FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jimmie Johnson was caught between his competitive urge to win and the big-picture reality that a mistake could cost him a shot at another NASCAR Nextel Cup championship.
The urge to win won -- and so did Johnson.
The reigning Cup champion came out on top after a dramatic side-by-side duel with Matt Kenseth, grabbing his third straight victory and, more important, wresting the series points lead from Jeff Gordon on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
The race with Kenseth was breathtaking at times, with both cars wiggling dangerously as they came off the corners nearly touching.
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"That was tough racing," Johnson said. "Matt was crowding me and I was trying to move him up a little bit and we were doing all that at 190 miles an hour. It was pretty intense."
The entire time Johnson was well aware a crash would have taken him right out of the championship battle.
"I feel like I was doing a good job balancing those emotions in the car," he said. "When I got inside of Matt and tried for a lap or two to get by him and he was crowding me, I actually backed off and let him go. So I just checked those feelings and regrouped and then went back after him.
"But, after seeing the video when I was doing the Victory Lane interview, I was more sideways than I felt like I was," Johnson added, laughing. "I think I was too focused on the prize and I was pretty crossed up a couple of times."
Even team owner Rick Hendrick was unnerved by the side-by-side racing.
"We've got an awful lot at stake here," Hendrick said. "You know Jeff was running seventh and I thought, 'We don't need to do this.' But I felt like Jimmie was under control. I was nervous and I was wanting to hit the (radio) button, but I didn't."
Johnson, who began the day nine points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, moved out to a 30-point lead with two races remaining in the Chase for the championship.
Gordon, a four-time champion, led early in the race, but was no factor in the late going, struggling with handling before managing to squeeze out a hard-earned seventh-place finish that kept the points battle close heading to Phoenix next week.
Johnson, who took the points lead for good at Texas last year on the way to his first and only title, said, "I do know we're racing for the championship and now we have control of it, I guess."
It was Johnson's 32nd career victory and first on the 1.5-mile Texas oval. He led four times Sunday for a total of nine laps.
• Results, points • 4B