Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are in quite a fight for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
With two rounds to go, five-time champion Johnson now has a bigger edge after a slugfest in Fort Worth, Texas, that included some hard banging late.
Johnson regained the lead on the final restart on the 334th of 335 laps before holding off the young challenger in a 1-2 finish.
“It was an awesome race. It’s a great way to do it when the gloves are off and it’s bare-knuckle fighting,” Johnson said. “I got a great restart and got by him. I knew we had the speed if I could just get by him.”
They were side-by-side on the final restart, but Johnson charged his No. 48 hard on the outside, cleared Keselowski on the backstretch and led for the final 11/2 laps. Johnson won from the pole for the second consecutive week, and increased his series lead by five to seven points.
Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was 10th and Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne finished 25th, one spot behind Danica Patrick.
Though he led 168 laps, Johnson found himself chasing for much of the final part of the race. And it wasn’t until the last of three restarts in the final 19 laps that Johnson finally went ahead for good.
After falling from first to ninth during the previous stop, when he got slightly blocked in his stall and then caught in a jam on pit road, Keselowski opted for only left-side tires on his No. 2 Dodge when everybody else took four tires.
But there were still two more restarts, and Johnson pulled ahead in the one that counted most.
“Getting that last yellow, I felt like restarts are like rock, paper, scissors. Eventually you’re going to lose them. It’s just a matter of time,” Keselowski said. “To win two out of three, I felt lucky to do that.”
They go to Phoenix next week, where Johnson was fourth and Keselowski fifth in the second race of the season eight months ago. The season finale is at Homestead.
Keselowski had never finished better than 14th at Texas before leading 75 laps in a runner-up showing that still wasn’t good enough to make up ground on Johnson.
“It was a fun day for sure,” Keselowski said. “We’ll keep fighting.”
Johnson’s teammates Jeff Gordon and Kahne were involved in contact in the back of the field with Biffle, setting up another restart with eight laps to go.
One of the people who went to Victory Lane to shake Johnson’s hand was Keselowski.
“I raced hard, and I’m sure someone would say dirty,” Keselowski said. “But I raced hard and we both came back around, so there’s something to be said for that.”
It was Johnson’s 60th career victory.
Kimi Raikkonen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in United Arab Emirates for his first victory since returning to Formula One this year.
The result throws open the drivers’ championship with two races. Fernando Alonson was second and Sebastian Vettel clawed back from last to finish third, but his overall lead over Alonso was cut to 10 points.