Getting a Sprint Cup championship was hard; holding onto it could be even harder

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The 2012 Sprint Cup championship was decided 89 days ago about 290 miles south of here, but for Jimmie Johnson, the battle to get into Brad Keselowski's head rolls on. Getting to the top is hard enough, Johnson suggested; staying there could be even harder.

"Once you are a champion, at any point following that when you don’t run like you should for a period of time, the questions will come," he said. "That is when any driver and team is tested. It just depends on when that moment in time is. Brad and (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) are both very strong together. I don’t see it affecting them and preventing them from succeeding, but they will be reminded often that you have to go out there and earn each and every week. It’s not a layup."

[Also: Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch crash just minutes into Sprint Unlimited practice]

Easy enough. Some typical mind-games talk. But then Johnson turned up the heat: "Watching him on Sports Center following the race trying to drink a beer was not sure the best thing for our sport and how he handled that," he laughed. "But honestly, he and Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) did an amazing job ... What I was laughing about is Brad, as mature as he wants to portray himself as, he had some growing to do. Now he is in the spotlight as the champion, and I think we all sit back and chuckle at times at some of the things he says and does. He is a great guy. He has the best of intentions for our sport; for his sponsor; for his team. He just needs to mature a little. I'm sure people can look back on my '06 year and have plenty of things to point fingers at."

Keselowski laughed at the idea that he might be a little less than serious. “There's nothing wrong with a little style, is there? Everyone likes a little style," he said. "I feel like I have a little style. I'm wearing white shoes. Who else wears white shoes? Dario [Franchitti], right?”

White shoes or not, Keselowski knows exactly the kind of NASCAR symbol he wants to be. "I am going to be my own person and look out for what is best for the sport," he said. "I have always felt that way, whether I was a champion or not. I feel like every driver has a responsibility to make the sport better and all it can be. I might have a louder voice now, but I took it seriously before I was a champion."

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

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