Jimmie Johnson sat in his car going nowhere for more than an hour, his NASCAR Sprint Cup lead shrinking with every passing lap.
FORT WORTH, Texas — Jimmie Johnson sat in his car going nowhere for more than an hour, his NASCAR Sprint Cup lead shrinking with every passing lap.
While crew chief Chad Knaus and Co. were basically rebuilding the mangled mess that was his No. 48 Chevrolet after it was knocked into the wall on the third lap at Texas on Sunday, Johnson stayed inside the cockpit frustrated and replaying the accident in his head.
He knows the outcome could have been a lot worse.
Johnson did finish the race and is still the series point leader with two races to go in his push to become the first Sprint Cup driver to win four consecutive season championships.
"The first report Chad gave me wasn't good. He thought we were going to have to put the car on the truck because it was so tore up," Johnson said. "As time went on, I could see their spirits lift and I knew we could at least get back on track. I started to focus on things I needed to."
Last in the 43-car field when he drove his rebuilt car back on the high-banked 11/2;-mile track on lap 115, Johnson climbed to 38th — his best possible finish considering the circumstances, and 129 laps behind winner Kurt Busch. Johnson's points lead was intact, though it was slashed from 184 to 73 over Hendrick teammate Mark Martin, who finished fourth.
Busch won after he passed brother Kyle with 21/2; laps to go. The younger Busch's quest to become the first driver to win all three of NASCAR's national series on the same weekend ended when his No. 18 Toyota ran out of fuel.
"It's bittersweet to beat Kyle. He was going for the sweep. We took it away from him," said Kurt Busch, who led six times for 89 laps while also running second behind his brother much of the race. "I don't think he could have picked a better driver to lose to. ... It wasn't quite the door-to-door, nose-to-tail, fender-banging green-whiste-checkered like we would have hoped, but it came down to strategy."
Kyle Busch, who had already won the Nationwide and Camping World Truck races at Texas, had led 232 laps Sunday until he suddenly slowed on the backstreet on lap 332 of 334.
Dave Rogers, who made his debut as Busch's crew chief in the Sprint Cup, said they thought they had enough fuel to finish the race and described the driver as "frustrated." Busch, who wound up 11th, didn't talk to reporters.
Kurt Busch's 20th career victory came with an average speed of 147.137 mph and by a nearly 26-second margin over second-place Denny Hamlin. Matt Kenseth was third.
Coming out of Turn 2 on the third lap, Sam Hornish got loose after being tapped by David Reutimann. Hornish made contact with Johnson, who scraped the outside wall. It looked as if Johnson might save his car before he was hit again by Hornish, then slammed into the inside wall.
"By the time that I knew that I was hit, I was already sideways," Hornish said. "I was just trying to correct it and not get into the 48. Obviously, you don't ever want to detract from the championship when you're not really even involved in it."
Johnson can still clinch next week at Phoenix if he boosts his lead to 195 points. Or can win the title by averaging a fourth-place finish the last two races, fifth if he leads at least one lap in both races.
Still, things have gotten a little more interesting.
"His game has now changed. They have to definitely look over their shoulder at whose behind him because the other guys feel he's vulnerable. Who knows," Kurt Busch said. "That's why we race the races. We don't do it on paper."
Jeff Gordon, another Hendrick driver who is third in points, finished 13th after avoiding serious problems of his own. He cut his points deficit to Johnson from 192 to 112, though he lost ground on Martin.
"A total missed opportunity that completely got away from us," said Gordon, who in April won at Texas for the first time.
On lap 175, in the same troublesome turn where Johnson got knocked around, Gordon spun himself when trying to avoid the colliding cars of Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards. He then went into the pit before it was open and incurred a penalty, but that just made him restart at the back of the field, where he was still 18th — the same as when the accident occurred.
Johnson needed only a couple of laps to get out of last place and eventually clicked off enough laps to get to 38th, just ahead of Edwards and Hornish, who missed only two laps after the contact with Johnson. But Hornish spun out in the same spot on lap 87 and slammed hard into the wall without hitting anybody else.
"It was definitely not the day we wanted. ... I'm still in great position. We're going to dust ourselves off," Johnson said. "There's not much we can do, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time."