FORT WORTH, Texas — Brad Keselowski compares late-race restarts to a game of rock-paper-scissors.
“There's always a strategy to counteract your strategy,” he said. “Eventually, you're going to lose them. It's just a matter of time.”
Keselowski won the restart game twice in the last 20 laps of the AAA Texas 500, but he lost the important one, and ended up watching Jimmie Johnson win the race Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway to extend his Chase for the Sprint Cup lead to seven points with two races to go.
Johnson added five points to his lead, winning from the pole and leading the most laps to take a seven-point advantage with him next week to Phoenix International Raceway, a track where he has won four times in his career.
But the Chase battle reached a new level of competition in the final few laps Sunday, with Johnson and Keselowski racing each other harder for the win than they have throughout the previous seven races.
“That's the first time that we've engaged at that level and raced each other that hard,” Johnson said. “I was a little shocked by (Keselowski's) commitment into Turn 1. The No. 2 car was coming up the track and took us both into the fourth and fifth lane. Fortunately we didn't crash and didn't lose a spot on the racetrack.
“I knew he was serious about the race lead prior to that, and that took it to a new level.”
Keselowski knew he came incredibly close to causing a wreck.
“I felt lucky to survive that one,” he said. “That's just not the way you want to win a race, and not the way I want to win a championship.”
Added Johnson: “If he was taking me out, you can count on the fact that I would have been in the gas and trying to take him with me.”
Johnson benefitted from being on four new tires from a pit stop with 26 laps to go, while Keselowski's team decided to take only right-side tires. But with two more cautions after that, the benefit of the tires was minimized.
The late restarts were highly debated, with speculation that both drivers skirted the rules at times. It looked like Keselowski accelerated too early on one restart, and Johnson failed to let Keselowski — in first place at the time — lead to the start-finish line.
Johnson said he was within the rules because he allowed Keselowski back in front “either right at the line or just past it.”
Regardless, the intensity of the Chase is clearly building as it heads into the final two weeks.
“It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control,” Johnson said. “Seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about or relax on.
“We're still going into Phoenix and act as if we're behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.”