FORT WORTH, Texas – Brad Keselowski was teammates with Jimmie Johnson for a handful of races a few years ago, and once drove a car owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson won an unprecedented five consecutive Sprint Cup championships before that streak ended last year. Keselowski is wrapping up only his third full season at NASCAR’s highest level and should have plenty more title chances.
They arrived at Texas with Johnson leading Keselowski in the championship chase by a slim two points with three races to go. They race today on the 1 1/2 -mile high-banked track where Johnson has 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts with a win five falls ago, and where Keselowski has never finished better than 14th.
OK, Mr. Earnhardt, how would you handicap the championship chase between your current Hendrick Motorsports teammate in the No. 48 Chevrolet and the friend who once drove your Nationwide Series car to consecutive third-place season finishes (2008-09)?
Obviously, I want to see Jimmie win the championship between the two, Earnhardt said. But I’m really happy for Brad to be experiencing the season he has had. He has earned it. ... He is a great asset to the sport for years to go. He’s going to have a lot more opportunities aside from this one; he is going to have a lot of opportunities to win championships.
The 28-year-old Keselowski agrees there should be plenty of other chances, but the driver of Roger Penske’s No. 2 Dodge quickly responded with a slight chuckle: That doesn’t mean that I want to waste them, he said.
Keselowski is trying to get the first Sprint Cup championship for Penske, who has 15 Indianapolis 500 victories and 23 national titles in different series. That includes Keselowski’s Nationwide championship in 2010 after moving from Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports, a stint during which he also ran nine Sprint Cup races for Hendrick.
Without some really strange and unexpected things happening, Johnson and Keselowski are set for a two-man chase for the title much like Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards last season.
Clint Bowyer (26 points behind Johnson) and Kasey Kahne (29 back) are the next-closest drivers in the chase. Fifth-place Denny Hamlin (49 back) conceded his title chances were done after an electrical problem that sent him to a 33rd-place finish last weekend at Martinsville.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, his Hendrick teammate and a co-owner of Johnson’s car, said there’s just no way to predict the unexpected things like what happened to Hamlin. But, based on flat-out speed and performance, he said the edge certainly goes to Johnson.