TORONTO - The result from the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway cut all but Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
It is now mano-a-mano.
And in spite of Johnson’s dramatic win, it does not follow that the championship trophy is already at the engraver’s and he’s already got the J-I-M-M-I-E part done.
There are two races left — next Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway and the finale on Nov. 18 at Homestead Miami Speedway — and a Keselowski win at either makes this a whole new ball game.
And both Johnson and Keselowski are all too well aware that recent history shows the driver leading after Texas does not necessarily a champion make.
Last year Tony Stewart trailed Carl Edwards going into the final two races and the year before that it was Johnson who was the second-place driver behind Denny Hamlin.
For Keselowski, he knows he will have to win at least one of those races. But he looks at the seven-point deficit as something that can be overcome, the way Stewart and Johnson both did the past two championship seasons.
“I’d say it’s probably a heads-up match going into Phoenix and probably the same going into Homestead,” Keselowski said after Sunday’s race. “We just need to win the heads-up matches.”
The 28-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich., said that even with a couple of miscues at Texas — one was sliding through his pit stall that cost him nine spots — he felt it was his race to win.
“I feel like we caught a couple of bad breaks and still put out a solid effort,” Keselowski said. “So I feel confident if we keep putting efforts out like this, that we can win races and be tough to beat for the championship.”
There were questions before and after Texas that the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team might not have the chops to be in a championship fight against a five-time winner like Johnson.
“I’m confident that we can execute at a high level,” he said. “I’m confident that the way it’s worked over the last three weeks — we haven’t caught good breaks or bad breaks, and he’s caught several really good ones.
“I’m confident that will come back around, and when it does, we’ll change these seconds and fifths or whatever they are over the last few weeks into wins.
“I feel like that’s bound to happen over the next two weeks, and we have the team to pull it off.”
What keeps him focused is he knows the seven points separating him and Johnson can be erased in one race.
“The way the points are right now, we still control our own destiny, which is if we win the race, we get the points lead,” Keselowski said. “So that’s about all you can ask for.”
And unlike Edwards last season, and Hamlin the year before that, Keselowski seems unaffected by the pressure of his first run at a Sprint Cup crown.
In fact we was loosey, goosey in the aftermath of the Texas race, just soaking in what it is like to be in the hunt for the ultimate prize in NASCAR.
“I’m enjoying it,” Keselowski said. “It’s my dream to run for a Sprint Cup Championship. It’s any driver at this level’s dream to run for a championship. It’s a lot of fun to do.
“Certainly I would have liked to have won (at Texas), but I feel like we’re fighting the good fight and doing some great things as a team that I’m really, really proud of.”
One part of Keselowski that shone through at Texas was his tough-as-nails driving style. In the next to last restart, he leaned on Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet going into Turn 1 refusing to get off the gas and nearly wrecking both of them.
It is all part of being in the biggest fight of his career.
“Obviously, it’s not going to come easy,” he said. “But anything worth doing in life shouldn’t come easy.”
Kyle Busch doesn’t like the view of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship from the outside.
It fact, it down right sucks for the controversial driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Busch finished third in the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, his third Top 5 finish in the past four races.
But it was too little, too late to make a difference in a season where he seemed lost.
He came into 2012 under a cloud after being suspended after the 2011 Texas race for slamming Ron Hornaday into the wall in the Camping World Truck Series.
Busch got spanked good and almost lost his JGR seat. And with it he seemed to have lost his edge.
He blames his lack of performance this season, however, on some advice he took about his racing in the Nationwide and Truck series as well as his Cup ride.
“At the beginning of the year it was told to me that I should cut back on my extracurricular racing because it distracts me from my Cup effort,” Busch said on Sunday. “Then I come out and qualify in the top three in all three series (at Texas).
“If it wasn’t for a truck battery issue that we have, we would have finished top three in all three series.
“Any sort of track time that I can get, it always seems to be beneficial for me no matter how tired I feel on Monday.”
So now he’s going to get back in that groove and race as much as he can.
“I’d love to say I’m doing the triple in the next two, but we’ve got Brian Scott running my truck next week at Phoenix, but beyond that I’ll be running every other race from here on out, so it’s good.”
NASCAR CHASE STANDINGS
1. Jimmie Johnson, 2,339 points
2. Brad Keselowski, 2,332
3. Clint Bowyer, 2,303
4. Kasey Kahne, 2,281
5. Matt Kenseth, 2,267
6. Jeff Gordon, 2,267
7. Denny Hamlin, 2,266
8. Tony Stewart, 2,259
9. Martin Truex Jr., 2,259
10. Greg Biffle, 2,256
11. Kevin Harvick, 2,238
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,188