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Rodman: The best is definitely coming for Penske's No. 2

June 05, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Brad Keselowski's Penske Racing crew chief Paul Wolfe readily admitted, "It's not always the fastest car that seems to be winning these races;" following Sunday's STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.

But of course, the exclamation to Wolfe's point -- so eloquently made by the first-time Cup Series winner -- was that he made it after leaving Victory Lane following this season's 13th race.

Been a while


Stretching his fuel mileage at Kansas Speedway, Brad Keselowski ended a 60-race winless streak and made his second trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series.

And like one of the most famous golf sayings, "it's not how, but how many," no one in the Penske organization was going to give back the trophy because they'd strategized their way to a win.

"It all worked out at the end, and they talk about you when you're in Victory Lane," Keselowski said. "That's all that matters."

Especially since lately, it had seemed like Wolfe and Keselowski had been taking giant steps toward gaining their first victory together in NASCAR's premier division -- like just last week, which ironically was another fuel-mileage special.

Keselowski had lined up third for a green-white-checkered restart at Charlotte Motor Speedway and ended up a ridiculously unrepresentative 19th when he got tied-up in the late-race crash created when Kasey Kahne ran out of gas immediately after taking the green and was rammed by Keselowski.

So even though they'd slowly been creeping up on it -- Keselowski had started in the top 10 four races in a row prior to Kansas -- Keselowski was largely ignored Sunday.

That was even though, after starting 25th he'd rumbled up into the top 15 before the first caution flew at Lap 69, and never fell out of the race's upper echelon the rest of the way.

"I didn't know I was leading until two laps to go," Keselowski said through a non-stop post-race grin. "Kind of stretched my neck out, barely caught the [infield] scoring pylon to see I was leading. I was instantly mad at my guys for not telling me, but you get over that pretty quick when you cross the start/finish line first.

"We'd been doing everything we could to save gas. It didn't really affect me whether I knew I was leading or not. It was probably really smart of them not to tell me that, because I probably would have drove it really, really hard."

And that might have been really, really bad, because Keselowski had made his last pit stop at Lap 210. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin, who finished second and third and thought they were racing for the win because they just knew Keselowski couldn't make it, were just licking their chops and waiting.

They were still waiting, though showing a certain amount of respect -- despite Hamlin's bluntness -- when they talked about it after the race.

"Usually it takes a really slow car to save gas, to be honest with you," Hamlin said, with a grin, after leading 34 laps. "It helps. I mean, when your car is when you're running back in traffic and stuff like that it helps you save gas. [If] your car's not handling as well, you're out of the gas more and you're not getting back in it as soon.

"So typically you see, when guys win on fuel mileage, it's guys not huge factors during racing unless the cautions work out just right for them. I think those guys had extremely good fuel mileage anyway. They obviously worked on it. He did a great job to save."

Earnhardt, who formerly employed Keselowski as his driver in the Nationwide Series and gave the 27-year-old Michigan native his first of 12 career Nationwide victories, was kinder.

"I give him a lot [of credit]," Earnhardt said. "I don't know what his situation was, I don't know if it was the same as ours, but he obviously had to save a little more than we did, I think. But anytime you win a fuel mileage race you've done something as a driver.

"We don't know what we're doing, really, trying to save gas or how much we're saving. But [Keselowski] had a hand in it."

"It was a team victory [Sunday]. Kurt [Busch] had them covered on speed. We had them covered on strategy. And together one of us two was going to win, and I'm proud in general that it was a Penske car that won."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

Both Hamlin and Earnhardt would've been crushed if they were told Keselowski had actually pitted four laps before them, and had enough fuel left to do a victory lap and a burnout. Earnhardt said, for the second week in a row, that he had run out on the last lap -- though at Kansas it was at the line.

In the end, Keselowski -- who also didn't know the win qualified him for the 2012 Sprint All-Star Race, but when he was told said, "That's four years in a row, we'll take that" -- succinctly claimed all that mattered.

"It was a team victory [Sunday]," Keselowski said. "We had Kurt Busch, my teammate, who led the majority of the race from what I could see, and had good speed and the No. 2 car had great speed as well. But it's a team effort.

"Kurt had them covered on speed. We had them covered on strategy. And together one of us two was going to win, and I'm proud in general that it was a Penske car that won."

The Penske team has every reason to claim that a berth in the 2011 Chase is a definite possibility -- and they're not the only ones who see it on the horizon.

"I think Brad's good enough to get in the top 20 for points for sure -- absolutely, without a doubt," Earnhardt said. "It's a good team over there. It's the Penske team. They have the opportunity to get in the top 20 easily."

No one was more pleased than team owner Roger Penske, and he made no bones about assuming both his teams have what it takes to make the Chase.

"I think it's a credit to Paul Wolfe and Brad," Penske said. "They're talking all the time. There's working -- there's nobody more committed. The good news is to hear Kurt say, even though he really wanted this win, to say it was great for the team and that we finally think we have a combination that we can run on the mile-and-a-halfs, because we struggle on the mile-and-a-halfs."

Keselowski was only-too-happy to agree.

"I have the boss telling me [the gap to 20th] is seven points," Keselowski said. "It's certainly do-able. We've caught some bad breaks over the last few weeks that have kept us out of it. And certainly we caught a good one [Sunday]. So at the end it will all average out -- if we deserve to be in it we'll get in it, if we don't, we won't.

"But right now we're on a good path to deserve to be in it. That's really what matters the most to me."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.