Is the face of the new NASCAR Sprint Cup champion?
The 2012 NASCAR season will come to an end this weekend in South Florida.
While the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series both will crown champions, the main focus is on the Sprint Cup championship. For the third time in the last four years, the title will be decided in the final race of the season.
This week I spoke to ESPN lead NASCAR broadcaster Allen Bestwick about Sunday's race and last week's big story, Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer and causing their teams to get into a fight during the race in Phoenix.
JW: Keselowski leads Johnson by 20 points. Is that enough to get him the title?
Bestwick: The answer is this simple: Keselowski only has to finish in 15th place or better and he wins the Sprint Cup championship. Under that scenario, Johnson could even win the race and Brad would still be the Cup champ. All that said, it is tough to run a race where you know all you have to do is stay out of trouble. These guys are wired to race all-out, and so it may seem simple for Brad to race for a top-15 finish, but one mistake and it could be over.
As a driver, you start to hear things that aren’t there or you start to over-think, which also can be a bad thing. I look for Brad to run a hard race but a smart race, and whatever happens he will own it win or lose the Sprint Cup Championship.
Then there is five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who understands how to come from behind and has done very well on tracks like this one. So I look for him to go all-out to win this because he really has nothing to lose.
JW: What would it mean for Keselowski to win the Cup championship on Sunday?
Bestwick: It would be a great way for Dodge to go out as a winner. It would be Roger Penske's first NASCAR championship, and, of course, it would be great for Brad to get his first title. Actually, the best line came from Brad himself when he spoke about Roger, saying what do you give to the billionaire that has everything? His first NASCAR championship.
Meanwhile, a sixth Sprint Cup championship for Johnson would be huge as well. So, really, no matter who wins the Sprint Cup Championship, we have a great story, and in the end that is all the viewers really want.
JW: What are your thoughts on Sunday's Gordon-Bowyer incident?
Bestwick: NASCAR drivers have always settled matters on the track. It is like other sports like hockey and baseball when it comes to evening the score. You let the two guys who have the problem settle their dispute one on one. It should be noted that this battle between Jeff and Clint started months ago at the April race at Martinsville when Bowyer took out Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in a three-wide crash on a late restart. Gordon was winning the race and he feels, right or wrong, that his season was changed by losing that race.
We have a season that starts in February and ends in November so these guys are exhausted. That means that last week was a bit different because when Gordon wrecked Bowyer he collected other cars and caused a bigger wreck than he expected. Then there were the two crews fighting in the garage, which is all bad. But to wrap this up, as long as these disputes can be handled without crossing the line, driver to driver, I think NASCAR will let it go on.
* All quotes were obtained firsthand in an interview set up by the ESPN PR department this week.