Brad Keselowski can't shake Jimmie Johnson as Chase winds down

Jimmie Johnson is lurking.

It's kinda creepy, too. Everywhere Brad Keselowski goes, there is Johnson, just a few steps behind him.

Keselowski remains the favorite to win the NASCAR Chase for the Championship. Everyone else is playing follow the leader. After all, with just four races left in the season, Johnson is seven points behind, and Denny Hamlin is 20.

There is a sense of urgency, at least in Hamlin's camp. "Damn we sucked today. Time for MAX points," Hamlin tweeted to his 184,000-plus followers after a frustrating day at Kansas.

Hamlin finished 13th. Keselowski was eighth, and Johnson rallied to finish ninth after spinning and backing into the Turn 4 wall a little bit beyond the halfway mark of the race. That ninth-place finish with a car that looked like it was ready for the scrap heap saved his season. Hamlin lost five critical points in the post-race shakeup, leading to his pressing issues this week at Martinsville.

"You've got to beat them," Hamlin said. "We just shot ourselves in the foot."

Hamlin is definitely in more of a scramble mode. Johnson appears to be cruising, like a distance runner ready to make a move on the final lap. Watcha got, Keselowski? Do you feel Johnson coming on strong? Are you ready for Hamlin's charge?

"Everybody has ways that they express themselves, motivate themselves or their team and fan base," Johnson said of Hamlin's tweet on Tuesday. "Some people feel it's important to do, and how they want to handle it.

"I put a six pack on a lot of stuff, as you know, hashtag it back, to make my fans feel and know that's where my head is. I don't see anything wrong or bad with it."

Johnson said that how his No. 48 Chevy is handling on race day will dictate whether he will drive aggressively or not in the weeks to come. He's fortunate to be in the Chase, given the issues at Kansas.

"There are some times when you have a car that's not handling right. It's one of those weekends where things aren't clicking. You have to be smart about it and get every point you can, but not be stupid, not create more issues fighting for a spot or hanging on to something, fighting with the team," Johnson said.

"Then there's other weekends when you've got the car and it is time to take some chances. So it just depends on the situation. First of all, you have to finish the race. I almost eliminated that — our chances at the Chase — by crashing last week. Luckily we got the car fixed. I can't be spinning the car out and be hopeful that we're going to get away with it.

"Walking that fine line that we all talk about from time to time is very tough to do, but all important."

For all the problems NASCAR has dealt with this season — a number of races have been snoozers, a drop in sponsorships, dwindling attendance — the sport certainly will give fans a fantastic finish. There's been a few dynamic ones the last two seasons: Johnson overtaking Hamlin on the final race in 2010 and Tony Stewart doing the same to Carl Edwards in 2011.

Now this.

"It's what the fans want to see," Johnson said. "It's what the sport needs. It's tough to live it because it's so stressful but this is what we grew up dreaming to do."

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

Earnhardt gets OK

Like most of us, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains day-to-day.

Yes, he is expected to race at Martinsville this weekend, but he is on a tenuous lifeline. He may be one big boom from having to shut it down for the rest of the season because of multiple concussions.

CHICAGO

More

Five on Five