Johnson hoping that this time, his seven-point lead after Texas holds up

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After he won last fall at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson led the Sprint Cup championship by seven points over Brad Keselowski. One year later, Johnson finds himself in largely the same situation.

After thrashing the competition in today’s AAA Texas 500, he’s leading the championship once again by seven points going into next Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. But Johnson hopes that this year won’t end like last year did.

Last fall at PIR, his right front tire blew out and caused him to crash with 77 laps to go. Johnson had to spend time in the garage for repairs and finished 32nd that day, and the incident opened the door for Keselowski to take the championship lead with a sixth-place finish.

The Penske Racing pilot would then go on to clinch the 2012 title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of course, with Keselowski being unable to qualify for the Chase, there’s a new obstacle standing between Johnson and a sixth Cup championship this year: Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth today to keep pace.

Johnson said that he feels better this year about going to PIR than he did last year, but noted that his gut feelings about winning a championship hasn’t always come true.

“It’s so weird, because I’ve been in position before where I’ve had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row,” he said. “There were other years where I had those feelings, and it didn’t happen.

“I think 2004, we had everything going our way it seemed like, and it didn’t happen. Last year was another good example of us taking control late in the Chase, and then that ended with two bad races.”

With that in mind, Johnson plans to keep doing what he’s been doing even though the game with Kenseth is now basically mano-a-mano.

“I guess the lesson in all of that is I’m not counting on anything, and I have to go to Phoenix and race – same [for] Homestead,” he said.

“…I’m not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I’m going to work real hard and train my butt off. Stay in this little world that I’ve been living in for the last five or six months, but more so, the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.