Only one race separates Brad Keselowski from his first Sprint Cup championship.
Following Sunday’s race at Phoenix, Keselowski not only took over the points lead from Jimmie Johnson after the No.48 blew a right-front tire with 76 laps to go, but he also gave himself some breathing room over the five-time champion.
By managing to survive the final laps with a six place finish, Keselowski holds a 20-point lead. All he needs to do to win the championship is finish 15th or better and he will deliver the first championship to car owner, Roger Penkse, in NASCAR’s top level.
But, as everyone knows, there are no guarantees in racing. That was apparent as recently as Sunday at Phoenix when Jimmie Johnson crashed and finished 32nd at a track where statistics show he’s one of the best at the track.
Statistics have seemingly been one of the major story lines of the Chase thus far, typically favoring the experience of Johnson over the exuberance of the new-blood Keselowski. But the fact that Johnson has the better numbers over the years hasn’t phased the Michigan native in search of his first championship.
” For us it’s about focusing on getting the job done and trying not to think about all those other things, whether it’s what it means or what obstacles lie ahead,” said Keselowski.
“It’s about just focusing on what we need to do, and the history books and the life lessons and so forth, those things will work their way out in the end if you just get the job done, and I think that’s where our focus is.”
So far, keeping focused on the grand prize is exactly what Keselowski has done in the Chase. In the first 9 races, he’s finished inside the top-10 on eight occasions, picking up two wins and three top-fives in the process.
Not to mention, his worst finish in those nine races was an 11th place effort at Charlotte Motor Speedway after he led the majority of the race before fuel strategy bit him and his team late as they were in contention for the win.
What those numbers translate into for Keselowski is an average finish of 5.3, the best among all other chasers this year.
Without a doubt the performance by Keselowski and his No.2 team has been strong, championship-worthy strong. But, in racing you see teams that are able to win many races, lead laps and show speed week-after-week, yet they’re still not quite able to put the entire package together to win the championship.
Sometimes, what winning a championship can take is a little bit of luck to go with the strengths of the team and driver where they can seemingly do no wrong.
Take a look back to last year’s Chase battle with Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart.
Throughout the season, it was obvious that Edwards was going to be a threat for the championship with his remarkable consistency while Stewart questioned himself whether or not he would even make the Chase, much less contend for the title.
But once the Chase rolled around, the ball was in Stewart’s court, winning five of the 10 races in the Chase. As for Edwards, he was consistent and competed with Stewart, but could never quite flip the switch that the No.14 team seemed to find en route to the championship.
While we aren’t going to see Keselowski click off five wins, we have seen him show us that he is indeed ready to become a Sprint Cup champion. But he isn’t letting the fact that many think he’s ready and his 20-point lead go to his head.
” I can tell you that the group that I have and that I’m surrounded by, whether it’s in my personal life or professional life, they’re not known for being very rattled in these opportunities, in these positions, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing that you can do is be surrounded by people that share that same passion that you have but also put out a level of calmness that is somewhat addictive,” said Keselowski.
“I feel like if you look at Paul (Wolfe,crew chief), Paul is pretty stone-faced, and that’s his style. He’s not a real emotional guy, and certainly you cue off of that, just like Jimmie was saying he does with Chad, and there’s other guys.
“You look at Roger, Roger is the same way. You’re not going to see Roger showing a bunch of emotion even if we do win it. He’s going to be very stoic, as he always is, which is great.
“And my family life, personal life is the same way, whether it’s my dad or mom, when they have their successes, they’re certainly very passionate and happy for them, but they’re also very quiet and very capable of moving forward and looking forward to not get too caught up in the moment.
“I’m relying on the people I’m surrounded by.”
While we’ll surely know who wins the 2012 championship when the checkered flag falls on Sunday night, it certainly looks as though it’s Keselowski’s title for the taking.
The question is; will he take it, or will he give it away?