson0
3Joey Logano38
4Kevin Harvick77
5Dale Earnhardt Jr.0
6Brad Keselowski4
7Jamie McMurray0
8Martin Truex Jr.49
9Chase Elliott0
10Kurt Busch0
Source: FoxSports.com

With his win, Johnson climbs to fourth in the points standings, according to ESPN.com:

Monster Energy Cup Standings
Pos.DriverPointsWins
1Brad Keselowski2742
2Kyle Larson3151
3Martin Truex Jr.2751
4Jimmie Johnson1901
5Ryan Newman1631
6Kurt Busch1511
7Chase Elliott2980
8Joey Logano2430
9Ryan Blaney2240
10Kyle Busch2110
11Jamie McMurray2090
12Clint Bowyer2040
13Kevin Harvick1980
14Trevor Bayne1640
15Erik Jones1590
16Denny Hamlin1510
Source: ESPN.com

The race's decisive moment came with 17 laps remaining. Coming around the final turn, Johnson gained inside position on Logano and passed him on the left to take the lead. NASCAR showed Johnson's deft move to get around the No. 22 car:

From that point forward, Johnson never surrendered the lead. He did an excellent job of closing the angles and shutting the door on any opportunity for Larson or Logano to climb into first place. The longer Johnson remained on top, the bigger the gap between him and the second-place driver grew.

While Johnson wasn't the best driver over the course of the entire race, he excelled in the critical moments.

Ryan Blaney, meanwhile, is an example of the adage "It's not how you start; it's how you finish."

Nobody was better than Blaney for the first half of the race. The No. 21 car led 148 laps and sat in first place at the end of the opening two stages. Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Speedway tweeted about Blaney's dominance:

To put Blaney's early success in perspective, ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass noted he had previously led 33 combined laps in his first 60 starts on the circuit.

A strategic miscue prior to the start of the final stage cost Blaney a chance to win the checkered flag. As most drivers chose to pit during a caution toward the end of the second stage, Blaney remained on the track.

While the decision helped him stay in first place, he slipped to 20th once the race restarted for the third stage. He told his pit crew "that restart really killed us," according to Racer's Kelly Crandall.

While Blaney's day ended in somewhat disappointing fashion, he collected 20 points from his two stage victories and 25 points for his 12th-place finish, which isn't a bad haul for one race.

The Monster Energy Series will take a week off before resuming April 23 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, for the Food City 500.

Through his first six races, Johnson had a somewhat uncharacteristic lull. His average finishing position was 18th, and he ended in the top 10 just once.

Sunday's win could signal a return to form for the reigning series champion, which would be a scary thought for the rest of the field, even early into the 2017 season.

 

Post-Race Reaction

"I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it," Johnson said of Sunday's race, per ESPN.com. "I'm just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse, and we were just able to execute all day."

Larson lamented he couldn't make a more serious challenge at Johnson late in the race.

"I wish I could have gotten by Joey a couple of laps sooner, and then I think I could have had a shot at Jimmie at the end," he said, per FoxSports.com's Joe Menzer.

Blaney put a positive spin on his race.

"Not a bad day for us," he said, according to Menzer. "It's nice to win a couple segments, but I want to lead the last lap. That's the lap I care about, but I thought we made a big gain today as a team."