Johnson vs. Keselowski: NASCAR’s next big rivalry?

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are developing quite the on-track rivalry, something that can only mean good things for NASCAR.

Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: In racing as in wrasslin’, hate is great.

NASCAR historically has been at its best when two or more superstars are fighting hard against each other on the track and totally ticked off at each other off it.

Think about some of the great rivalries that helped build the sport.

Petty vs. Pearson.

Waltrip vs. Yarborough.  

The Allisons vs. the world.

Earnhardt vs. Gordon.

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Great talents who are fierce and uncompromising rivals are in large part what elevated NASCAR to its position in the sporting world today.

And the next great rivalry could be Jimmie Johnson vs. Brad Keselowski, two championship drivers who are as different as night and day.

Johnson is polished and poised, Keselowski brash and bold.

Johnson is measured and restrained, Keselowski impulsive and unpredictable.

Johnson drives a Chevrolet, Keselowski a Ford.

It’s easy for fans in both camps to pick their guy in a fight as clear-cut as this one.

Since the start of the 2012 season, Johnson was won 14 races and a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship; during the same period, Keselowski has won 8 races and a Cup title.

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With Johnson leading the Sprint Cup drivers with three victories this season and Keselowski one of five two-time winners, for the second time in three years, the title fight could well come down to these two drivers and their respective teams.

That’s the way it was in 2012, when Johnson faltered in the final two races of the season and Keselowski gave team owner Roger Penske his first Cup championship.

And once again, it’s a clash of the Titans: Johnson looked unstoppable in winning three races out of four at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan, and then Keselowski utterly drubbed the field Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, where he won the Quaker State 400.

Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team and Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske squad don’t like each other much, a situation not likely to improve.

After his victory Saturday night, Keselowski made no bones about wanting another title and wanting it now.

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"I turned 30 and I’m going through a bit of a midlife crisis," said Keselowski. "I want to win another championship. I don’t want to just win one. I think I have the team to do it, with Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and the guys. I have the owner to do it with Roger Penske, and the urgency is now. 

"I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career," said Keselowski. "I’m not going to be happy with that. And I want to win another championship, but I don’t want it to be five or ten years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it’s present, and I want to make the most of it, and I’m not afraid to communicate that."

To do that, of course, Keselowski will have to defeat Johnson and the rest of the four-car Hendrick Motorsports armada. With the Sprint Cup Series sesson just one race short of halfway, Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead the points with Keselowski behind in fourth.

Keselowski and Earnhardt are close friends; in fact, Keselowski lives in a rented house on Earnhardt’s tract in North Carolina. That kind of would leans towards the natural rivalry being Johnson vs. Keselowski.

Whether the rhetoric and rancor escalate remains to be seen; what isn’t in question is how fierce the competition already is between the two.