Jimmie Johnson extends his NASCAR lead

Last updated 14:29 05/11/2012

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Jimmie Johnson extended his lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with two races to go by winning in Texas, regaining the lead on the final restart, and beating Brad Keselowski in a two-lap shootout. Johnson led 168 laps, but found himself chasing toward the end.

The third restart in the late laps proved to be the charm for No. 48 Chevrolet. During that restart on the 333rd of 334 laps, Johnson and Keselowski were side-by-side. Johnson charged hard on the outside, and cleared him on the back straight.

He held on for the final 1 laps to win from pole for the second week in a row. ''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.''

Keselowski had taken only left-side tires - when everybody else took four tires - and went from fourth to first on another restart with 19 laps left. But there were two more restarts after that, including one when Johnson and Keselowski banged together hard after they got going, but Johnson won the one that counted most.

''I thought I had it, but we kept getting all those yellows,'' Keselowski said.

''I knew I wasn't going to be able to execute every restart, and Jimmie did a great job on that last one.'' Johnson increased the No. 48 Chevrolet's lead by five points to seven over Keselowski, a runner-up in his No. 2 Dodge by leading 75 laps despite never having before finished better than 14th in Texas.

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. Kyle Busch, who led four times for 80 laps, finished third and Matt Kenseth was fourth. It was Johnson's 60th career victory and second at Texas, where he was the runner-up in April. It also was the 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup victory for Chevy. Johnson's teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne were involved in contact in the back of the field with Greg Biffle, setting up a restart with eight laps to go.

After Johnson charged high, and got a little loose, he came to the line side-by-side with Keselowski. On the next lap, they made hard contact but kept going forward. Johnson maintained a slight lead at the line, but Keselowski pulled ahead and was still in front for two laps before Mark Martin spun out on the front straight, setting up the final green-white-chequered finish.

There were nine cautions for 49 laps, including that late flurry that changed the race. Keselowski had more than a 2-second lead over Johnson when there was a caution for debris with 59 laps left.

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But Keselowski got in his pit box awkwardly, then had to back up to get around Danica Patrick's car in the stall ahead of him. Once Keselowski pulled out, he ended up in a jam of cars and dropped eight spots to ninth for the restart.

Keselowski worked himself back up to fourth before the next stop, when he took two tires and went back in front. Tony Stewart finished fifth, followed by Clint Bowyer, who is now 36 points back in third place in the series standings.

- AP

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