NASCAR: Could Brad Keselowski Be This Season's Tony Stewart?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured Columnist IIMarch 16, 2017

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrate after clinching a spot in the 'Chase for the Sprint Cup' following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Plus seven. Minus two. Minus seven.

That equals a 14-point swing in the standings for Brad Keselowski over the last three Sprint Cup races, going from being No. 1 previously to falling to No. 2 the past two weeks.

And now, with Sunday's race at Texas in the books and Jimmie Johnson recording his fifth win of the season—equaling Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for most wins in 2012—just two races remain in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

To his credit, Keselowski did everything he could to beat Johnson Sunday.

But when Johnson took off after the final restart, he made Keselowski look like he was running in slow motion and easily finished his 500-mile cruise to the finish line and checkered flag.

Five-time Cup champions have a knack for doing those kinds of things—especially when they are bound and determined to win championship No. 6, which could potentially happen in less than two weeks.

While seven points is still a relatively easy hurdle to overcome—except, of course, if you're trying to overcome Johnson—Keselowski has nothing to be ashamed of for finishing second in Sunday's race, nor for dropping five more points in arrears to Johnson.

Keselowski did everything he could. He went into Sunday's race bound and determined to get a top-10 finish; he wound up with a runner-up showing. He wanted to stay within 10 points of Johnson leaving Texas; he's only seven back.

Most importantly, Keselowski kept his championship chances and his fighting spirit alive.

Many fans and observers may start believing that with Johnson's win Sunday, the championship battle is all but over and that the driver of the No. 48 will coast through the last two races en route to capturing his sixth Sprint Cup crown.

On the contrary, this title battle is far from over—Johnson even said so after Sunday's win.

Keselowski must go into the next race, this coming Sunday in Phoenix, with the same mindset he had at Texas: stay close to Johnson, don't over-drive, don't take crazy chances and run a fairly even, methodical race.

Granted, Johnson has a far better career record at Phoenix (18 starts, four wins, 12 top fives, 15 top 10s) than Keselowski (seven starts, zero wins, one top five and no other top 10s).

And when it comes to Homestead, even though Johnson counts that track as one of the few he has never won a Cup race at, his overall mark there (11 starts, zero wins, four top fives and seven top 10s) far exceeds Keselowski's record (four starts, zero wins, zero top fives and zero top 10s).

So how can anyone still think Keselowski has a chance when the numbers are stacked so far against him?

That's easy. Have you forgotten the neck-and-neck battle Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards had in the final three races of last season?

And when it boiled down to deciding a champion, both drivers finished in a dead heat in the points, with Stewart earning his third Cup title by one point due to the first tiebreaker; namely, he had five wins last season to Edwards' one.

Sure, things are a bit different this year, as both Johnson and Keselowski have five triumphs apiece. Still, there is enough similarity to not count out Keselowski by any stretch.

Here's why:

Even though he won at Texas last fall, Stewart left there three points behind Edwards in the standings.

One week later after Phoenix, Edwards still maintained a three-point lead.

Or how about the fact that Edwards was ranked No. 1 in the standings after the seven Chase races preceding Homestead. See how quick our memory fades?

Sure, Johnson has a slight edge right now, but the point of this argument is that Keselowski is still in this all the way to the end—unless he absolutely bombs out at Phoenix. Hopefully for fans of the No. 2 Blue Deuce, that won't happen.

At the same time, if Keselowski can close the gap on Johnson to, say, three or four points after Phoenix and heading on into Homestead, we very likely could see the championship come down to—and be settled—in much the same fashion as we did last year. And this time, we may have to go to the second or even third tie-breaker to decide the crown.

Oh, and by the way, who wound up being the guy that won the title last season? The very same guy who came into Homestead in second place.

Just sayin'.

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