Shortly after his driver, Jimmie Johnson, won last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, crew chief Chad Knaus said that Matt Kenseth – Johnson’s main rival for this year’s Sprint Cup championship – was a “more formidable” opponent than Brad Keselowski, who bested Johnson for the title last year.
For better or worse, Keselowski tends to be outspoken, so you had to believe the Penske Racing driver was going to respond to that. On Thursday, he did.
“It’s just one of those situations where it’s hard to really define what he was trying to say,” Keselowski said according to Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News. “I said I would give him the benefit of the doubt but that doesn’t mean I’m not listening…Maybe the emphasis should be put on respecting what Matt has done, not necessarily on disrespecting where I’m at.”
According to Pockrass, he then gave Kenseth a tip going into the resumption of his championship battle with Johnson this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway: Be aggressive and battle the No. 48 at every opportunity.
“That was one of our strengths last year [at Phoenix],” said Keselowski, who took the points lead at PIR last fall when Johnson blew out a tire and hit the wall late. “If I were going to give Matt a piece of advice, I’d say use the [expletive] out of him every time you get. Run him hard because that’s his weakness.”
For Johnson’s part, he admitted today at PIR that Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske team “were better than us for sure” last fall, but firmly disagreed with the assertion that he can’t handle on-track pressure.
“I guess we need to ask Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin – who else have I raced for a championship? – Carl Edwards, a lot of those guys how we race,” he said. “We race hard. That is not a weakness of ours by any stretch.”
I have to agree with Johnson. From my perspective, Keselowski’s comments were made out of defending his accomplishment last year and to be fair, winning a Sprint Cup – and doing so over one of the most dominant drivers in the sport’s history, no less – is a big accomplishment. Maybe I’d bristle a little too if I were in his shoes and Knaus’ words hit my ears.
But you don’t win five Cup championships like Johnson has without having to go through some close battles on the track. After all, it’s not every day that you flat-out dust everybody like he did one week ago at Texas. That’s not the norm.
And the matter’s not for Johnson to worry about anyway. He’s got bigger things to deal with this weekend – like figuring out how to keep Kenseth in his rear view mirror.