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Happy Hour: Keselowski continues to have good fortune

November 18, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Happy Hour: Keselowski continues to have good fortune
Wreck by pole-sitter Logano sends No. 2 team to front row for Sunday's race

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski continued to live a charmed racing life Saturday during the final two practices for this Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Keselowski was the major beneficiary of a wreck during the first practice that involved pole-sitter Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin. The damage to the cars of those three led to all of them being forced into backup cars at the rear of the field, clearing the way for Keselowski, who had qualified third behind Logano and Marcos Ambrose, to improve his starting position for Sunday by one row.

"Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to be on the front row for this weekend's race. It's a little bit different, for sure, from what we've been used to, but different in a good way for us" Keselowski said. "It's unfortunate what happened to Joey and those guys. ... I don't really understand that, but the front row is a good place to go and I'm going to do what I can to lead that first lap."

Homestead

Race Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. M. Ambrose 175.342 30.797
3. Keselowski 175.09230.841
4. C. Edwards 175.001 30.857
5. A. Almirola 174.887 30.877
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.G. Biffle168.66032.017
3.M. Martin168.28732.088
4.Ky. Busch168.20332.104
5.J. Gordon168.12532.119
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.M. Truex168.18232.108
3.M. Kenseth168.16732.111
4.Keselowski168.16132.112
5.G. Biffle167.87932.166

Kyle Busch turned the fastest lap in Happy Hour at 168.476 miles per hour, but also brushed the wall and did damage to his No. 18 Toyota about 25 minutes into the 50-minute session. Martin Truex Jr. (168.182 mph) and Matt Kenseth (168.167 mph) turned the next-fastest laps in the practice, but really, all eyes were on Keselowski and Johnson.

Not only did Keselowski benefit from the earlier mishap involving Hamlin, Biffle and Logano, but he was much faster than Johnson throughout. His top lap of 168.161 mph ranked fourth on the speed chart, just ahead of Clint Bowyer (167.879 mph) and well ahead of Johnson (166.384 mph), whose fastest lap ranked only 17th.

"I think our car is pretty good," said Keselowski, whose best finish in four previous Cup starts at Homestead is 13th. "We probably have enough speed to control some of our destiny, at least that much that is controllable. I'm really proud of that and the effort that we've had, and I'm ready to get it on."

The real loser in the first-practice skirmish was pole-sitter Logano, who tried to back out of the three-wide situation but ended up getting enough of a piece of the wreck that he also had to go to a backup car, thus relinquishing his starting position at the front of the field. That enabled Keselowski, Logano's teammate at Penske Racing beginning next season, to move into the front row alongside Ambrose.

Ambrose had qualified second on Friday, Keselowski third. The shifting up front also enabled Johnson, who trails Keselowski by 20 points, to move up in the starting order from 10th to ninth for this season finale in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Hamlin said he wasn't sure what happened.

"I'm trying to figure it out and, gosh, I'm starting to think it's like 2010," said Hamlin, referring to when he came to Homestead battling Johnson for the championship and spun out early in the Sunday race in an eerily similar scenario with Biffle and another car. "I think it was just a spotter misunderstanding."

That appeared to be the case. Biffle said he didn't think Hamlin knew that Logano had a run on the outside of Biffle's No. 16 Ford, unnecessarily putting the cars of the drivers in a risky three-wide situation during a rather meaningless stage of practice.

"I don't think [Hamlin] thought we were three-wide," Biffle said. "He thought we were two-wide. Ultimately, we may not have been three-wise at that particular time, but my spotter told me to leave the 20 room and I left the 20 room. I wasn't going to come up in front of him."

Logano added: "I was behind the 16 [of Biffle]. Denny went to the bottom. I went to the top and the 16 was in the middle. I wasn't going to stick it three-wide so I stayed back because I figured it was practice, why are we going to do that?"

So while Logano, Hamlin and Biffle were the losers in the incident, Keselowski turned out to be the winner -- moving from the second row into the front, where it should be easier for him to get to the front and earn a bonus point for leading at least one lap Sunday. But it could also increase the risk factor for Keselowski to make a mistake, according to Johnson.

"I hope he tries really, really, really hard to lead that first lap -- because I know Ambrose is right next to him and is going to try hard, too. So that could be good for me," Johnson said.

Keselowski said he would not back off at the start, however.

"I've got a great car. I've got a car that can run up front and lead laps, and I'm proud of that," Keselowski said. "And if I can take the lead without wrecking myself, that's what I'm going to do."

Even if Johnson leads the most laps and wins the race, all Keselowski has to do is finish 15th or better without leading a lap, 16th or better if he leads at least one lap, or 17th or better leading the most laps to win the championship. Getting moved to the front row and being much faster than Johnson in the final practice were added bonuses for Keselowski.

"He's smiling. He's smiling, for sure," Hamlin said of Keselowski. "Those guys are executing really well and from what I've seen so far this weekend, I just don't think the 48 [of Johnson] has the speed to run with those guys anyway. So I think they're going to have to rely on something catastrophic happening with the 2 [of Keselowski]."

Johnson admitted as much, but he also said he's relaxed and ready to put some pressure on Keselowski whenever and however he can.

"I'm ready to race, for sure. I'm very pleased with how our car finished up," Johnson insisted. "It's nothing for me to lose any sleep over. I got my training in [Saturday] morning and I know I'm going to be tired and ready for bed. We finished on a high note in practice. I'm just going to go to bed and get ready to get up and get to work tomorrow.

"So it's easy from my standpoint because I've got nothing to lose. Let's see what they do over on the other side."