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Publication: NASCAR News
Title didn't keep Johnson from mixing it up

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, November 8, 2007

Title didn't keep Johnson from mixing it up at end
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM

FORT WORTH, Texas - Rick Hendrick nearly cued the radio 
and ordered Jimmie Johnson to back off. 

He watched one of his leading Nextel Cup championship 
contenders duel with Matt Kenseth over the final laps 
Sunday night, slipping and sliding around Texas Motor 
Speedway on two new tires. He knew his other driver in 
the title chase, Jeff Gordon, had a seventh-place finish 
secured. But what to do about Johnson, who would be the 
points leader at the end of the evening, but was racing 
with all the abandon of a teenager on a dirt track? 

"I was thinking, 'We've got an awful lot at stake here, 
and Jeff was running seventh, and we don't need this,'" 
the NASCAR team owner said. "But I felt like Jimmie was 
under control. I was nervous and wanting to hit the button. 
I was thinking it." 


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He didn't need to. The vehicular street fight between the 
two former champions produced the most electric moments of 
an otherwise long and caution-plagued Dickies 500. Johnson, 
even with a title at stake, didn't back off. Kenseth, 
knowing he was racing the potential points leader, didn't 
let the No. 48 car go. The mutual respect showed in how 
cleanly they raced one another, swapping the lead and 
sometimes going sideways, but both finishing with their 
racecars intact. 

Johnson prevailed, notching his third consecutive win and 
ninth of the year, the most by any driver in NASCAR's top 
series since Gordon compiled 13 in 1998. He also overtook 
his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the points lead, 
going from nine down to 30 up on Gordon with only two 
starts remaining in the 10-event Chase. 

"It came down to a full-blown brawl with Matt, in a good 
way," Johnson said. "I don't mean that in a bad way. We 
both wanted that win really bad, and I think it was evident 
in how close the racecars were. It was a lot of fun. I 
knew I didn't have to worry about him putting me in a bad 
position because of the championship, and he also knew I 
wouldn't come in there and clean him out and take out both 
of us racing for a shot at the win. So it was really good 

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It was, and it was somewhat unexpected given all Johnson 
had at stake. A few times in those dramatic final laps, he 
backed out. But then stuck the nose of his No. 48 car right 
back in there again, eventually muscling by Kenseth with 
two to go for the win. The Roush Fenway driver didn't 
expect anything less. 

"I think the only time that would change is if he was at 
[the season finale in] Homestead and had a 50-point lead 
or something like that," Kenseth said. "Maybe he would have 
backed out of it and pulled behind me. We've raced together 
for a long time, and I think he was pretty confident that I 
wasn't going to wreck him. We raced each other really hard. 
I didn't give him extra room at all, and I thought of the 
points thing and thought maybe he would back out of it. At 
one point he backed out of it with five to go, but he was 
just a lot faster." 

Both drivers experienced brief periods where it seemed they 
were going to lose it and wind up in the wall. Kenseth 
especially pulled out of one dastardly slide, righting the 
No. 17 before he and Johnson made contact. Somehow, they 
stayed off one another, and kept it clean until Johnson won 
by .944 seconds. 

"I felt like I was sideways the whole time," Kenseth said. 
"Really, I can't remember. The one time that sticks out is 
when we were side-by-side off of [Turn] 4, and I just about 
spun out, and that probably would have been bad because I 
was looking at his right-rear quarterpanel. That probably 
would have been really bad for him and really bad for me. 
So I'm really glad I was able to get that up and keep 
rolling. I was just driving over my head to get back as 
far up as I could." 


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The championship was always there, in the back of Johnson's 
mind. But so was the victory. His aggressiveness paid off 
-- the winning pass on Kenseth added an extra 15 points to 
his lead over Gordon heading to Phoenix next week. 

"It enters my mind, but I feel like I was doing a good job 
of balancing those emotions in the car," Johnson said of 
the title. "When I got inside of Matt and I tried for a lap 
or two to get by. I'd actually let him go if I felt like he 
was crowding me, then I would try to get back inside him. 
I tried to re-check those wheels and get back after him." 

It helped that he was racing against Kenseth, a driver who 
is well-respected among his peers for keeping it clean. 

"There are only a handful of guys that I would feel comfort-
able racing that hard with at the end, being in the position
we're in," Johnson said. "So there aren't many, and Matt 
is certainly one. I've had a lot of great racing with Matt 
over the years, and I think we both have respect for one 
another. We can get in there and do it all without running 
each other over." 

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