Keselowski sees a chink in Johnson’s armor

8 Comments

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.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.