Saturday Notebook: For Keselowski, it's time to get serious about Johnson
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Brad Keselowski may have an amusing first memory of Jimmie Johnson, but that won't interfere with his desire to beat the five-time champion in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Loosely speaking, Johnson and Keselowski were teammates during Keselowski's tenure in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at JR Motorsports, in which Hendrick Motorsports boss Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have substantial ownership interest.
In 2007, Johnson ran three Nationwide races in the No. 48 Chevrolet owned by Hendrick. Keselowski remembers asking Johnson for advice.
"I think we ran our first race together in Charlotte (October 2007), and I remember getting out of the car because it had rained, and I walked over to him for advice because he was out-running me," Keselowski said Friday after qualifying eighth for Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. "Charlotte has always been Jimmie's best track so I told him, ‘I can't hold on to this thing; my car is driving all over the race track and I feel like I'm going to spin out on any lap.'
"And he told me, ‘Well, man, just slow down and take it easy. Make sure you finish that race.' I said, ‘Man, that's good. I probably just need to slow it down, and if I can't finish 10th, finish 15th; don't wreck this car.'
As it turned out, Johnson should have heeded his own advice.
"We went back green, and there was a wreck, and I slowed down to see who it was. I came back around and it was Jimmie. And that was my first real racing memory of him. It was him telling me to slow down and not wreck on my own. And that happened.
"We shared a small joke, laughed about that the next time I saw him. Certainly, I have a large appreciation for the things that he's done and, obviously, the championships that's he's won and his approach. He's done a great job."
Keselowski, who trails Johnson by two points with three races left in the Chase, simply hopes he can do a little better.
"It's time to set those things aside and go after the task at hand, which is essentially being able o beat him," Keselowski said.
Keselowski started the process in Saturday's first practice session, topping the speed chart at 186.929 mph --.065 mph ahead of Johnson, who was second fastest. Keselowski also paced final practice, with Johnson fourth quickest.
COOLER HEAD PREVAILS
Now that he's had a few days to think about it, Dale Earnhardt Jr. regrets his post-race criticism of crew chief Steve Letarte for the decision to stay on the track for a late-race restart last Sunday at Martinsville.
Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski were the only two drivers to stay out on the track for a restart on Lap 482 of 500 and took the green flag side-by-side on the front row.
Keselowski held the sixth position against those who had come to pit road for tires, but Earnhardt dropped like a rock and ultimately finished 21st in his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after a two-week hiatus because of a concussion.
After the race, Earnhardt questioned the decision to forego a pit stop in no uncertain terms, but on Friday at Texas, he was much more conciliatory.
"When we made the decision to stay out, I was positive coming to that restart," Earnhardt said. "I was positive about what we were doing. When he made the decision for us to not pit, I didn't immediately throw my hands up in the air at that moment. I was still like ‘All right, you know I'm going to go as hard as I can go here.'
"I really didn't think we were going to be as bad as we were on that little run after that restart. So I really wasn't that upset about it at all. Then we had the restart and the car was real tight, real slow and just in the way. People were all over me trying to get by me. ... I was just getting more and more frustrated."
That's what led to Earnhardt's outburst after the race.
"I think I lost control of my emotions a little bit in how I expressed my opinion after the race to him, to you (media), to everybody," Earnhardt said. "Because, looking back now, I really wasn't that mad about it. I didn't even think it was a bad call when we made it.
"I was being a bit of a backseat driver or armchair quarterback after the fact. He had done a great job being real supportive of me, and I need to realize he is trying to help me. He's not trying to throw me to the wolves. He is trying to help me win races."
DEEP IN THE HEART
Texas is a special place to 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who made his first Sprint Cup start at the 1.5-mile track in 2010 and posted his first Nationwide Series victory there in 2011.
Bayne also has four starts at Texas, matched in number only by his four runs at Daytona. Coincidentally, Bayne finished 17th in his first three races at Texas before slipping to 28th in April.
"It seems like the fall of every season at Texas something big happens," Bayne said Saturday. "I don't know what's going to happen this time, but I wouldn't mind holding some revolvers and having a new cowboy hat by the end of the weekend."
The hat and six guns, of course, are part of the booty that goes to Texas race winners. After a strong effort in Friday's qualifying, Bayne will start seventh in Sunday's AAA Texas 500.