Numbers favor Johnson, but Keselowski can still win Cup title
Posted November 9, 2012
Phoenix — With two races remaining this season, if there is one common question being asked in NASCAR right now, it's a pretty straight-forward query: "Can he do it?"
However, that question has more than just a yes or no answer. It actually applies to two different drivers, with the potential of two entirely different outcomes:
Can Jimmie Johnson do it?
Can the man with the nickname of "five-time" – for the five Sprint Cup championships he earned successively from 2006 through 2010 – change that nickname to "six-time" in the next two weeks?
And then there's the other end of the spectrum.
Can Brad Keselowski do it?
Can the native of suburban Detroit win his first Sprint Cup championship, in essence out-Johnsoning Johnson? Of all the drivers that Johnson has faced en route to his previous championships, Keselowski is proving to be one of the most difficult foes to overcome.
Keselowski has proven that he can get inside Johnson's head and cause him to make mistakes – he did so at Chicago and did so again last week at Texas, although Johnson was able to rally back for what became his second consecutive win in as many races.
So, who has the edge going forward in the final two races?
He leads Keselowski by seven points, which in and of itself, is not a huge lead. But it's another set of numbers that further make the argument that it very well may be Jimmie time once again.
Compare the overall records of both drivers at the two remaining tracks this season – Phoenix and Homestead – and judge for yourself who has the edge right now.
Johnson – Phoenix: 18 starts, four wins, 12 top fives, 15 top 10s. Homestead: 11 starts, zero wins, four top fives and seven top 10s.
Keselowski – Phoenix: seven starts, zero wins, one top five and no other top 10s. Homestead: four starts, zero wins, zero top fives and zero top 10s.
Add all those numbers up and here are the results:
Johnson has a combined four wins, 16 top fives and 22 top 10s at the two remaining venues on the schedule this season.
Keselowski has a combined zero wins and one top five. That's it. Period.
Granted, Keselowski has 18 fewer starts at those two tracks than Johnson, but the numbers are striking nonetheless.
But there could be a caveat, if last Sunday's race at Texas was any gauge.
Johnson came into Texas with 18 starts, one win, eight top fives and 13 top 10s. Keselowski came in with eight starts, zero wins, zero top fives and zero top 10s.
But Keselowski proved that past records mean very little, as he not only finished second to Johnson at Texas, he cracked the jinx that has vexed him at the Fort Worth megaplex.
That's all well and good, but the question is whether Keselowski can repeat that same kind of performance Sunday at Phoenix. Can he be good at a place where he's never been good?
One other point to consider: While Johnson led 168 of the 335 laps at Texas, Keselowski led 75. And had it not been for Johnson getting a great break on the final restart, Keselowski could very easily have pulled the upset.
And that's what the two remaining races essentially boil down to: Johnson doing more of the same and Keselowski trying to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.
In the spring race at Phoenix back in March, Johnson finished fourth. In what could potentially be viewed as a precursor of things to come, Keselowski finished right behind in fifth place. While Johnson's finish wasn't necessarily a complete surprise, given his past success at PIR, Keselowski's success was, particularly due to the fact that last spring's race was the first test of PIR's new racing surface.
Ironically, it was both Johnson and Keselowski who helped develop a second groove on the new surface in that race, a rarity in many cases on freshly repaved racing surfaces. Now, nearly eight months later, the track at PIR will have a bit more grip and be a bit more aged.
In a head-to-head battle between the two, Keselowski gets a slight advantage when it comes to being able to drive a loose race car. Johnson is more methodical and deliberate, waiting for the right time and place to make a move, while Keselowski is ready to throw everything including the kitchen sink to try and gain an advantage on Johnson.
Bottom line: This could wind up being one of the best races of the season to watch on Sunday. For if Keselowski can act like a tennis player and hold serve against Johnson, and leave Phoenix with a margin of 10 or fewer points between the two, it could set up as memorable a season finale as we saw last year between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.
Oh, and by the way, Keselowski has one other bit of incentive going for him: in the last two races at Phoenix, the driver who left there second in the Sprint Cup standings went on to win the championship the following week at Homestead (Johnson overtook Denny Hamlin in 2010 and Tony Stewart topped Carl Edwards, thanks to a tiebreaker, last season).
He may drive the No. 2 Dodge and he may be ranked second in the points standings heading into Sunday's race, but you can certainly be assured that the only thing Keselowski will be thinking about is No. 1.