Phone it in? Not Brad Keselowski
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski sat next to Marcos Ambrose in the infield media center after Friday's qualifying at Homestead-Miami Speedway when the line of questioning turned to the simple joys in life.
"My two kids," Ambrose said.
Keselowski smiled and wondered aloud how he could compete with that.
"My phone," he finally said with a smile. "That's all I got."
It seems fitting that a season that began with Keselowski tweeting on his phone during a red-flag stoppage at Daytona will end with Keselowski talking about his phone while on the verge of his first Sprint Cup championship.
The Penske Racing driver, who has a 20-point advantage over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, represents a new era in the sport. He is the smartphone-iPad generation the sport so desperately wants to attract a younger audience as it looks to become more relevant.
He appears to be almost a lock, needing only to finish 15th on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) -- no matter what Johnson does -- to secure the title. And he could add a point to his advantage by leading the first lap now that he has moved to the point with pole-sitter Joey Logano going to the back after crashing in Saturday's first practice.
But, as we saw last week at Phoenix, where Johnson finished 32nd after a blown tire sent him into the wall and erased his seven-point advantage, anything can happen.
As much as we'd like to see this decided between two drivers, as it was last season when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished 1-2 in the race, with Stewart winning the title by virtue of a tiebreaker, it seldom works out that way.
Just ask seven-time champion Richard Petty, who overcame a two-point deficit to Darrell Waltrip in 1979 -- one of only four times a driver has come from behind to win the championship in the final race.
"The guy that is the most lucky," Petty said when asked to pick who will win the title.
He smiled, but he wasn't joking. Petty experienced enough during his 200-career wins to understand that it doesn't always come down to who has the fastest car or the most skill.
It's often fate.
"As far as competing against each other head-to-head, that doesn't really determine the championship," Petty said. "It's uncontrollable things."
He's right. Keselowski gets that. He knows his future easily could be tied to another driver wrecking in front of him, a 10 cent piece on his car breaking.
An "act of God," as he calls it.
"If that's the case, then you just roll it off and move on," Keselowski said.
Johnson gets that, too. That's why he's so loose. He has nothing to lose. Asked about Keselowski possibly leading the first lap for a bonus point, he smiled and said, "I hope he tries really, really, really hard to lead that first lap. I know Ambrose next to him is going to try hard, too. That could be good for me."
Petty always approached these situations with the mindset of doing what got you here. He said what bit Waltrip in 1979 wasn't that the team beat itself, as Waltrip insists.
"They came to that last race with a different deal," Petty recalled. "They were gonna try to protect what they had. But we looked at it a different way. 'Hey, what got us here?'"
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Fate intervened, and Petty won.
That's Keselowski's mindset. He said from the time he arrived in South Florida that the plan was to "do the same things we've done to get to where we're at right now, and that is putting out strong, consistent finishes and taking advantage of opportunities when we have them, whether that's to win the race or to get a solid finish."
Petty likes that. It says a lot about Keselowski and his team.
"Yeah, he's got that mentality in his mind to say, 'OK, guys. This is what got us here, let's do it. If it's meant to be, it will happen.' If it don't, he'll truck away and get ready for next year," Petty said.
Maybe that's why Keselowski seems so loose at a time when many would be jumping out of their skin. Although he appeared a bit uptight in Saturday's final news conference -- he blamed it on being in race mode after practice -- he doesn't appear ready to crack under the pressure that Johnson insists hits every driver or crew member at some point.
We go to Keselowski's phone -- naturally -- for proof.
"Woke up this morning trying to understand how a driver who has 2 finish 15th at worst is under more pressure than 1 who has 2 win. #Confused," Keselowski wrote Friday on Twitter.
There are reasons. Johnson has five titles, so he's not feeling pressure to win another, except for his goal of winning eight to be considered the greatest driver of all time.
Johnson also has experienced and dealt with everything that comes in the final race.
But in this smartphone-iPad generation that 28-year-old Keselowski embodies, perhaps pressure is relative. Perhaps it gives someone like Keselowski an outlet to relieve some of the stress drivers typically keep bottled inside.
When a fan wrote on Twitter earlier in the week that her "stomach is in knots hoping you'll win it all this weekend," Keselowski responded, "Beer helps."
On Friday, fellow driver Denny Hamlin tweeted, "Hey @keselowski, would this be a bad weekend for me to pay you back for all those times you wrecked me? i mean i do owe ya a couple."
Keselowski jokingly responded via phone, "@dennyhamlin it'll be hard to pay me back if I'm looking at your rear!"
Logano called Gordon and asked for an apology for Gordon wrecking him in his dispute with Bowyer. Bowyer tweeted on his phone an apology for using the R-word in reference to the incident. Hamlin and Gordon's wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, got into a Twitter war with their phones.
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If Keselowski wins the title, he'll probably have a phone delivered to him before he does his burnout so he can share that moment and everything else with those 328,000-plus followers.
These definitely are different from the times Petty remembers. He never called a driver to work out an issue.
"The way we handled it was the same as what happened in the garage area at Phoenix," Petty said. "You jumped in there and beat on somebody's head and got it squared away and forgot about a telephone. What's apologizing over a telephone?
"That's zero, man. There's no emotion, no feel. There's nothing there."
There is feeling. You just need Wi-Fi to pick it up.
A Keselowski title could ramp that up. He'll be the poster child for NASCAR as it prepares for a digital cockpit in 2014.
That's not to suggest that another title for Johnson would be bad for the sport. It would create a buzz next year and in ensuing years as he attempts to tie and perhaps break the record of seven titles held by Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
It would create debates such as the one Petty wrestled with when asked where Johnson would rank if he reached eight titles.
"That would make him the greatest of his era," Petty said.
A Keselowski championship would give him the jump on being the greatest in the smartphone-iPad era. There's no reason to think he won't win it, either, unless, as Petty says, fate intervenes.
"He's driving the fool out of that thing," Petty said.
The car, not the phone.
But Keselowski is driving the fool out of his phone, too. He had it in his hand when he left the media center Saturday. He said the only thing he'll do to stay loose before the race -- other than having a bedtime beer -- is tweet.
"I'm trying to stay loose, I'm trying to have fun," Keselowski said. "This is supposed to be a great time, and I want to treat it like that. This is the moment I've lived for my whole life, to be down to the line and have an opportunity to run for what it's worth, and I'm going to enjoy it.
"I'm not going to sit here and be miserable with it."
How could he be miserable? Even if he loses the title, he'll still have the joy of his life: his phone.
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