NASCAR Phoenix 2013: Jimmie Johnson defends team: 'We race hard'

Jerry Markland

Disagreeing with comments made by reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson vehemently defended his team Friday.

Not many drivers have gone head-to-head with Jimmie Johnson for the championship and emerged victorious. Brad Keselowski is one such driver, capturing last year's Sprint Cup title, and he shared his insight Thursday on the best way to topple Johnson.

"For (Johnson's team), I wouldn't want to have to race somebody that is going to race me hard because that is not their wheelhouse, and I think that was one of our strengths last year,'' Keselowski told MRN.com.

Again in pursuit of another championship, Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by seven points with two races remaining in the season. When asked about Keselowski's comments Johnson bristled, quickly rattling off the guys he's beaten for each of his five titles.

"I guess we need to ask Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, who else have I raced for a championship, Carl Edwards a lot of those guys how we race," Johnson said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "We race hard. That is not a weakness of ours by any stretch."

A year ago, Johnson entered Phoenix holding a seven-point margin over Keselowski, but during the race a flat tire sent him into the wall. The damage resulted in a 32nd-place finish and handed the points lead to Keselowski, who would not relinquish it as Johnson had a mechanical problem in the season finale.

Johnson experienced a tire failure because he was pushing his rival harder than he wanted to run, according to Keselowski. And he implored Kenseth to execute a similar strategy if he wishes to beat Johnson.

"In the race, he drove the car too hard until it blew out a tire,'' Keselowski told MRN.com. "You could look at it and say that was a tire failure or whatever. Those in the garage, who know how the cars work, know it was reaching too hard and the failure that was caused from that. That's that group's weakness.'

"If I was going to give Matt a piece of advice, I'd say use the [heck] out of him every time you can," Keselowski said. "Run [Johnson] hard, because that's his weakness.''

Johnson admits the blown tire was his fault and came as a result of Keselowski having the faster car. In an effort to find more speed, his No. 48 team pushed the edge and, consequently, went too far. But he takes umbrage with the notion that he doesn't like to race hard, succumbing when a competitor applies pressure.

"Last year here, they were better than us for sure," Johnson said. "... Sure we had a tire failure, and yes, we overworked the tire. We created an issue ourselves. ... Again, we love to race hard. That is what we are here to do.

"Racing is what I'm good at. I'm not the best at putting up the fastest lap, the best at qualifying or the best at topping the speed charts in practice. But look who passes cars on the race track. I'm good at racing that is my sweet spot."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Johnson takes points lead with dominant victory

Another runner-up finish for Dale, Jr.

NASCAR power rankings: Kenseth surges past Johnson

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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