News & Media


Reality still a dream for surging Keselowski

September 26, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- New Hampshire Motor Speedway's two Sprint Cup dates are just 70 days apart, but in that scant period of time Brad Keselowski made up 20 positions in the standings and branded himself as a legitimate championship contender.

The effort Keselowski, his first-year Cup crew chief Paul Wolfe and their No. 2 Penske Racing team put in in Sunday's Sylvania 300 epitomized how far they've come since NHMS's mid-summer date, when they finished 35th.

"I feel like our best races in the Chase are going to be our last five or six races ... So to me, if we get through these first four or five, I think we've got a really good shot at it."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

"We did the things we needed to do," Keselowski said of the Chase for the Sprint Cup's second race. "We weren't as fast as we wanted to be but we worked on our car, adjusted on it and got it where we could race with it there at the end and just had good strategy and pulled out a second[-place finish].

"We probably weren't a second-place car but we worked hard and made something happen."

Keselowski, whose runner-up finish was his sixth top-five in his past eight starts, vaulted three positions in the Chase standings, from sixth to third, unofficially just 11 points behind leader and Sylvania 300 winner Tony Stewart.

"It's funny because 10 races ago, we left Loudon 23rd in points," Keselowski said. "Whoever thought we would be third in 10 weeks? I'd like to see some kind of stat for that, that's for sure -- but it's been a good road to travel down the last few weeks."

And the best news might be that New Hampshire's far from one of Keselowski's best tracks. His 2009 Cup debut resulted in a sixth-place finish, but his average finish in his past three starts there has been 26th.

"Well, coming into this race, I guess [Sunday] morning I would have said I was really, really nervous about this one, knowing that we've struggled at the Richmonds and so forth -- the other short tracks of this nature," Keselowski said. "You could say we won Bristol, but I would say it's a lot different short track than a Loudon or Richmond or whatever. It's a style of track we've really, really struggled on. So I was really nervous about this race."

If anyone watched, or listened early in Sunday's race, those ragged nerves were being realized. Keselowski and his teammate, Kurt Busch, had similar setups in their cars. Busch started fifth, plummeted and never completely recovered. Keselowski started 16th and went in the same direction.

"What we've done well this year is stay focused, try to stay calm," Wolfe said. "I know it's tough for Brad when he's back there running. Kept making adjustments to our race car each stop and got to a point there when everybody was spread out, I could see that our lap speeds were good enough to run in the top 10.

"So as soon as the opportunity was there to stay out and get the track position that's what we did. It's hard to stay out when your car is not close and at the very beginning we weren't where we needed to be. We kept working on it and as we got our car where I felt like we were competitive then we took the opportunity to do the strategy call there to get up front."

"We weren't the fastest car -- I'd be lying if I tried to tell you we were," Keselowski said. "But we made good adjustments to our car [and] got to where it was a solid top-10 car. That's what you need to do; you need to make good adjustments on your car. We were clicking on that, Paul and I, working really hard on this."

When Keselowski needed a caution to get track position, it flew at lap 157. Keselowski, who had been running 21st, never fell out of the top 10 again. Busch, who led four laps to Keselowski's one, finished 22nd.

"Once we got up front and worked on our car each stop we were solidly a top-five car there," Wolfe said. "Everybody at the engine shop has done great with giving us great fuel mileage. We played our windows there at the end and had plenty of fuel left."

"We still got a long ways to go on a lot of different things, but proud of the finish we were able to get [Sunday] and proud of the effort, for sure," Keselowski said. [It was a] decent day -- exactly what we need to do in this Chase, plugging away with finishes like this."

And that, more than anything else, has Keselowski smiling even wider as he looks ahead.

"I feel like our best races in the Chase are going to be our last five or six races, to be quite honest -- maybe with the exception of Texas, we'll have to see how that one goes," Keselowski said. "So to me, if we get through these first four or five, I think we've got a really good shot at it.

"To get through Chicago with a fifth and here a second, it's a huge boost of morale for my team and momentum for Penske Racing. I just hope we can continue to capitalize."

That's something Keselowski, Wolfe and company have excelled at, particularly in wins at Kansas, Pocono and Bristol. Again, the best news for Keselowski is he's gotten this far into contention without the benefit of the nine bonus points he would have received if he was in the top 10 in the standings.

Keselowski earned his Chase berth via this season's new "wild card" program, but that hasn't lessened his team's impact.

"I think we've been able to capitalize with good execution on pit road, good adjustments on our car, not getting caught up in somebody else's mess," Keselowski said. "That stuff can go the other way just as it's gone the right way for us over the last few weeks. I'm still very proud of what we've done.

"We still have a long ways to go -- a really long ways. There's eight big races left."