Hendrick Motorsport's Jimmie Johnson won himself a consolation prize for missing out on a chance of contending for this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, as he claimed his fifth victory of the season this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Johnson - who was eliminated from the Chase last month after costly technical issues at Dover International Speedway - was able to take control of the race four laps from the chequered flag, passing longtime leader Brad Keselowski who had been looking all-but certain to clinch victory. If he had, then the Penske driver would have joined Johnson's team mate Jeff Gordon as one of the four drivers racing for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks time.

As it is, Johnson's win doesn't do anything to help restore his lost title prospects but was tremendously satisfying for the six-time former champion nonetheless. Johnson had also won last year's autumn race here as well as this season's spring race, making him the first driver ever to win three consecutive Cup races at Texas and only the third driver in series history to sweep both races in a single season, previously done by Carl Edwards in 2008 and Denny Hamlin in 2010.

"Just so happy for this team. It's tough to work so hard all year long and not have a shot at the championship, this is kind of a silver lining in that," said Johnson, who insisted that any sense of disappointment about being eliminated from the Chase was now firmly in the past. "Those emotions were weeks ago now, so we have just been focused on winning races and help our team mates advance through the rounds.

"We got the #24 through last week and now it's time to go out here and not have to worry about team mates and just go for a win and we got it. Just very rewarding for the team, this #48 team worked all year to be in championship contention."

CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series results from Texas Motor Speedway.

The lack of any practice time on Saturday because of poor weather and difficulties drying the wet track meant that the teams came into Sunday's race without having been able to work on their race set-ups, making the start of the AAA Texas 500 a giant leap into the unknown for all concerned. It was immediately clear that Keselowski was the man with things most under control: having won pole position on Friday he immediately took the lead and would go on to dominate almost the entire afternoon - with the emphasis on 'almost'.

Unfortunately it was bad news almost immediately for Keselowski's Penske team mate Joey Logano, whose left rear tyre blew on lap 10 to send the #22 spinning out into the wall in turn 3 doing serious damage to the car and forcing Logano to the garage for extended repairs. Although he was eventually able to return to the race he was over 60 laps down and his Chase hopes left in mortal jeopardy: nothing else except an outright win at Phoenix will now be good enough for him to feature in the season finale at Homestead-Miami in two weeks time.

"It just blew apart off of turn two," he confirmed as he waited to go back out. "The left rear tyre came apart and shredded everything inside the car. It did a lot more damage than just the tyre blowing apart

"We needed to win. We aren't out of it though, this team isn't quitting yet," he insisted. "We will go to Phoenix and try to win that one. It is unfortunate. It just wasn't in the plans today."

Following the caution for Logano's accident, the restart allowed Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick to jump Keselowski and go to the front until the pre-planned competition caution on lap 25 which happened to coincide with Ryan Blaney hitting the wall in turn 2. The first round of pit stops also saw a number of issues, including pit lane penalties for AJ Allmeninger (JTG Daugherty Racing) and Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports), and fuel pressure issues on the Joe Gibbs Racing #11 that forced Denny Hamlin to the garage for repairs.

Keselowski won the race off pit road with Harvick taking second ahead of JGR's Kyle Busch. Minutes later and Harvick abruptly slowed having cut his left rear tyre on debris; fortunately a caution was declared which meant that he was able to rejoin the race without going a lap down, and over the course of the next hundred laps he would grind his way back up the positions in order to get his second place back.

In the meantime there were plenty of incidents, starting with more tyre issues this time for Harvick's team mate and car owner Tony Stewart who spun out on the frontstretch on lap 53. The accident inflicted too much damage on the #14 to continue, but the ensuing caution was good news for Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had just been forced into an unscheduled pit stop with a shredded tyre of his own but who now benefited from the free pass to put him back on the lead lap for the restart.

Keselowski was still in charge when a debris caution came out on lap 101 and he beat Kyle Busch off pit road to resume at the front when the race went back to green. Busch himself started to wane and second was soon taken over by Jimmie Johnson after a battle with Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. However the man really on the march at this point was Harvick, completing his recovery from the earlier tyre issue to take second back again on lap 137. Fast as Harvick was, however, he was still no match for the man at the front who continued to lead lap after lap.

A 44-lap green flag stint finally came to an end on lap 149 with a new debris caution shortly after Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman had become the latest driver to suffer an issue with his tyres. The top three off pit road continued to be Keselowski, Harvick and Johnson, with Earnhardt having made good his own climb back from early adversity to run in fourth ahead of Truex and Busch. Unfortunately for Earnhardt, a three-wide battle at the restart ended up in his making contact with the wall, and while he was able to continue it was clear that the #88 was wounded and dropping back again. Ten laps later, the situation became more emphatic as Earnhardt spun out in turn 4 on lap 167; the caution that followed at least allowed him to get repairs to the car while staying on the lead lap.

"I was having too much fun out there and got loose, three-wide after a restart and tagged the wall real good and bent the car up pretty bad and knocked the rear deck lid off of it," Earnhardt reported later after recovering to finish in sixth place. "We got the chance to fix it and we just had a real fast car. I think we had the best car here. Just can't hit the wall, but man we were just having fun, running hard. Got to do that every once in a while."

Once again, Keselowski took the restart at the front while Johnson battled with JGR's Carl Edwards for second chair, Harvick having lost places and dropped to sixth after slightly overshooting his pit box. Then a new caution on lap 197 was triggered by Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing) hitting the wall in turn 2; the leaders all took four tyres and Keselowski was still in charge ahead of Edwards with Truex up to third followed by Harvick, Johnson, Ganassi's Kyle Larson and Hendrick's Jeff Gordon, the only man already assured of a place in the season finale showdown for the 2015 title courtesy of his race win last weekend at Martinsville. Larson proved to be the man with the pace at this stage and surged up to second place, only to become the latest casualty of a tyre going down on lap 233.

Larson's misfortune didn't trigger a caution and so the drivers were soon forced into a round of green-flag pit stops starting on lap 250. Harvick had climbed his way back into second, but by now he was in serious trouble with his gear shift which he was having to manually hold in place to stop it popping out of fourth, meaning he was left driving one-handed. Despite this handicap, he not only maintained position but even started to make in-roads into cutting Keselowski's lead at the front. Incredible as this feat was, the gods continued to conspire against the reigning Sprint Cup champion and on lap 282 he suffered more tyre issues this time on the right rear which forced him to drop down and head for pit road, putting him off the lead lap. Once again, a puncture in the tread from debris on the track that hadn't been cleaned up was pinpointed as the cause.

Despite this latest setback it was far from over for Harvick: while his stop had been earlier than planned he could still make it to the end on fuel, and when the leaders were forced into a new round of green flag pit stops around lap 300 Harvick soon found himself back on the lead lap and climbing through the positions. The only problem was that he would be on older tyres, but even so once the cycle of stops were complete he was back up in third behind Keselowski and Truex.

A debris caution on lap 309 reset the situation, with everyone taking the chance of one final set of tyres to get them to the finish. Unsurprisingly, Keselowski was still on command ahead of Truex, with Johnson in third and Ganassi's Jamie McMurray popping up to fourth on a two-tyre call ahead of Busch, Harvick, Edwards, Earnhardt and Gordon. SHR's Kurt Busch rounded out the top ten for the restart, which saw Truex briefly get ahead before Keselowski put him firmly back in his place. Keselowski's problems weren't over yet, however: now he was being harassed by Johnson and for the first time in hours the #2 car's grip on the race looked less than total.

Johnson finally found a way past Keselowski with just four laps remaining. Having led for 312 of the 334 laps on Sunday, Keselowski's iron grip on the race had faltered and come undone at the worst possible moment. He was unable to mount a comeback strike in time, and the victory - and with it the guaranteed spot in the season final title play-offs - evaporated like so much smoke in the wind. Johnson had timed his strike perfectly and he duly crossed the line over a second ahead of the rest of the field for his 75th win in 505 Sprint Cup starts, putting him just one behind NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt who is seventh in the all-time wins list.

"I just kept pressure on him," Johnson said of the closing laps. "I could see that he was really tight and that was the first I had seen him that vulnerable all day. I just kept the pressure on him, kept searching for line. He saw me coming on the top and protected it.

"You get so caught up in the moment and racing with guys. I just like to race guys clean anyway. I kept working on him and working on him," he continued. "He got real loose off of turn 2 and I had a big run down the backstretch and drove it in really far into turn 3 hoping to hear clear. Once I did I knew I was home free."

Keselowski managed to hold on to second place, but his crash last weekend at Martinsville had already cost him a lot of ground in the points standings and the win was what he had really needed to give him the best chance of progressing to the final. That was gone, and now he would have to pull out all the stops to achieve a miracle at Phoenix next weekend instead.

"The #48 car had mega turn that last run and I couldn't keep the turn and it kept pushing real bad," explained Keselowski. "I did everything I could to hold him off but he was way faster that last run.

"Their team did a hell of a job and found speed and my team did a hell of a job too. We led 300-some laps and these debris yellows always favour someone and it wasn't our day for them to favour us," he added. "I am still very proud of our effort today. We will have a great shot at winning next week. We really needed to win this one and I know I gave it my all."

Behind Keselowski, Kevin Harvick overcame his gear shift issues to pip JGR team mates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards for third place. That means Busch is in second place in the points standings, only two behind Gordon who is through to the final in any case, and just one point ahead of Harvick.

"Being in this position it's obviously good, but I've been in a really good position before and had stuff happen and been knocked out. We don't need to have any of that, we just need to go out in Phoenix and have a good, solid day," said Busch, who was helped by Keselowski not being able to win and lock-out one of the final four spots.

"For our situation, we wanted to see a guy that was not in the Chase win," agreed Busch. "That #2 car, I don't know what he had all day, but then the #48 seemed to find something there at the end and Superman got the job done today. We fought hard, we did what we needed to do, we finished in the top-five and we got ourselves in a pretty good spot hopefully going to Phoenix."

"Look at the things we've had," said Harvick. "We've had really good race cars and that allows us to overcome things like today with two flat tyres.

"I was more worried about it popping out of gear. It hadn't missed a gear or jammed a gear or anything like that. It shifted smooth all weekend. I was just going along like normal. One lap, all of a sudden, it just pops out of gear in the middle of the straightaway. So, I don't really know. That's happened to us several times, so we definitely need to figure that out.

"Even with the shifter problem we were able to maintain what we had. But all in all, we just kept gouging away and everything worked out in the end."

"We fought hard today, my guys did a great job with limited practice," said Edwards. "About two-thirds, middle part of the race I thought we had something and then the track kind of went away from us, the balance did a little bit and raced it back. Fifth was as good as we could get at the end. Another restart would have meant a lot - we could have been top-three, but that's a decent day."

Three more of the eight Chase contenders also succeeded in clinching top ten finishes, with Kurt Busch in seventh, Truex in eighth and Gordon in ninth.

"It was good, hard fought battle," said Busch. "With limited practice we had to go with our best effort to get the set-up. We battled through it, it just wasn't the winning car we needed to try to advance. The way that we had been running we knew we could get close to fifth. We got seventh today so we will take it."

"We were lucky to hang on and get what we did," revealed Truex. "With five laps to go, the power steering quit working; it broke a fitting or something. One of those weird days where I thought we had a shot at the win. Our car was real fast at the end of the race. Just a loose wheel and the power steering killed us."

"Felt pretty good, top ten, I would have liked to of had a little bit more," said Gordon, officially the least stressed Chase contender in the race. "We just didn't have much on the short runs. It was something that we really struggled with today. This place is tricky with the bumps and the speeds that we are running. Something good to build on and work on."

The close result for the top seven Chase contenders ensures the points situation going into next week's race is still very tight. Truex is currently on the bubble in fourth place in the standings but just three points behind Harvick. Edwards is seven points behind Truex and still in with a good chance of making it into the final four, while Keselowski and Busch are starting to lose touch and are more in need of a win next weekend.

The one driver who is now in a hole so deep that only a race win at Phoenix International Raceway is now good enough to keep him in the running for the title is Joey Logano.

"This was a must win situation [but] if we finished second today we would be in the same boat going into Phoenix," said Logano. "It isn't about points for us. Points don't mean anything right now. It is all about wins. That was our goal today going into the race.

"Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. We will be ready for Phoenix. This team is strong. We didn't take any wind out of our sails today and we showed how fast this thing was even after we crashed. I am very proud of our team."

Next weekend's race, the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, will decide which three drivers join Jeff Gordon in racing for the title. With everything still so wide open and all to play for, it should prove to be a thriller.

Full race results and updated Sprint Cup Championship standings.

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