Going into Sunday’s season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, everyone pretty much thought things would turn out the way they did. But I’ve got to be honest: The race caught us a little off guard.
We felt like Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team were going to swing for the fence because they had to since they entered the race 20 points behind leader Brad Keselowski and considering that in the last 21 races, Keselowski has finished 15th or better in 20 of them.
Not being able to forecast a flat tire like Jimmie had at Phoenix or even what happened to Jimmie Sunday with a pit-road penalty and then a mechanical issue, we felt like that it was Brad Keselowski’s championship to lose.
But I’ve got to say, when the race started and even through it, he and his Penske Racing team didn’t have the car that I thought they would based on how they qualified and watching them in practice Saturday.
I thought they had a car that might even contend for the win. The thing that concerned me, on that third caution at Lap 155, when pretty much all the drivers and Jimmie Johnson pitted to put them in position to be able to make it on one more stop – I was quite surprised that crew chief Paul Wolfe did not pit Keselowski that time.
I’ve said all week, they’re only racing one driver and one team here. Whatever that team does, just do the same thing because you know that if you stay with them, you’re going to beat them for the championship. When they elected to stay out, I was very shocked.
Yes there were seven other drivers that stayed out, but those drivers are trying to win the race.
Brad Keselowski was trying to win the championship.
It made it so that he and his team still had to make two more stops. I thought, “Gosh, have they given this championship away here?” Brad Keselowski told us on SPEED’S Victory Lane that he played a role in making that call and it was a bad call. But obviously they were given a gift back when under the next set of green-flag pit stops on Lap 213 -- when Jimmie Johnson was making his final stop -- his team had a left rear lug nut that was missing and he had to come back to pit road.
That Hendrick Motorsports crew has not made a lot of mistakes on pit road – obviously neither one of these teams have made a lot of mistakes on pit road this year.
That ended up not making a difference because Jimmie Johnson had the hole in the rear end line so they had to go back to the garage area and he ended up finishing back in 36th position.
It was definitely a different race than we were anticipating, but there was no question that until the 48 car started having issues that Johnson and his team were doing exactly what they needed to do.
They were trying some different strategy. They did a two-tire stop one time to take the lead to get that point for leading, to get that track position, but at the end of the day the title race ended up being different than we thought it would be -- but with the ending we expected with Brad Keselowski getting this championship.
I think it’s good that we have gotten a new champion, a young champion. He’s 28 years old, he’s very heavily into social media and that kind of falls to the demographic that we’re trying to lure back into this sport. I said this on Victory Lane and it was kind of misunderstood, but the fans have been kind of disgruntled because they felt like the last few champions have not been outspoken, they’ve been almost a little on the vanilla side.
The thing about it is, with this guy, they’re going to be far from that. I wasn’t saying that Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart were vanilla drivers, I wasn’t saying that, but the fans are looking for a different style of driver and Brad Keselowski is very outspoken.
Keselowski showed that Sunday night when he came to the stage for the show and basically saturated the four of us on the show with Miller Lite beer.
He’s going to represent our sport well, but he’s definitely going to be a different champion than NASCAR has been used to the last five, six, seven years.