NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series is a major attraction throughout the United States with 36 races in diverse locations such as Loudon, N.H., Darlington, S.C., Kansas City, Kan. and Sonoma, Calif. On Saturday night, the Cup Series stars roared into Texas Motor Speedway outside Fort Worth, Texas for a race that established Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick as the two men to watch in 2015.
Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch claimed the pole position for the Duck Commander 500 on Saturday with a time of 27.857 seconds. Busch lost the lead to Harvick on the opening lap, but the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion regained the top spot at Lap 34 thanks to some stellar work by the Haas Automation crew.
On the restart, Busch and Harvick engaged in a duel that saw Harvick lead Lap 37 before Busch reassumed command for the next 42 circuits.
Without many caution periods in the early laps of the race, green-flag pit stops became critical for drivers and teams seeking an opportunity to gain a coveted berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Brad Keselowski played the strategy card by not making a pit stop when other teams made the call to change tires and add all-important Sunoco race fuel to their cars. Keselowski’s advantage, however, lasted only 27 laps before six-time champion Johnson assumed command for the first time at Lap 109.
Johnson and his rival Kevin Harvick combined to lead all but 29 of the race’s final 206 laps. While the Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing continued to dominate the event, many drivers saw their hopes of Texas victory evaporate like the exhaust fumes out of their cars.
Former Texas winner Matt Kenseth spun out at Lap 229, however, the driver of the Dollar General Toyota finished on the lead lap in 23rd position. The same could not be said for teammates Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier, who failed to finish the event as a result of crashes on Lap 251 and 261, respectively. It is the first time this season that Annett, a sophomore on the Sprint Cup tour, has failed to finish a race.
When 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup participant A.J. Allmendinger spun out on Lap 310, Johnson and Harvick saw it as an opportunity to seize the spotlight in Texas. As Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray led the field to the eighth and final restart of the night, Johnson planned his move.
McMurray ultimately relented and gave Johnson the lead on Lap 321. Despite a furious charge to steal the top spot away from his longtime rival, Harvick had to contend with Johnson’s teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., seeking his first Texas victory since the year 2000.
As his Hendrick Motorsports stablemate battled for second place with the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Johnson scored his first Duck Commander 500 victory and fifth Texas win overall in convincing fashion. With two victories in only seven races thus far in 2015, Johnson has established that he is a force to be reckoned with once again after a dismal 2014 season that saw Johnson finish a career-worst No. 11 in the final points standings.