FORT WORTH, Tex. — Brad Keselowski may have an amusing first memory of Jimmie Johnson, but that won’t interfere with his desire to beat the five-time champion in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Loosely speaking, Johnson and Keselowski were teammates during Keselowski’s tenure in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at JR Motorsports, in which Hendrick Motorsports boss Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have substantial ownership interest.
In 2007, Johnson ran three Nationwide races in the No. 48 Chevrolet owned by Hendrick. Keselowski remembers asking Johnson for advice.
“I think we ran our first race together in Charlotte (October 2007), and I remember getting out of the car because it had rained, and I walked over to him for advice because he was out-running me,” Keselowski said Friday after qualifying eighth for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. “Charlotte has always been Jimmie’s best track so I told him, ‘I can’t hold on to this thing; my car is driving all over the race track and I feel like I’m going to spin out on any lap.’
“And he told me, ‘Well, man, just slow down and take it easy. Make sure you finish that race.’ I said, ‘Man, that’s good. I probably just need to slow it down, and if I can’t finish 10th, finish 15th; don’t wreck this car.’
As it turned out, Johnson should have heeded his own advice.
“We went back green, and there was a wreck, and I slowed down to see who it was. I came back around and it was Jimmie. And that was my first real racing memory of him. It was him telling me to slow down and not wreck on my own. And that happened.
“We shared a small joke, laughed about that the next time I saw him. Certainly, I have a large appreciation for the things that he’s done and, obviously, the championships that’s he’s won and his approach. He’s done a great job.”
Keselowski, who trails Johnson by two points with three races left in the Chase, simply hopes he can do a little better.
“It’s time to set those things aside and go after the task at hand, which is essentially being able o beat him,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski started the process in Saturday’s first practice session, topping the speed chart at 186.929 mph –.065 mph ahead of Johnson, who was second fastest. Keselowski also paced final practice, with Johnson fourth quickest.