Decision 2012: Race between Johnson, Keselowski for Cup title a toss-up

Posted Sunday, Nov. 04, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Brad Keselowski

2,289

Points, second place

Jimmie Johnson

2,291

Points, first place

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There are voting booths all over the place at Texas Motor Speedway.

Two names are on the ballot -- Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Pick your winner.

"We're running for president?" Johnson said, mystified.

Told it's a promotion for today's AAA Texas 500, playing off the top two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he gave a quick smile and a look that seemed to say "bad idea."

"Brad and I will really screw things up," he said.

Maybe when it comes to running the country. When it comes to running the last three races of the season, probably not.

Johnson and Keselowski have been the best drivers of the year in NASCAR Sprint Cup, and the championship will more than likely belong to one or the other. Johnson enters today's race leading Keselowski by two points. The next driver, Clint Bowyer, is 26 points behind.

They would have to really screw things up.

Which is possible.

"In some respects, you can look at it as two guys, but I'm not putting too much stock in that," Johnson said. "A mid-pack finish for Brad and myself could bring everybody back."

But not likely.

Keselowski has been out of the top 10 in only two races since the end of June. He won at Chicago to kick off the Chase and again two weeks later at Dover in a head-to-head showdown with Johnson.

And when it comes to Johnson, the five-time champion's consistency, skill, pit crew, organization and luck is the envy of every driver in the garage.

"Winning five championships in a row isn't done by accident or by luck," said Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I think he has got the entire package as far as not only is he one of the best drivers in the series, but he has got possibly one of the smartest minds on his pit box in Chad Knaus controlling the entire team.

"Everybody around that team -- all the road guys, all the pit crew, everybody -- is just really maxed out in talent and ability."

At 37, in his 11th full-time Sprint Cup season, Johnson is at the height of his career. He has a good chance for a sixth championship in seven years.

"I've worked my whole career to get to this point," Johnson said. "I think I've matured a lot. Even through five championship years and last year, coming up short, I just think that I'm a better race car driver and focused on the right things today more than I was last year. And even my race team. I have a crystal-clear focus on what I need to do and how to go about it."

So who wins Texas Motor Speedway's "election?"

Johnson didn't make a guess. He just smiled.

He's been through the pressure of a Sprint Cup championship run. Five times. Successfully. Keselowski is trying to do it for the first time.

"I think the hype is great for our sport," Johnson said. "It's great for Brad and me both. It's a tough thing to dodge, that excitement and notoriety that comes with it."

Spoken like a true elected official.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7790

Twitter: @calexmendez

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