Johnson demolishes field at Texas, takes lead in Chase

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Advantage: Five-Time.

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.

More to come later tonight…

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.