Kenseth vs. JJ: Respect is mutual

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Matt Kenseth has lost some heartbreakers here, but he wouldn't change a thing about the way he lost. He raced fairly, cleanly.

Now, with more at stake at Texas Motor Speedway than ever, he won't change tactics in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN), not even if he and Jimmie Johnson are as neck-and-neck on the track as they are in the standings.

The two are tied for the Chase lead in points, but Kenseth is ahead on the tiebreaker, wins this season, with seven to Johnson's five.

But there will be no rough stuff if they can help it.

"You always try to race as hard as you can, but at the same time, you try to be as fair and clean as you can," Kenseth said Friday. "I think if you try to race people the way you want to be raced, it usually works both ways."

Johnson concurred.

"Matt and I have always had a very good respect for one another on the track," Johnson said. "We've been able to get to that line [between hard racing and rough driving] and respect each other on the track.

"Accidents happen, and stuff can happen," Johnson continued. "We're out there racing hard for a championship, and we'll see how things turn out."

Kenseth swept both Cup races at Texas -- in the disappointment category, that is -- in 2007. One of the losses was to Johnson.

"He was faster, ran us down," Kenseth recalled. "I think he was leading the points and we were pretty much out of the championship battle at the time ... so, man, I raced him as hard as I could, hoping he would be a little bit cautious and I would be able to win the race and hang on, but I couldn't."

"The other, Jeff Burton beat me on the last lap," Kenseth added, "and there's been a few of them."

And Johnson "beat me at Las Vegas one time, passed me on [Turn] 4 on the last lap. We led all day, and he beat me on that one. It still stings."

Yet he'll go about Sunday's race his way.

"The goal is to get your car running good where you can go pass and you can go outrun other guys and not worry about that [bumping and banging]," Kenseth said.

Kenseth hasn't won here since 2011, and Johnson won this race last fall. So Johnson has a slight edge in performance here in the Gen-6 car.

But Kenseth's unit of the Joe Gibbs Racing team has had a knack for vast improvements at some tracks during this Chase. Kenseth surprised himself with a win at New Hampshire and had such a spectacular run at Martinsville last week that he was disappointed with a second-place finish at one of his worst tracks historically.

"I think Martinsville is the best example," Johnson said. "You can't look at past history and say that you can count on a 15th-place average at Martinsville for Matt.

"I think the championship brings the very best out of people, and he and his people are bringing their best each and every weekend," Johnson continued. "I feel in order to win the championship you have to be up front racing for the win.

"I expect to see the No. 20 there each and every week."

Up front. Racing clean.