KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Two snapshots.
Two very different pictures — of two very different championships.
One shot will be the centerpiece of Brad Keselowski’s album, should he win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this year.
The other will hold a position of prominence in Jimmie Johnson’s memory book, should Five-Time become Six-Time this year.
Keselowski’s photo is an action shot. On Lap 182 of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Kyle Busch’s Toyota got loose in Turn 4, and Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet sent Busch spinning into the wall. That was just for starters.
Newman went for a ride himself off the front bumper of Sam Hornish Jr.’s Dodge and spun through the tri-oval grass. Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet also caught a piece of the accident, which happened right in front of Keselowski.
With a masterful piece of driving, Keselowski steered his way through the chaos.
“I can’t believe I saved it!” Keselowski crowed on the radio. “Man, if we win the championship, go ahead and save that video clip. I hope there’s an in-car camera.”
Ultimately, Keselowski would finish eighth, a vast improvement over his 25th-place starting position. Should he go on to win his first Cup title, the action shot of the wreck he missed at Kansas will provide a treasured memory of a pivotal moment.
“I said when we finished Talladega that somebody should make ‘I survived Talladega’ T-shirts,” Keselowski said after the race. “Well, I didn’t know, coming to Kansas, it was going to be the same. Just wrecks and accidents and blown tires — everything you can imagine happened today.”
Jimmie Johnson’s prized photo is quite different. It’s a still life — at least where his No. 48 Chevrolet is concerned. The car sits immobile on pit road, but the activity surrounding it is frenetic.
On Lap 135, Johnson tried an aggressive pass of Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota, lost control of the car and backed into the Turn 4 wall. Lap after lap under caution, Johnson brought the car to pit road, where his team repaired it as crew chief Chad Knaus barked orders, in effect putting the car back together with bubble gum and baling wire.
Johnson didn’t lose a lap in the process, and when the he restarted in 29th place on Lap 142, Knaus radioed to his driver, “I looked at the car — there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Anyone scanning the No. 48 frequency would have been appropriately skeptical, but as it turned out, Knaus was no pit box Pollyanna. Johnson rallied to finish ninth, and because he had led laps before the accident and Keselowski never got the lead, he and Keselowski both scored 36 points on Sunday.
That left Johnson seven points behind Keselowski, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader.
The performance of Johnson and his team is a stern reminder that the resilience that carried them to five straight championships from 2006 through 2010 hasn’t dissipated one iota. Hence, the shot of the BearBond ballet is emblematic of what may well become a championship season.
“The best way to send (a message) is how you perform on the track, and today we showed what our team is capable of,” Johnson said. “Outside of that, and the one mistake I made, everything else went pretty awesome. I’m proud of the team, and I hope the other guys are paying attention.”
Johnson and Keselowski can point to Kansas as critical to their title hopes. What happened Sunday will leave an indelible impression, should either man win the championship.
Then again, those two photos may find their way to the bottom of a drawer, rather than an exalted place in an album, if another driver enjoys a triumphant moment — in a picture yet to be taken.