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Keselowski cites Senna as inspiration

But everything that happened at Phoenix is now in the rear view mirror and all the focus is on this weekend's events, which start with qualifying on Friday evening and the race itself at 2pm local time on Sunday. Ironically given Keselowski's Senna reference, that puts it head-to-head with the return of F1 to the United States at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, after five years' absence from the race calendar.

In the mental stakes, it would appear that Jimmie Johnson should have the upper hand: he's been here before and won the title five times already. Knowing he's been there and done that successfully must surely be a help in his war of nerves with Keselowski this weekend?

"One thing I've learned is that regardless of how experienced anyone is in this championship battle, at some point the magnitude of it hits you," he said. "At some point, [Brad] 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 was certainly keeping up the fighting talk: "I definitely think it's possible. You look at our bad luck last weekend, there's still a race here, and there's still tyres on these race cars, and something can happen there.

"This just isn't any other race; this is the championship race, and there's a lot that comes with that,' he stressed. "I'm very optimistic. I think that we'll have a very fast race car, and we'll go out onto the race track and do all that we can each and every lap of every practice session qualifying and race, and see how things play out."

If Johnson were to claim pole, win and race and lead most laps, he would still need Keselowski to finish outside the top 15 for him to claim his sixth title over the youngster. But with the IndyCar finale once more in mind - where Will Power crashed out of the race early on to give Hunter-Reay his chance - Johnson was quick to point out that it was far from in the bag for Keselowski this weekend.

"To think that a top 15 finish is a lay‑up is tough, " he insisted. "This garage area is tough, the weight of this race, I don't care who you are, it'll show up at some point in time and thoughts will run through your head.

"With all that being said, a 15th place finish is not a lay‑up for these guys," he repeated. "So I have a little bit of stock in that, and we'll see how they respond. Their trends this year have been strong, but this is a different race."

Keselowski knows that all too well, and is taking nothing for granted. In fact, he said that he be happier if the championship battle was a lot closer than the current 20pt difference between him and Johnson going into this weekend's decider.

"Ask me how I felt when he blew a tyre out at Phoenix and I think they're expecting me to, you know, rah-rah about it," he said. "No, it's quite the opposite of that. I was really disappointed because I want the pressure. I wanted the pressure.




Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet speaks with members of the media during the NASCAR Championship Contenders Press Conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge speaks with members of the media during the NASCAR Championship Contenders Press Conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet speaks with members of the media during the NASCAR Championship Contenders Press Conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet speak with members of the media during the NASCAR Championship Contenders Press Conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, races to a fourth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Cleary for Chevy Racing)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career win with a victory lap and checkered flag, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory with a wave of the chequered flag Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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