NASCAR

Johnson, Keselowski test one another

Jimmie Johnson (right) is engaging in a little mind play with Brad Keselowski.
Share This Story

Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

MORE>>
 
   
 

HOMESTEAD, Fla.

Jimmie Johnson’s prerace strategy for this weekend is simple – plant a seed of doubt in the mind of opponent Brad Keselowski.

As the clock ticks closer to Sunday’s season finale, which will decide the Sprint Cup championship, Johnson knows from experience that moments of uncertainty will start to flood Keselowski’s mind.

After competing for multiple NASCAR titles – and successfully winning five consecutive – Johnson has learned a lot about racing and the head games that exist at this level.

“The magnitude sets in at some point,” Johnson said of that final race in competing for the title. “…I’ve been there, and I’ve been the guy leading the points and people are so curious to know all these ‘what-ifs’ – what if it happens and you’re forced to answer questions that you’re not used to answering that you don’t want to answer? And it builds through the course of the week.

“Again, it hits everybody differently and there’s no guarantees how it’ll hit him.”

Johnson held the points lead entering the final race in his first four of five successful title runs. But this weekend he finds himself 20 points behind Keselowski, who only needs to finish 15th or higher to take home his first Sprint Cup.

Sitting next to Keselowski on Thursday, Johnson was quick to point out the probability of considering “a top 15 finish as a lay-up is tough.”

“This garage area is tough,” Johnson added. “The weight of this race, I don’t care who you are it’ll show up at some point in time and thoughts will run through your head and with all that being said a 15th-place is not a lay-up for these guys.

“So I have a little stock in that. And we’ll see how they respond. Their trends this year have been strong, but this is a different race.”

Still, Johnson has never come into Homestead-Miami Speedway with the sole intent of winning the race. While his results have been respectable – he has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts – Johnson’s average finish of 13.5 is far from stellar.

The fact that Johnson has led just 74 of the 2,793 laps completed proves the No. 48 driver has done far more riding around the 1.5-mile track with the intent of winning the title than winning the race. His career-best finish of second at Homestead came in 2010, when he entered the race with a 15-point deficit to Denny Hamlin, which was under a different points system and roughly translate to a three-point deficit under this one.

For Johnson, Hamlin was easy pickings. Hamlin had lost ground running out of gas the previous week and was already fragile. He appeared nervous during the contenders’ news conference. His resolve melted as the weekend rolled on with Johnson qualifying sixth and Hamlin 37th. Plus the distractions of South Florida's nightlife were a little too much for Hamlin to overcome.

Hamlin destroyed his car racing aggressively before 25 laps were completed. Despite multiple repairs to Hamlin’s car, he finished 14th. Johnson’s second-place finish was enough for his fifth title.

This year, there’s no doubt Keselowski’s Penske Racing crew will protect its driver to a greater degree than Joe Gibbs Racing did Hamlin. Keselowski will be kept on a short leash -- and in close proximity to the racetrack.

While both drivers come from humble beginnings, Keselowski desperately feels the need to prove he belongs - and that will keep him focused on priorities.

Yes, Johnson will plant a seed of doubt. And yes, he knows that regardless of the tough exterior Keselowski has tried to portray, the “aha moment” will come as it does for everyone involved in a championship battle.

“Every guy that goes over the wall to perform the pit stops can have that moment and will have that moment,” Johnson insisted. “Every guy turning a screw, a nut, putting fuel in the car, crew chiefing the race, engineering the race, everybody has the same thing on their mind. You're protecting something. It is something we have all worked for our whole lives to get to this point. It is a huge, huge moment.

LAST CALL

NASCAR championship weekend brought plenty of action at Homestead.

“So regardless of what I say or (any) needling I can do, those moments are going to show up, and if I can plant that seed and help spur that moment along, then cool. But I'm not -- I didn't come in here with a huge agenda thinking that I was going to make a difference in that because I know those moments are going to come. I've been there.”

After this weekend, Keselowski can say he has been there, too. But will he fall for Johnson’s intimidation beforehand?

“Well, there's two types of pressure,” Keselowski said. “…There's pressure applied and pressure felt. Certainly he's trying to apply pressure. Certainly I don't feel any.”

By Sunday night, we’ll know whether Keselowski called Johnson's bluff.

Tagged: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski

More Stories From Lee Spencer

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



NASCAR Videos

First Turn: Best Rookie Seasons - No. 9: Kyle Busch Posted: Apr 17, 2014
In a new segment called “First Turn”, The Hub is counting down the best rookie s...

NASCAR Race Hub: Should We Worry About the 48 Team? Posted: Apr 17, 2014
With the new Chase rules putting a heavy emphasis on winning, after eight races,...

The Mock Run with Kaitlyn Vincie: Creepy Selfies Posted: Apr 17, 2014
Kaitlyn Vincie and Nascarcasm tackle Kevin Harvick's Creepy Selfie, Dead Bird-Na...

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Chase Authentics Danica Patrick Big Rig Tri-Blend T-Shirt - Charcoal http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Danica_Patrick/browse/featuredproduct/974547/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_974000/ff_974547_xl.jpg&w=100 26.95 Chase Authentics Danica Patrick Big Rig Tri-Blend T-Shirt - Charcoal
    Kyle Busch One Spot Gauge T-Shirt - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Kyle_Busch/browse/featuredproduct/1011659/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1011000/ff_1011659_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Kyle Busch One Spot Gauge T-Shirt - Black
    Matt Kenseth One Spot Gauge T-Shirt - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Matt_Kenseth/browse/featuredproduct/1011661/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1011000/ff_1011661_xl.jpg&w=100 9.99 Matt Kenseth One Spot Gauge T-Shirt - Black
    Chase Authentics Carl Edwards 2013 Driver Schedule T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Carl_Edwards/browse/featuredproduct/1041164/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1041000/ff_1041164_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Chase Authentics Carl Edwards 2013 Driver Schedule T-Shirt - Ash