Sprint Cup finale fueled by tension
Racers enter Sprint Cup fuming
This weekend's Spring Cup finale at Homestead Speedway follows one of the most chaotic races in NASCAR history.
Jimmie Johnson is the top veteran this year. He currently holds five titles, but has raced in seven championship finales.
Brad Keselowski takes a 20-point lead over Johnson into Sunday's finale, and needs only to finish 15th or better to win his first Sprint Cup title. It would give team owner Roger Penske his first championship at NASCAR's top level in 29 years of competition.
Johnson opened Thursday's championship contenders' news conference by referencing this season's IndyCar championship, where Penske driver Will Power took a 17-point lead into the finale but crashed early and coughed away the title.
Still, this is anyone's race.
"This garage area is tough, the weight of the race, I don't care who you are, it'll show up at some point in time and thoughts will run through your head and with all that being said, a 15th-place finish is not a lay-up for these guys," Johnson said. "I have a little bit of stock in that. We'll see how they respond."
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."
This weekend, there is an unmistakable added pressure weighing on the racers.
Last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Jeff Gordon slowed his car on the track so he could intentionally wreck Clint Bowyer as retaliation for several weeks of on-track contact between the two.
It led to a full brawl inside the garage between the crews for the two drivers, with Bowyer sprinting from his car to join the fracas. He was held back by NASCAR officials from entering Gordon's hauler.
Both drivers and their crew chiefs were called to the NASCAR hauler for a meeting with series officials, and police officers stood outside on guard.
"It's pretty embarrassing," Bowyer said. "For a four-time champion, and what I consider one of the best this sport's ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous."
Gordon said he's had problems with Bowyer all season and had reached his limit.
"Things just got escalated over the year, and I'd just had it," he said. "Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I've had it, fed up with it and I got him back."
NASCAR ultimately fined Grodon $100,000 and he will go into Sunday's Sprint Cup minus 25 points.
Top racer, Brad Keselowski, was livid, questioning the double-standard a week after he was criticized for racing hard on the final restarts against Johnson last week at Texas.
"It's the double standard that I spent a whole week being bashed by a half-dozen drivers about racing hard at Texas and how I'm out of control and have a death wish," he said. "These guys just tried to kill each other ... they should be ashamed. It's embarrassing."
Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.