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:
FOX SPORTS: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
From the back to the 🔝. Watch as @JimmieJohnson holds off @KyleLarsonRacin & @joeylogano for the WIN in Texas. https://t.co/ZzF6m88nhc2017-4-9 21:23:38
XFINITY Racing and the Texas Motor Speedway provided a look at Johnson's post-race celebration:
XFINITY Racing @XFINITYRacing
He knows a thing or two about #Se7en. @JimmieJohnson makes @TXMotorSpeedway the 4th track he’s won at 🖐✌️ times! https://t.co/dHWLqBtk3r2017-4-9 21:21:59
Texas Motor Speedway @TXMotorSpeedway
.@JimmieJohnson celebrates winning the #OReillyAuto500, his 81st career victory, in @SunocoRacing victory lane! https://t.co/eNwKcIeyfr2017-4-9 21:23:26
Hendrick Motorsports also shared his celebratory burnout:
Hendrick Motorsports @TeamHendrick
A Texas-sized celebration for @JimmieJohnson at @TXMotorSpeedway! https://t.co/9pLp7Y0Gf42017-4-9 21:21:43
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|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||0|
|8||Martin Truex Jr.||49|
With his win, Johnson climbs to fourth in the points standings, according to ESPN.com:
|Monster Energy Cup Standings|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||275||1|
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:
NEW LEADER: @JimmieJohnson to the point! #NASCARonFOX This leader battle is intense, y'all. Get to FOX and watch with us! https://t.co/Lj2Q1k0Drc2017-4-9 21:08:25
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:
Texas Motor Speedway @TXMotorSpeedway
This is all anyone is seeing so far today. @blaney wins Stage 2. #OReillyAuto500 https://t.co/znE4ZLjCjG2017-4-9 19:42:07
Las Vegas Speedway @LVMotorSpeedway
That feeling when you win Stage 1⃣ AND Stage 2⃣ in the #OReillyAuto500. @Blaney getting it done! #NASCAR https://t.co/I8NgSpmOIJ2017-4-9 19:42:23
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.
"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."