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Year in Review: Keselowski positive attitude led to first Chase berth

December 16, 2011, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com

Brad Keselowski's victory at Pocono started a streak of four consecutive top-three finishes and propelled him into the Chase. (Autostock)

Year in Review: Keselowski never gave up and it led to Chase, top-five finish

Brad Keselowski had a season no one saw coming, not even him. But after reflecting on his fifth-place finish in the Sprint Cup Series points, after looking at the entirety of his season and the amazing run up to the Chase following a broken ankle in August, he was left with one thought.

He left something on the table.

"I'm really proud of what we were able to do, but we want those four other spots. I really want those four other spots. And I'm committed to making that happen."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

2011 Statistics

WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-fives64
Top-10s104
Poles10
DNFs10
Laps Led26830
Avg. Start15.311.9
Avg. Finish15.512.9

No one has ever accused Keselowski of being demure or self-deprecating. His brashness is his calling card; his reputation precedes him. But for him to say a season with three victories, a wild-card spot and a rally to the top five in the season standings wasn't what he thought he should have ended up with ... even he wouldn't say that, right?

Wrong.

"There were a couple [that got away]," Keselowski said. "Kentucky was a race I felt like we could have won. Looking back, Indy. We were leading with 20 or 30 [laps] to go and then the fuel mileage thing came in. Watkins Glen, too. But it's still been a great year."

About that broken ankle ... Keselowski went to Road Atlanta between Indianapolis and Pocono to test and crashed hard. He was 20th in the points after Indy, and wasn't in anyone's Chase conversation at that point despite having a victory and a shot at the wild card. There was talk of him missing the Pocono race, but never by Keselowski himself.

And for good reason. Keselowski and his then-teammate Kurt Busch used some pit strategy just before the skies opened and the rains came down, putting them 1-2 in the running order when the rest of the field pitted following the lengthy delay. Keselowski held on for the victory, and gingerly climbed out of the car when it was over.

"I'm no hero," he said after the race. He also ... well, complimented crew chief Paul Wolfe's anatomical fortitude in making the gutsy call to get off sequence with the leaders in the race.

That victory launched him into the run of his career, and his first Chase berth.

""It was a huge, huge win," Keselowski said. "It kind of dictated where our year would go from there, so I was really proud of it. We just started to execute. I think it opened up some eyes within the team, and we really just started believing. We're like Journey, man -- don't stop believing. Except in this case, we started believing. It certainly helped them believe in me, but I felt like all along, I had a team that was behind me, so that was good."

Results will also make one feel confident. That Pocono victory started a run of four consecutive races in which Keselowski finished no worse than third, capped with his third victory of the season, at Bristol. That put him solidly in the Chase, in which he had four top-five finishes.

But as is his wont, Keselowski still wasn't satisfied. He said there's work to be done, and a goal out there ahead of him.

"Anything's possible," he said. "I know with the hard work of Paul Wolfe and the team, anything was possible. I'm really proud of what we were able to do, but we want those four other spots. I really want those four other spots. And I'm committed to making that happen."

He enjoyed his first Champion's Week in Las Vegas; the previous year he was feted as the champion at the Nationwide Series' shared banquet with the Camping World Truck Series, held in Miami the day after the Cup finale.

This time, he wasn't the star of the show, and he took more than his fair share of ribbing from the other top-10 drivers.

"I've had a blast," Keselowski said. "It's been a great week and a great year in general. It's been a successful year. I'll take all the hazing in the world if I could be the champion."

So, he's set his own goal for 2012 and Keselowski wouldn't have it any other way. He'll be back in the No. 2 car, back with Wolfe after both got contract extensions, and back with a hunger for an even better finish than what he put forth in 2011.

Brad Keselowski: Notes-n-Nuggets

• Twenty-seven years old from Rochester Hills, Mich.
• Finished fifth in points in his second full-time season.
• Finished 25th in the Cup standings in 2010.
• Won three times in 2011: Kansas, Pocono and Bristol.
• Four career victories and won in his fifth Cup start at Talladega in 2009.
• After sustaining a foot injury in a crash during a test at Road Atlanta, Keselowski went on to win at Pocono the following weekend.
• Was 23rd in points entering Indianapolis when he began a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes including two wins. He moved from 23rd in points to 11th in points in five races.
• Secured the first wild-card position in the Chase.
• Season Numbers: three wins, one pole, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s, 298 laps led, one DNF, finished on the lead lap 23 times, average finish of 14.8, 12.9 during the Chase.

"I'm glad to have Paul. I feel very lucky," Keselowski said. "It was certainly a great time to extend the contract after a good year, without a doubt. But I think that's just good business. We still have to perform on the track for years to come. And I will not rely on this year's performance to carry me through the rest of my contract. I'm committed to winning every year and doing the best I can."

Watch all of Keselowski's highlights from 2011 and flip through his year in photos below:

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