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Keselowski back on track with runner-up finish

August 11, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

Results | Lap-by-Lap breakdown | Race highlights | Full coverage The defending champ is back in the thick of the Chase run after a mid-season swoon

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Let there be no doubt. NASCAR’s reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski is determined to get a shot at defending his title. He’s just as determined to get that shot by winning his way into the Chase playoff field.

While manhandling his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford inches off the bumper of race leader Kyle Busch’s Toyota in the final laps of Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, Keselowski could have cruised his way comfortably under the checkered flag behind Busch and simply celebrated a huge points day that landed him well inside the Chase top-10.

But that idea never occurred to him. That's not his style.

“Hell no I wasn’t thinking that, I wanted to win the race and that’s where my heart’s at,’’ Keselowski said. “Wins are a priority to me without a doubt. When it comes to making the Chase, I’d rather be a team that has five or six wins and be a Wild Card... than be a team that made the Chase with zero wins.

“In my mind, points are great when you’re in the Chase. Before that, to me, it’s about wins, even if you don’t end up in the top-20.

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“I wasn’t racing or running today thinking, ‘boy, I need a great points day,’ even though I definitely was cognizant of the 5 (Kasey Kahne) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and obviously the troubles with Tony (Stewart). But I didn’t enter this race thinking, let’s run second or third, that would be great, that would be a lot better than taking a risk and winning.’’

Ultimately Keselowski ended up with his third consecutive runner-up finish at the historic Watkins Glen International Raceway, a blink of an eye half-second away from his first victory of the year.

And yet, he stilled rocketed up the championship standings to eighth, his four-position gain tying Martin Truex Jr. for the best of the week. With four races remaining before the Chase field is set, Keselowski is safely among the guaranteed top-10 and in good position for one of the two Wild Card berths should he get that victory he so passionately pursues.

He could have spun out Busch and gotten it on Sunday. But...

“There’s racing and wrecking,’’ Keselowski said. “Those are two different things. Everybody defines them a little differently and I guess that’s the code you live your life by. If I was gonna’ take out Kyle today, it would have been wrecking in my mind and there’s a distinct difference.

“I could have definitely dumped Kyle and won the race,’’ Keselowski explained. “That stuff goes back and forth and I’m sure someone in the tabloid side of the media will make a big deal about that, but it won’t be me because I know I did the right thing.’’

Good karma can’t hurt, but being well-prepared is even better.

Sunday marked the Penske Racing driver’s third top-six finish in the last four races and he’s moved up from 13th place two weeks ago at Indianapolis -- looking in at the Chase from the outside -- to a more secure-feeling eighth place ranking as of this week.

And with the exception of next week’s stop at Michigan International Speedway -- ironically a track the Michigan-native Keselowski considers a weak spot -- he is encouraged about his chances at the remaining three stops on the schedule before the Chase field is set.

“We ran very strongly at Bristol (Tenn.) in the spring and have a great track record there,’’ Keselowski said. “Atlanta we just came off a tire test and that went very, very well and we have a team-specific Richmond test coming up in a week and a half, so three out of the four I expect us to have great speed and a potential shot at winning.

“I really see no reason why we can’t sustain our position in the points if not improve it before the Chase starts.

“But more importantly, I would rather have a win or two and be a Wild Card than finish seventh or eighth and squeak my way in without any wins because the momentum of a win and the confidence builder it instills in both yourself and the fear that it puts in your competition is more than worth it.’’

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