FORT WORTH, Texas - Deer hunting season opened hours before Sunday's Dickie's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. So did Jimmie Johnson 's charge in the Chase for the Championship.
By winning a dramatic side-by-side battle with Matt Kenseth during the final 10 laps, Johnson shot to the top of the playoff standings -- to another Nextel Cup title. He made the same jump a year ago at Texas, which was also on the first weekend of white tail deer season.
Johnson turned a nine-point deficit into a 30-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon . There are two races to go, but Johnson clearly has the momentum with three consecutive wins -- and no signs of slowing down.
Clint Bowyer remained in contention in third place, but he continues to fade. He's now 151 points behind.
Kyle Busch (down by 339 points), Carl Edwards (357) and Tony Stewart (373) are mathematically alive, while Jeff Burton , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are all eliminated from the championship.
TOUGH SPOT: Team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus admitted they thought about telling Johnson to back away from the side-by-side battle with Kenseth in the final 10 laps.
"I thought about hitting the key (on the two-way radio), but I didn't," Hendrick said.
Said Knaus, "When we stopped with 39 to go, I told him to get his cape out. You have to think of the big picture."
CAROLINA BLUES: North Carolina's winning streak in the Nextel Cup Series is in trouble.
Johnson's victory Sunday was the 34th time a driver who wasn't born in the Tar Heel State has won this year. A driver from North Carolina has won at least one race since NASCAR started in 1949.
California leads the pack with 17 victories in 34 races.
Sunday's race at Texas featured eight drivers from California and five from North Carolina.