Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2017

Jimmie Johnson fended off Kyle Larson and Joey Logano to earn his first Monster Energy NASCAR Series victory of the 2017 season in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Johnson cruised to the finish line. Fox Sports: NASCAR shared a replay of the final lap:

XFINITY Racing and the Texas Motor Speedway provided a look at Johnson’s post-race celebration:

Hendrick Motorsports also shared his celebratory burnout:

Here’s a look at the top 10 finishers, with the full results available on NASCAR’s official site:

O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Leaderboard—Top 10
1 Jimmie Johnson 17
2 Kyle Larson 0
3 Joey Logano 38
4 Kevin Harvick 77
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 0
6 Brad Keselowski 4
7 Jamie McMurray 0
8 Martin Truex Jr. 49
9 Chase Elliott 0
10 Kurt Busch 0

With his win, Johnson climbs to fourth in the points standings, according to

Monster Energy Cup Standings
1 Brad Keselowski 274 2
2 Kyle Larson 315 1
3 Martin Truex Jr. 275 1
4 Jimmie Johnson 190 1
5 Ryan Newman 163 1
6 Kurt Busch 151 1
7 Chase Elliott 298 0
8 Joey Logano 243 0
9 Ryan Blaney 224 0
10 Kyle Busch 211 0
11 Jamie McMurray 209 0
12 Clint Bowyer 204 0
13 Kevin Harvick 198 0
14 Trevor Bayne 164 0
15 Erik Jones 159 0
16 Denny Hamlin 151 0

The race’s decisive moment came with 17 laps remaining. Coming around the final turn, Johnson gained inside position on Logano and passed him on the left to take the lead. NASCAR showed Johnson’s deft move to get around the No. 22 car:

From that point forward, Johnson never surrendered the lead. He did an excellent job of closing the angles and shutting the door on any opportunity for Larson or Logano to climb into first place. The longer Johnson remained on top, the bigger the gap between him and the second-place driver grew.

While Johnson wasn’t the best driver over the course of the entire race, he excelled in the critical moments.

Ryan Blaney, meanwhile, is an example of the adage “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”

Nobody was better than Blaney for the first half of the race. The No. 21 car led 148 laps and sat in first place at the end of the opening two stages. Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Speedway tweeted about Blaney’s dominance:

To put Blaney’s early success in perspective,’s Bob Pockrass noted he had previously led 33 combined laps in his first 60 starts on the circuit.

A strategic miscue prior to the start of the final stage cost Blaney a chance to win the checkered flag. As most drivers chose to pit during a caution toward the end of the second stage, Blaney remained on the track.

While the decision helped him stay in first place, he slipped to 20th once the race restarted for the third stage. He told his pit crew “that restart really killed us,” according to Racer‘s Kelly Crandall.

While Blaney’s day ended in somewhat disappointing fashion, he collected 20 points from his two stage victories and 25 points for his 12th-place finish, which isn’t a bad haul for one race.

The Monster Energy Series will take a week off before resuming April 23 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, for the Food City 500.

Through his first six races, Johnson had a somewhat uncharacteristic lull. His average finishing position was 18th, and he ended in the top 10 just once.

Sunday’s win could signal a return to form for the reigning series champion, which would be a scary thought for the rest of the field, even early into the 2017 season.

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