News & Media


Keselowski looking to change Fontana results

March 24, 2012, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Keeping momentum going after a Cup Series victory can be a very difficult task, especially early in the season. In four races there have been four different winners, four different manufacturers in Victory Lane and only five drivers have two or more top-fives. The reason is the Cup Series has been on four very different and unique tracks. That trend continues Sunday as the Cup Series makes its annual visit to Auto Club Speedway.

Last week's winner at Bristol, Brad Keselowski, recognizes just how challenging going from the .533-mile short track to the wide, fast two-mile Fontana, Calif., oval will be.

"For me, it's great to have won last week, but that win doesn't guarantee any performance here at Fontana."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

"It's a big change," Keselowski said. "I think that if you look at the schedule and the first five races, we've covered every genre that we can. From restrictor-plate tracks to a one-mile flat track in Phoenix to a mile-and-a-half, high-banked track in Vegas and Bristol, the very short, high-banked track and now a flat, two-mile track [at Fontana]. We've covered all the genres that we can. It's a real test of any team.

"For me, it's great to have won last week, but that win doesn't guarantee any performance here at Fontana. It's going to come down to aerodynamics and platform control here at Fontana. It's going to be a different race for sure."

The challenge is even greater for Keselowski because Fontana just hasn't been kind to him in his short Cup career. What makes it more interesting is the driver of the No. 2 Dodge has been successful at Michigan and Kansas, tracks similar to Fontana's wide-open layout.

"Up until last year here, I'd say that I've never run well at the big, flat tracks at the Cup level," Keselowski said. "We had some success at Kansas, which I think is the most similar track to this, how it widens out. I feel like we've had some success at Michigan as well. I think that we've made the cars a lot better. I don't feel like that I've had a good car here at the Cup level."

If Saturday's practice speeds are any indication, that trend is about to change.

Keselowski was seventh in the first practice with a speed of 183.875 mph and fell slightly with a lap of 180.424 mph, the 11th-fastest in Happy Hour.

Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin paced first practice with a lap of 186.018 mph followed by Matt Kenseth (185.209), Ryan Newman (184.928), Tony Stewart (184.554) and Kevin Harvick (184.270).

In final practice, Hamlin continued to show he is one of the drivers to beat this weekend with a lap of 182.034 mph. Jeff Gordon had a huge improvement from the first to second practice. The No. 24 was second-fastest (181.360) in Happy Hour after running 17th in the first practice. Clint Boywer (181.214), Jamie McMurray (181.132) and Kyle Busch (181.050) rounded out the top five.

With an average finish of 24.3 and three finishes of 21st or worse in three Cup starts, Fontana ranks as Keselowski's third-worst track behind Daytona and Las Vegas. But despite dismal results in Los Angeles' Inland Empire, Keselowski enjoys his annual visit.

"I've never disliked [Fontana]. I like coming to a wide track to race on," Keselowski said. "This place, you get a really big draft down the front straightaway when the pack gets together on a restart and that really causes some great racing when we get to Turn 1. I was in one of those great races, in a big wreck because of it. It's still really cool to get that big run off of Turn 4 and feel that big effect of the draft here. It's one of the most interesting things about Fontana."

Keselowski will start Sunday's race 17th -- a career-best at Fontana. So perhaps this is the year he will break through. Keselowski feels all he needs is one good race to reverse his fortune at Fontana and after Saturday's practices, that hopefulness will be in the cockpit Sunday.

"I feel like, as a driver, that you just need to go to a track, have one good car there and it can completely change your outlook because you get a feel for what you need to perform there," Keselowski said. "Then you're able to replicate it when you come back; maybe your car isn't right and you know what to do to it to make it right.

"This track is one that I've never gotten that feel. Whether the car wasn't right to begin with or I wasn't able to tune it in, who knows. It could be all of the above. I've never gotten that here. I feel that we can get there, especially how we've performed at the Nationwide level before. We have a lot of reason for optimism."