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Earnhardt Jr. Campaigns – Surprise! – For Jimmie

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 9 2012

Jimmie Johnson has Dale Earnhardt Jr. stumping for him. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Keeping with the week’s theme where nearly everyone made a prediction on who would win Tuesday’s presidential campaign, Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on his prognostication hat Friday at Phoenix International Raceway and cast his vote on who will win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

The two candidates are five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and upstart Brad Keselowski, a five-time race winner this season.

NASCAR’s most popular driver chose the competitor considered to be the safe bet to take home the big trophy at the awards banquet in Las Vegas next month.

“I think Jimmie is going to win it,” said Earnhardt, one of Johnson’s teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. “Jimmie is going to be hard to beat. Jimmie is in great equipment. Jimmie has a great race team around him, smart people and one of the best crew chiefs in the business. And Jimmie is one of the best drivers in the business.

“It’s going to be hard to beat those guys.”

Keselowski, who is widely-regarded as the underdog in the battle for the title, didn’t mince words on Friday when asked if he can overcome a seven point deficit to Johnson during the final two races.

“I respect (Jimmie) but I want to beat him with every inch of my body,” Keselowski said. “And I’m not going to lay over for someone. I’m going to push him as hard as I can.

“And you know what? If he does win it, and I don’t plan on letting that happen, but if he does win it he’s going to look back at this time period and say he never fought any harder than he had to fight me. And that’s how I plan on racing him.”

The driver/crew chief combination of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus will go down in the NASCAR record books as one of the greatest pairings in the history of the sport.

Poised to clinch their sixth Sprint Cup title in seven seasons, the secret to their long-term success has much to do with Knaus’ desire to push his driver and team to operate at a championship level each weekend.

“Chad treats every race as if we are in the Chase,” Johnson said. “There are parts of the year where myself, my team members look at him and are like ‘man its June why are you cracking the whip so hard?’ But that is the way Chad operates.

“I’m thankful that he does because he never sits back and relaxes on past performance and it’s all about the present and working as hard as you can each and every week. A lot of that is due to his personality and the way he runs a race team.

“Myself I’m usually a little more laid back. It’s not that I’m trying any harder now, but I can let stuff fall off my shoulders a little easier middle of the year than he can. Right now if you are going to be the champion you can’t shrug something off. You have to focus on every single point and make sure you can get every point you can on the track. I guess maybe I’m more like his mindset when the Chase starts and prior to that I’m a bit more relaxed.”

NASCAR has yet to release the 2013 schedule for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Rumors continue to circulate that the trucks may compete at Eldora Speedway, a dirt track, next season.

Clint Bowyer, who cut his racing teeth on dirt track bullrings in the Midwest, has mixed feelings on the type of show a truck race would produce on dirt.

“It would be neat,” Bowyer said Friday. “It would be something different. I’m also up for something different. I kind of stay in the different category most of the time. To me, I’m afraid that it would be pretty slow, you know? I mean, we’re so used to seeing 200 mph in NASCAR racing.

“At Eldora Speedway, the Late Models get around there, we roll around there, and on television you don’t always see the sensation of speed. So that being said, I don’t know. I know those trucks won’t get around there like the Late Models will.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 9 2012
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