Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski is doing his level best to focus on the business at hand -- winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship -- despite Jimmie Johnson's best efforts to make Keselowski concentrate on other things.
With one race left on the schedule, Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Keselowski and Johnson are the only two drivers mathematically alive in the battle for the Cup championship. Keselowski has the upper hand, leading Johnson by 20 points; if the driver of the No. 2 Dodge finishes 15th or better, he'll be the champion, no matter what else happens during the race.
Johnson, however, is trying to make sure Keselowski is aware of everything that could possibly go wrong.
As the drivers share the dais during Thursday's press conference at the 1.5-mile track where they'll settle the title on Sunday, Johnson pointed out that finishing 15th in the Cup series isn't a layup. Then he reminded Keselowski of the IndyCar season finale at Fontana, Calif., where Ryan Hunter-Reay overcame a 17-point deficit to wrest the title from Will Power.
"You know, of course, I'm going to find points that give myself motivation and my team," Johnson said. "And, Brad, if you'd like me to call later and remind you of any other examples, I certainly can, of guys that didn't pull off the season finale as they would hope.
"But one thing I've learned is that, regardless of how experienced anyone is in this championship battle, at some point the magnitude of it hits you. At some point -- he may be very comfortable and calm now; it may not happen until he's in the car -- but at some point that magnitude hits, and I've lived through it five times.
"That's a turning moment, and we'll see how he responds. It also carries over to guys changing tires. There's some point where every member on that race team goes, ‘This is it -- this is what I've worked so hard far.' I'll be glad to point out those moments as needed."
Keselowski doesn't plan to sit in his car, wondering when that moment will come.
"You know that he has a motivation behind his comments that discredits them of credibility," Keselowski said. "It's pretty easy to brush off when you think about it that way."
CLEAN SLATE FOR STENHOUSE
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will win his second straight Nationwide Series championship on Sunday if his 20-point lead over Elliott Sadler stands up, but Stenhouse's future lies in the Cup series, where he'll race full-time for the first time next year.
On Wednesday, Roush Fenway Racing announced its driver/crew chief lineup for 2013. For those who expected either Jimmy Fennig (current Cup crew chief of departing Matt Kenseth) or Mike Kelley (Stenhouse's Nationwide crew chief) to lead the 25-year-old driver's foray into NASCAR's top division, the appointment of engineer Scott Graves came as a surprise.
"It's cool to have a crew chief that doesn't have any habits," Stenhouse told the NASCAR Wire Service after the formal press conferences at Homestead. "It's not like I'm coming in and I'm having to adjust to him. He's going to come in and kind of learn what I like, and that's what he's going to roll with.
"I think that's a cool situation to be in."
Stenhouse participated in the decision to install Graves as his crew chief, in a series of moves that sent Fennig to the No. 99 Ford of Carl Edwards, who has been mired in a year-long slump after losing the 2011 championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker.
"Before the announcement came out, before any decisions were made, (general manager) Robbie Reiser and (team owner) Jack (Roush) came to me, and we sat down and talked about all the different scenarios and all the different situations, what we thought was best -- not only for me, but for our company in general," Stenhouse said.
"I think we did the best with what we had within our company to make our company strong all the way across the board. We need Carl back in championship form. We need Greg (Biffle) to be in championship form. We need guys that want to work hard and build a relationship and work up with me. I think all the pieces are in the right place."
If he should win the Sprint Cup title, Brad Keselowski would be the first Michigan native to do so. Keselowski, 28, also would be the first Cup champion born after Richard Petty won his seventh and final championship (1979) and after Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first (1980).
If Ty Dillon, 20, were to overcome a 12-point deficit to James Buescher and win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, he would supplant his brother, Austin Dillon, as the youngest champion in series history.
Should Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win the Nationwide Series title, he would become the sixth driver to claim back-to-back championships. Sam Ard (1983-1984), Larry Pearson (1986-1987), Randy LaJoie (1996-1997), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-1999) and Martin Truex Jr. (2004-2005) are the five drivers who already have achieved that distinction.