FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jimmie Johnson doesn't have to care about this Chase, and he could've quit caring two weeks ago at Talladega, when he failed to advance out of the Contender Round and into the current Eliminator Round.
But he does still care about winning, and he celebrated a victory for the 70th time in his Sprint Cup Series career Sunday night in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as chaos erupted on pit road.
Not that he really cared about the chaos, or that a driver out of the Chase won for the second straight week and may be "stinking up the show," in ancient NASCAR parlance.
"No," Johnson said. "I mean, there's a lot of good race teams. There's always people that aren't mathematically eligible to win the championship [winning races].
"Those folks always win races at the end of the year. We've been on a hot streak some years, won six out of 10 Chase races. But other years, there's plenty of other people taking the trophy out and max points out. It's just kind of how it goes."
Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon care deeply about the Chase right now because they are still in it, and those emotions bubbled over on pit road after the race Johnson ran away with on the second and final green-white-checkered overtime attempt.
Keselowski, Harvick and Gordon added to the explosive finish that saw Harvick end up second, Keselowski run third and Gordon fall all the way to 29th after blowing a tire in a tangle with Keselowski.
Gordon pulled his car off the track and parked beside Keselowski's No. 2 car and got out quickly. Harvick came along and shoved Keselowski in the back toward Gordon, and that seemed to touch things off.
With Harvick's distraction, Gordon went after Keselowski, Keselowski tried to get to Gordon and the two crews mixed it up in a rollicking melee that involved more shoving than punching, even though Gordon and Keselowski ended up sporting a little blood and swollen lips.
When cooler heads prevailed, Gordon summed up his anger succinctly for a live TV audience.
"I just got slammed with the 2," he told ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch. "He cut my tire.
"He's just a dips---."
Keselowski saw things differently, saying he was just going for it on the first green-white-checkered restart from his third-place position as Gordon took off from first place. Johnson was on the inside of the first row, officially restarting second, and Gordon swung high looking for grip, quickly opening a gap, though not one you could easily get a car through, it appeared.
"There was a hole, and I went for it," Keselowski said. "It closed up, and we bounced off each other and kept going. It was just a battle for the win."
As for Harvick?
"I mean, if you are going to run into people all the time, you are going to have to fight your own fight, so I helped [Keselowski] get into it." he said.
There were also hard feelings toward Keselowski at the end of the Charlotte race last month, but that didn't stop him from winning at Talladega to stay alive in the Chase. What will happen at Phoenix next Sunday? Tune in and see (3 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).
Getting into the Chase breakdown, it of course received another shake-up -- Gordon was the points leader entering the race and fell to fourth, one point clear of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards to advance to the Homestead finale with a shot at the title.
More than anything, NASCAR is getting what it wants -- with a fight that is sure to be used in commercials all week, to boot!
Keselowski, in seventh place, is only five points behind Gordon, and Harvick is only six back. All eight drivers in the Chase are still very much alive for the championship.
Johnson doesn't have to care about any of that, either.
As Gordon and Keselowski were in the scrum on pit road, six-time champion Johnson was performing burnouts on the frontstretch before rolling his No. 48 car into Victory Lane to celebrate winning at Texas for the fourth time and the third fall race in three years. That broke a tie with Carl Edwards for the most in the Sprint Cup Series.
Running red livery on his No. 48 car to match the vests worn by workers at Lowe's, his team sponsor, he was thankful just to stay relevant.
"I'm so happy to win this race and say thank you to all the men and women that work in the stores and wear that vest each and every day," he said. "It's just a Chase that was tough for us, but to redeem ourselves here and come out with a victory is really cool."
Johnson made it clear that he also cares about his relationship with crew chief Chad Knaus, the only one he's had through all the years, all the victories and all the titles.
Their chemistry may seem mismatched at times, particularly on the radio during a race, and that has led to speculation that they may split. But Johnson said is happy to be doing what he does with Knaus.
"Just proud of the effort," Johnson said of the team, which he and Knaus said found speed at a recent test. "As Chad said, it's tough when you're going through watching, you know, a championship opportunity slip away from you.
"But you guys ask me questions in here about us raising hell with one another on the radio. But that's part of the process. That's one thing that has been good about us. We've always been able to be honest with one another and say tough things. Sure, you might not want to hear it, it might sting a little bit. But it's what has kept us together for all these years and provided the 70 wins and six championships.
"I'm just happy to be here and very happy to have our speed back and look forward to these next two races."
Don't be surprised if Johnson is more than capable of winning those, too.