Keselowski perseveres; Patrick shines; Dale apologizes
By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
In just his third full Sprint Cup season, Brad Keselowski is hanging tough in a tight championship battle with five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson as NASCAR’s elite series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the next-to-last race of 2012.
At Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Johnson won for the second straight week, pushing his points lead over second-finishing Keselowski to seven.
But just as he did in the race at Texas, Keselowski is showing that he won’t give up. In the closing laps at Texas, Keselowski, racing with two fresh tires to Johnson’s four, held the lead until the next-to-last lap with some daring – some say dangerous – moves.
But in the end, he didn’t cause a crash, showed class in defeat and said he’s not conceding a thing.
“I’m confident that we can execute at a high level,” he said. “We haven’t caught good breaks or bad breaks, and [Johnson’s] caught several really good ones.
“I’m confident that 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. I also feel like 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. So that’s about all you can ask for.”
Johnson said he’s glad the Texas battle didn’t end with two wrecked race cars.
“It just doesn’t need to come down to that,” he said, adding that Keselowski showed great sportsmanship afterward. “The cool thing about it is we walked right up to that line, got right to the edge, and then it stopped.
“He showed a very classy move coming to Victory Lane and shaking my hand afterwards, too.”
But Johnson also maintains that he’s in the driver’s seat of the Chase.
“It’s a small amount of control, but we’re definitely in control,” he said. “We don’t have to catch any or make up any points. Seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on.
“We’re still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we’re behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.”
In her first race with Tony Gibson as her crew chief, Danica Patrick had the best run of her brief Sprint Cup career on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. She finished 24th and raced on the lead lap, against some of the sport’s top drivers, for most of the race.
“We had a really nice first weekend,” she said. “It was really steady from the beginning.”
Patrick said her No. 10 Chevrolet was fast from the time the crew pulled it out of the hauler.
“We just kept on improving with it,” she said. “I felt like it was a nice progression of the weekend where I actually felt like I knew why I went faster and I knew why I went slower …
“Tony Gibson did such a good job. I’m really looking forward to next year.”
Gibson was among those praising Patrick’s efforts at Texas.
“It was a great day and a great weekend for the first weekend working together,” he said. “Qualifying went really well, and practice went really well.
“She had an awesome race, and she did a great job. We did the wave around twice and got back on the lead lap early, and she stayed on the lead lap. She ran with guys that she’s never run with before: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. To come here and run on the lead lap and have a shot at a top-20 was pretty impressive.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. used his regular media session at Texas to say he regretted his criticism of crew chief Steve Letarte after his finish at Martinsville Speedway.
Letarte decided to leave Earnhardt on the track late in the race when many of the leaders, including race leader and eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, stopped for fresh tires.
Because so many drivers followed Johnson down pit road it left Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski, who also opted not to pit, at the front initially, but also at a disadvantage. Keselowski hung on to finish sixth, but Earnhardt dropped to 21st.
“I didn’t even think it was a bad call when we made it,” Earnhardt said. “I was being a bit of a backseat driver or armchair quarterback after the fact.
“[Letarte] had done a great job, been 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.”