Jimmie Johnson needs luck, chaos to strip title from Keselowski

HOMESTEAD -- Jimmie Johnson has a shot Sunday afternoon.

But it's reminiscent of the scene in "Dumb and Dumber" where Lloyd is clinging to some delusional hope that Mary is interested in him.

Lloyd : "What are my chances?"

Mary: "Not good."

Lloyd: "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?"

Mary: "I'd say more like one out of a million."

Lloyd: "So you're telling me there's a chance... YEAH!"

You'd have to be dumb, or even dumber, to like Johnson's chances to win his sixth Sprint Cup title this weekend. He is 20 points behind leader Brad Keselowski going into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400, the final race in the 2012 Sprint Cup season. Even if Johnson wins the race, all Keselowski has to do is finish 15th or better to win the title.

It's going to take something quirky -- Keselowski cutting a tire, bouncing into a wall, a pit road penalty, or maybe even getting caught up as collateral damage in the Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon retribution tour, if it comes to that.

Or maybe, all he has to do is hit the skids mentally.

"At some point, the magnitude of it hits you," Johnson said. "He may be very comfortable and calm now. It may not happen until he's in the car. But at some point, that magnitude hits, and I've lived through it five times. That's a turning moment, and we'll see how he responds."

Johnson won five consecutive championships from 2006-10, having weathered all of the psychological yada-yada. But he's also smart enough to know that catching Keselowski will take a variable not in the standard playbook, and Keselowski has shown no signs of withering.

Keselowski has finished no lower than 11th in the nine Chase races. Overall, his average finish this season is 9.9. He has also improved his average track finish at every track this season.

So how on earth do you build a case for Johnson?

"Keselowski's got the most pressure on him because Johnson has no pressure to win a title. He's won five of 'em," said ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace, who used to drive Keselowski's No. 2 Dodge for Penske Racing. "And Jimmie has his best car. He's got all his good stuff, and he's going to try to throw a Hail Mary at him and rip the kid's head off."

That would probably earn Johnson a trip to the NASCAR hauler -- aka the principal's office -- on Sunday, but every other tactic is within play.

"The 'a-ha' moment comes for everybody that's in that championship battle," Johnson said. "It's easy right now to focus on just the drivers because we're here with the mics and doing this whole press conference.

"But every guy that goes over the wall to perform the pit stops can have that moment, and will have that moment. Every guy turning a screw, a nut, putting fuel in the car, crew chiefing the race, engineering the race, everybody has the same thing on their mind. You're protecting something. It is something we have all worked for our whole lives to get to this point. It is a huge, huge moment."

Keselowski will have a moment on Sunday.

But my guess isn't the one Johnson is envisioning.

The kid is all right. At 28, he's already survived a bankruptcy as the Keselowski's family race team blew up while trying to build their son's career. That burden, pressure, guilt has already been lifted. He's repaid them for all that was lost.

Now he wants more.

"I've been going for the championship all my life," Keselowski said.

All that's left now is for Keselowski to lift something more tangible -- the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy, a 27-pound beauty of his perseverance.

He has a shot. Far better than one in a million.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

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