Having been caught out twice already, Jimmie Johnson was in no mood to make it three in a row. He allowed Keselowski no comeback as the race went green, taking the lead on the outside and keeping it all the way to the chequered flag two laps later.
"It was an awesome race," said Johnson as he celebrated the win. "The gloves are off and it's bare knuckle fighting ... That second to last restart was pretty sketchy a couple of times how close we were and how hard we were racing. Luckily we brought the cars back, another caution came out and got a great restart and got by him."
As for the flaring of tempers after that bruising penultimate restart battle, Keselowski moved to defuse any chance of a feud breaking out by making sure he offered Johnson a handshake in victory lane, which Johnson described as "very classy" of his rival.
"The cool thing about it is we walked right up to that line, got right to the edge, and then it stopped," said the five-time champion. "I have a lot of respect for that #2 team. Those guys are doing a great job. Today I think our cars were pretty equal throughout the course of the race and at the end of the race we were on four [tyres] had to take advantage of it."
"I knew I wasn't going to be able to execute every restart, and Jimmie did a great job on the last one," admitted Keselowski, who came home in second place. "I had to choose between wrecking him and winning the race, and it didn't seem right to wreck him."
Finishing in third place, Kyle Busch had the best seat in the house to watch those final three restarts, and was impressed by what he'd seen.
"It was exciting," he said. "Those guys up there, man, they were battling, and they battled hard, giving it everything they've got. That's what they've got to do. [To] win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series, that's what you're going to have to make of it." You could tell he was making notes for 2013, when he clearly intends to move Heaven and earth to make the Chase.
The next four cars behind Busch were all 2012 Chase contenders - Matt Kenseth clinched fourth ahead of Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr., while Kurt Busch finished in eighth place for his new Furniture Row Racing team ahead of Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle to round out the top ten.
By holding on to second place at Texas, Keselowski ensures that Johnson has extended his Chase lead by just 5pts this week, and the championship remains very much open heading into Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.
"It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control," said Johnson of the title battle ahead. "There is not going to be any breathing easy until the end. Breathing a little bit better. I was two points and now we've got seven, but there is a lot of racing left. We are running up front, running one-two all the time [but] it doesn't mean it will be that way for the final two races.”