With two races to go, Jimmie Johnson has a seven point lead over Matt Kenseth after winning Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas. Last year, after winning this same race, Johnson had the same points lead, though it was over Brad Keselowski.
Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, says that this year's opponent presents a stronger challenge than last year's champion.
"I think we were in great shape last year," Knaus said after Johnson's win Sunday. "I think we're in as good or maybe just a pinch better shape this year, though I do feel the opponent is a little more formidable than what we had last year."
Well then. By now, you know what happened last year. Johnson cut a tire and crashed at Phoenix and Keselowski won the title. Something similar could very well happen this year too. So why does Knaus feel that way about Kenseth?
"I think Matt just from his personality standpoint is a little more controlled," Knaus said. "He's a little more mature. He's been in the sport for a long time. I think he's just a little more even keel, so that makes him a little more challenging to get off kilter, off rocker, so we'll have to see how it shakes out come Phoenix."
Not only is that in reference to Keselowski's makeup -- he's one of the most outspoken and opinionated drivers in the garage -- but it also could be about the performance of Keselowski and team this year. The defending champion missed the Chase this season and scored his first victory of the year at Charlotte in October.
It's also a return of serve (though was the game still continuing?) in a back-and-forth between the two teams that began last year as Keselowski was pursuing Johnson. Keselowski brought up the rear suspension setups of the Hendrick cars in August of 2012, saying that his team erred on the safe side as to not potentially get a penalty.
So you can imagine the schadenfreude that Knaus likely felt when the Penske cars got a 25 point penalty for unapproved rear-end parts in April at Texas.
And hey, we've got no problem with what Knaus said Sunday. A little rivalry -- even if it's not even simmering currently because of circumstances -- is great. While Kenseth and Johnson may be going-toe-to-toe this year and making fun comments, they're both friends. There's not that vibe between the No. 48 and No. 2 teams.
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