News & Media

Johnson all but concedes title to Keselowski

November 11, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Blown tire leaves No. 48 team 20 points back heading into final Chase race

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmie Johnson elected to wait to have all the Florida votes counted before officially conceding the 2012 Sprint Cup championship to Brad Keselowski.

But he knows his outlook is bleak, and all the polls are now running heavily against him.

Johnson entered Sunday's Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway looking to build on the seven-point lead he carried into it in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. He left with a 20-point deficit to Brad Keselowski after slamming into the wall on Lap 234 of the scheduled 312-lap race (that ended up going 319 because of a green-white-checkered finish).

Johnson said he felt a slight vibration in his No. 48 Chevrolet right before his right-front tire went flat, sending him sailing into the Turn 4 wall at high speed. A Goodyear official said the flat resulted from a melted bead in Johnson's right-front tire that appeared to be the result of excessive braking.

"That's the way it goes. Anything can happen in racing. I hate to see it potentially end this way -- but again, that's racing."


"We were cruising along, and I think we were going to have a top-10 day, maybe a top-five day if things worked out at the end," said Johnson, who was running seventh at the time. "I had a slight vibration starting in the right front. I didn't know where it was really coming from, but we know now that it was the right front. As I was coming off Turn 4 it went down and straight into the wall I went.

"Another 30, 40 feet around the corner, and I probably would have just had a flat and not even hit the wall. But where it let go, I had a direct line into the wall and knocked it down."

He knew immediately that his day -- and likely his hopes for a sixth championship in seven seasons -- was in serious jeopardy.

"I knew it was going to be bad even before I hit the wall," he said. "I knew we would be taking the car behind the [pit-road] wall [for major repairs]."

He spent considerable time in the garage getting the car fixed, as crew chief Chad Knaus barked orders to crew members and others who arrived from the Hendrick Motorsports crew of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to swarm over the wounded car. By the time it was fixed to the point that Johnson could get back on the track, he was 38 laps down and only 40 scheduled laps remained in the race.

Johnson ended up finishing 32nd, and 39 laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick. Keselowski avoided trouble all day and ended up finishing sixth, plus picking up a valuable extra bonus point for leading at least one lap on an afternoon when Johnson was unable to accomplish that.

Now all Keselowski must do to clinch his first championship in next Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- no matter what Johnson does -- is finish 15th or better with no laps led, 16th or better with at least one lap led, or 17th or better with the most laps led.

Asked to assess what now are his slim championship hopes, Johnson said: "It's way, way out of our control after the problem we had [Sunday]. We still have to go to Homestead and race, and anything can happen down there. But this is not the position you want to be in leaving Phoenix.

"That's the way it goes. Anything can happen in racing. I'm very proud of the year. I'm very proud of the effort the entire team has put in. I hate to see it potentially end this way -- but again, that's racing. I've been doing this a long time. I've won a few championships and I've lost a lot. Losing isn't any fun, but we'll be back next weekend and next year hungrier than ever and do the best we can."