HOMESTEAD, Fla. Thursdays press conference between Sprint Cup title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski featured some good-natured ribbing over the pressure of racing for NASCARs biggest prize.
Keselowski enters Sundays Ford 400 series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a solid 20-point lead over Johnson. Keselowski can guarantee himself his first Cup title with a finish of 15th or better.
It was over that statistic that Johnson, a five-time champion, launched his first barb.
I think to think that a top-15 finish is a layup is tough, Johnson said. This garage area is tough, the weight of the race.
I dont care who you are, itll show up at some point in time and thoughts will run through your head. And with all that being said, a 15th-place finish is not a layup for those guys.
The statistics may not be on Johnsons side. Keselowski has finished 11th or better in his past 11 races, dating to before the start of the Chase.
Johnson would not relent, however.
Asked if he was putting the weight on Keselowski, Johnson replied, You know, of course Im going to find points that give myself motivation and my team, and if theres anything I can do ...
And Brad, if youd like me to call later and remind you of any other examples I certainly can of guys that didnt pull off the season finale as they would hope.
Keselowski, for his part, seemed unfazed.
Ive got no idea about the trends and patterns of the average finish and so forth, but I know if we go out there and just do our job, everything will take care of itself, he said.
To put your focus on other things is just another distraction that doesnt serve the goal that we have. So, I havent done it.
Keselowski credits the people around him for helping him maintain his focus this weekend.
The group I have and that Im surrounded by, whether its my personal life or professional life, theyre not known for being very rattled in these opportunities, in these positions, he said.
I think thats probably the best thing you can do is be surrounded by people that share the same passion that you have but that also put out a level of calmness that is somewhat addictive.
For his part, Johnson believes anything remains possible.
Theres still a race here, and theres still tires on these race cars and something can happen there, Johnson said. Theres still a lot of tough competition on the track.
This just isnt any other race; this is the championship race, and theres a lot that comes with that.