Keselowski has talked at length of late about the pressure he's felt in his life. He came to Homestead in the Truck Series in 2004 and failed to make the race. In 2006, his family's race team went broke trying to get him to the track. When he finally got his big break, at Chicagoland in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports in 2007, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. sent him out on a track he'd never seen before, telling him if he wrecked the car he wouldn't get a chance to drive it next week.
"Now that was pressure," Keselowski said. "Moments like that make this seem not so bad, and they also build up a level of confidence where I feel like this is quite a bit easier than those moments."
Keselowski won six races for Earnhardt before moving on to Penske Racing and a Sprint Cup Series ride, and with a month to go in the season, Earnhardt predicted Keselowski would hang with Johnson all the way until the end.
"I don't think he's going to crack. I think he's going to be hard to beat," Earnhardt said. "I think he will be a tough competitor all the way through. Brad has been waiting on this opportunity all his life so I don't expect him to crack under the pressure."
Keselowski opened the Chase with a win at Chicago and picked up another victory at Dover to take control of the championship fight, but Johnson used consecutive wins at Martinsville and Texas to take a seven-point lead into Phoenix last weekend. A blown tire there caused Johnson to crash, and now Keselowski has a nice cushion that's certainly giving him some peace of mind.
Johnson said the weekend is young.
"He may be very comfortable and calm now, it may not happen until he's in the car, but at some point that magnitude hits," Johnson said. "I've lived through it five times. That's a turning moment, and we'll see how he responds. This just isn't any other race. This is the championship race, and there's a lot that comes with that."
Keselowski insists he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want the pressure. That's what I want. That's what makes it worth something," he said. "Without those questions, why am I doing that? I'm just driving a car in a circle. Without having a motivation, it doesn't mean anything. You can't strip away your motivation just to remove yourself from pressure because then you can't justify your existence."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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