Jimmie Johnson delivered a dominating performance today at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 255 of 334 laps en route to his sixth victory of the season in the AAA Texas 500.
The victory – his first on a 1.5-mile oval this year – now puts him atop the Sprint Cup championship by a margin of seven points over fourth-place finisher Matt Kenseth with two races to go in the Chase.
“We came here and tested [last week] and did an awesome job understanding what I needed in the car and what was going to create speed,” Johnson told ESPN in Victory Lane at TMS. “We came back and in those qualifying and practice sessions yesterday, we just kept putting a little more speed in the car and it paid off today.”
“Obviously, we need a lot of speed in the car and you got to win to get these points when Matt’s in there in the Top-5, so that’s gonna be a few points on him. [It was] just a dominant day for the Lowe’s team.”
While Johnson had something close to a Sunday cruise today, Kenseth had to scrap in the second half of the race to get a critical Top-5 result. After pitting under green at Lap 174, Kenseth was tagged with a pit road speeding penalty and was knocked from second all the way back to 16th as result.
But Kenseth caught a break when the caution came out at Lap 188 for oil on the backstretch, allowing the field to bunch up again. From there, Kenseth steadily began to rise up the pylon until he cracked the Top-5 with less than 100 laps to go.
He would stay there, ensuring that his deficit to Johnson going into next weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway would be a small one.
“We were just being too aggressive [on the penalty],” Kenseth said. “Honestly, the 48 had us. From the time they unloaded to the time they put it back on the truck, they were dominant all weekend. I thought [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] and this whole Home Depot crew did a great job today making adjustments and trying to get it better.
“That speeding penalty got us behind and we didn’t need that, but really, I don’t know if at the end of the day, that really affected our finish.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. collected his third runner-up finish in the last sixth races, finishing 4.4 seconds behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson. Joey Logano was quietly impressive in his run to third place, with Kenseth behind him in fourth and Kasey Kahne rounding out the Top 5.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.