NASCAR’s finest drivers and teams have rolled into the picturesque Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for the final races of the season and the crowning of three champions.
Homestead, FL, November 15th 2012. Starting off the weekend, the eight drivers vying for the championships in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series met with the media to discuss their outlook for the trio of final events. The NASCAR Championship Contenders Press Conference was co-hosted by Rusty Wallace and Krista Voda.
Sprint Cup finalists Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson were the stars of the show, and while Keselowski holds a commanding 20-point lead going into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, Johnson let it be known that he has not given up the battle. “I am very optimistic, as we have a very fast race car. We will go out and do the best we can every lap in practice, qualifying and the race. And we will see how things play out,” the five-time champion said. “This isn’t just any other race. This is a championship race and there’s a lot that goes with it.”
We will race hard.
Johnson flashed back to the IndyCar Series finale when everyone thought that Will Power had the championship in hand, only to have Ryan Hunter-Reay come home with the crown. “The IndyCar race at Fontana seemed like a lay-up race, but things can happen as this is racing. We will race hard and if luck comes our way, we will try to capitalize on that as well.”
Co-host Wallace, the 1989 Sprint Cup champion, drove for Penske Racing, in particular Miller Lite sponsored cars and said he has a special affinity for the famed Blue Deuce that he helped make famous. Admitting he needed to stay neutral, Wallace said the No. 2 is a very special car and wondered what it would be like for Roger Penske to win the coveted title.
The championship leader stated that he felt if he and Penske worked closely together, they would succeed. “If we truly worked together with a common goal, we would be successful,” he noted.
Since Johnson has been through the pre-championship scenarios in the past, he recognizes the importance of mind games and dropped a few subtleties on Keselowski, but the latter didn’t flinch. “I am going out there and play my game, race my way,” he noted. “That’s got us to this point and if we do that, we’ll be fine.”
To me, there’s no more pressure at this moment than when we started the Chase.
Keselowski said he draws his strength from the Ayrton Senna movie, in particular when Senna’s team told him to slow down at Monaco when had such a large lead. And when he slowed, he wrecked. The Sprint Cup point leader advised he has no intention of slowing down. He will just stick with his hard-charging style of racing.
“We have had strong, consistent finishes and we want to continue doing that, taking advantage of opportunities when we have them to win the race or get a solid finish,” Keselowski commented. “I think we have done that this season, and I think we would be foolish to change our approach. To me, there’s no more pressure at this moment than when we started the Chase. All 10 Chase races pay the same amount of points and if we keep up with what we have been doing, we should be okay.”
In addition to Senna, NFL superstar Ray Lewis inspires Keselowski, who has read volumes about him and watched videos on the aggressive player. “Ray Lewis brings a level of passion that is unparalleled in his sport, and he is successful because of it,” Keselowski said. “He’s a mix of old school mental preparation that just fascinates me. I am constantly impressed with his style, and I want to bring that same level of intensity to NASCAR.”
A week ago NASCAR cracked down on Keselowski for having his cell phone inside his race car, but the driver didn’t want to be drawn into the situation, only saying he feels naked when he doesn’t have his cell phone. “It is my security blanket, but it is what it is at this point,” he noted.
2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon are battling for the Nationwide crown with the reigning champion holding a 20-point advantage going into the finale, the Ford EcoBoost 300.
Should Stenhouse win, he will become the sixth driver to win back-to-back championships. The others were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie and Martin Truex Jr.
“Winning it again was the goal we set coming into this year," Stenhouse said. “We set a few goals; we wanted to win six to 10 races, and I was hoping to be closer to 10.” He’s won six so far. “The level of competition has really stepped up this year, and that’s really cool to see. It’s been fun to be a part of it. We’re coming down to my favorite track, so I can’t think of a better place to finish.”
Sadler managed to be positive, even though he may well have given away the championship possibility by wrecking at Phoenix a week ago.
Dillon, the 2011 CWS truck champion, said his goal was to win rookie honors and to be a challenger for the championship, but he needs Stenhouse and Sadler to wreck or drop out to realize his dream. “I hope it gets nasty on Saturday. I hope they door slam each other and I make it through the smoke,” he said half-jokingly.
The Ford EcoBoost 200 for the CWS will be played out Friday evening and going into the finale, Buescher has an 11-point advantage over Timothy Peters and a dozen over 20-year old Ty Dillon. If history repeats itself, the race winner will not be one of the top-three, as it hasn’t happened in the previous 10 races.
Said Buescher, “I think our whole team is just better than we were last year. We jell together very well and Michael Shelton (crew chief) and I have come a long way, him on the pit box and me as a driver. I think we are in the position we need to be in.”
Peters, an expectant father within next month, said his wife’s doctor allowed her to fly to Homestead with him, which has helped take the pressure off. He went on to say, “It would be cool to welcome him (new son) into the world as a championship dad.”
Should Dillon walk away with the championship, he would become the youngest driver to do so, taking the record away from his older brother, Austin.