5 things Brad Keselowski must do to beat Jimmie Johnson.
1: Keselowski must not let Johnson get into his head.
The two most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup championships have been rife with mind games.
Last season Carl Edwards held the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship right up until the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Starting at Texas, however, Tony Stewart started needling Edwards on how he was going to beat the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team.
Edwards seemed to fall for the bait and was on the defensive the rest of the way, eventually losing the championship on the final lap of the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Johnson did much the same thing in 2010 with runner-up Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team after Texas.
At every opportunity Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus would direct verbal jabs at Hamlin and his then crew chief Mike Ford.
2: With only two races left in this season's version of the Chase, and with just seven points separating the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge from the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, every lap is important.
Keselowski cannot afford even the tiniest of slip-ups like what happened last Sunday at Texas, where he slid through his pit stall on a late race caution.
That mistake coast Keselowski nine spots on the ensuing re-start.
If he repeats that mistake at Phoenix his Chase dreams are all but over.
Johnson is a master at getting and keeping a lead, a skill that has rewarded him with maximum bonus points at Texas and the week before at Martinsville Speedway.
Keselowski has to fight for the lead early on Sunday and keep Johnson behind him.
It will be tough to do but necessary if he wants his first championship.
3: The Penske Racing shop in Mooresville, N.C., is going to have to give Keselowski a great — good is not good enough with two races left in the Chase — No. 2 Dodge Charger.
Johnson has a big advantage here in that the Hendrick Motorsports shop just down the road in Charlotte, North Carolina, knows how to build championship cars and the No. 48 Chevrolet that shows up Sunday at PIR will be a rocket.
Keselowski will also need all the horsepower that the Penske engine builders can get out of the power plant they put in the car for the team.
Unlike Johnson, who has three top teammates — Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — to rely on for help, Keselowski only has Sam Hornish Jr. to share data with.
If Keselowski wins it will indeed have to be pretty much a solo effort.
4: Keselowski and his drew chief Paul Wolfe are going to have to figure out a way to do better in qualifying both Sunday at Phoenix and next week at Homestead Miami Speedway.
You known Johnson and Knaus are going to be stout in qualifying on Friday at PIR and getting a good pit stall selection is what this is all about.
Keselowski nearly got jammed up by Danica Patrick at Texas because he had a poor spot on pit lane while Johnson was in the No. 1 stall.
At Martinsville Keselowski qualified 32nd and at Kansas the week before he was only marginally better — 25th.
And he lost points to the No. 48 team in both those races. Keselowski simply cannot afford for that to happen again at Phoenix or he will be out of the running by the time the checkered flag drops on Sunday afternoon.
5: Keselowski is going to have to hope that Lady Luck smiles on him over the next two races.
He knows that he will have to make his own luck, but it sure does not hurt to have the Lady on his side going forward.
Johnson certainly knows how much she played in his favour over the five championships that he has brought back to the Hendrick headquarters.
In fact, it was Kevin Harvick who once famously said that Johnson regularly races with a horse shoe up is rear end.
Keselowski doesn't have to be crazy superstitious or anything, but it would not hurt to avoid ladders and black cats for the next nine days or so until the Chase is over.
And he should check his team notes for what he did in wins and Chicagoland and Dover in this chase, where Miss Luck was certainly with him.