HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Thursday’s news conference between Sprint Cup title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski featured some good-natured ribbing.
Keselowski will enter Sunday’s Ford 400 series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a solid, 20-point lead. He can guarantee his first Cup title with a finish of 15th or better.
It was over that statistic that Johnson, a five-time series champion, launched his first barb.
“I think to think that a top-15 finish is a layup is tough,” Johnson said. “This garage area is tough, the weight of the race.
“I don’t care who you are, it’ll show up at some point in time, and thoughts will run through your head. And with all that being said, a 15th-place finish is not a layup for those guys.”
The statistics might not be on Johnson’s side. Keselowski has finished 11th or better over his past 11 races.
Johnson would not relent, however.
Asked if he was putting the weight on Keselowski, Johnson replied, “You know, of course I’m going to find points that give myself motivation and my team, and if there’s anything I can do …
“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.”
Keselowski seemed unfazed.
“I’ve got no idea about the trends and patterns of the average finish and so forth, but I know if we go out there and just do our job, everything will take care of itself,” he said.
“To put your focus on other things is just another distraction that doesn’t serve the goal that we have. So, I haven’t done it.”
Keselowski credits the people around him for helping maintain focus.
“The group I have and that I’m surrounded by, whether it’s my personal life or professional life, they’re not known for being very rattled in these opportunities, in these positions,” he said.
“I think that’s probably the best thing you can do is be surrounded by people that share the same passion that you have but that also put out a level of calmness that is somewhat addictive.”
Johnson believes anything is possible.
“There’s still a race here, and there’s still tires on these race cars and something can happen there,” Johnson said. “There’s still a lot of tough competition on the track.
“This … is the championship race, and there’s a lot that comes with that.”