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Keselowski's pole win could mark turning point

July 13, 2013, Holly Cain,

After a season of struggles, defending champion looks to turn things around


LOUDON, N.H. -- Winning the Coors Light pole position for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway isn’t just a “good start” for Brad Keselowski.

NASCAR’s reigning Sprint Cup Series champion is hoping it’s a launching point for his head-down, eye-on-the-prize eight-race run for at least the chance to defend his title as a member of the 12-driver Chase playoff field.

Drivers like to remind the rest of us that you don’t get any points for winning the pole. It’s where you finish, not where you start, that counts.

But in the case of Keselowski’s No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team, this weekend’s effort is an undeniable bright spot in what’s been a free-fall down the standings over the last two months. It’s something to build off.

“I think our race team is ready,’’ said Keselowski, who comes to the New England one-miler ranked a season-low 13th in the Sprint Cup standings.

“We have been close. We’ve had the speed the last few weeks to get the job done but different scenarios have bitten us. Those will come and go and I feel like they’ve went. This is our time.”

And the clock is ticking.

"There is a sense of urgency, but not a sense of panic."

-- Brad Keselowski

On the strength of four straight top-four efforts to begin the season, Keselowski took the championship lead after a third-place at Bristol, Tenn. He had seven top-10 finishes in the first eight races and looked to be in good position to answer his breakout year, a sure title favorite.

But in the 10 races since, Keselowski has four finishes of 32nd or worse, only a single top-10 (at Dover) and just once started a race inside the top-10.

Two headline-earning penalties only exacerbated the struggles. After losing on appeal, Keselowski was penalized 25 championship points after his car was found to be illegal (rear end housing) at the Texas race in April. He lost another six points at Dover in June when the Blue Deuce didn’t meet legal measurements.

The circumstances created a difficult situation, but the team is far from being disillusioned -- the situation has helped fuel and motivate the comeback.

New Hampshire has typically been a good track for the champ. In the last three visits to the track, his worst showing was sixth place. He fell just short of winning in the second race at the track in 2011, coming in second. Going in to Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301, he is confident.

“There is a sense of urgency, but not a sense of panic,’’ Keselowski said of his team. “I think there is a strong difference between the two. We are eager to get going, we are hungry and feel like we can do it but I don’t feel a sense of panic.

“There are still two months of racing, essentially, to get into the Chase. We have fast race cars and if we do our part we don’t need any help. If we do our part we don’t even need any luck. We just need to do our jobs and I feel like we have got the team to do just that.”

An additional element in Keselowski’s quest is the teamwork between he and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano, who are simultaneously contributing to the overall team success and racing against each other for a Chase berth.

Both drivers say they are committed to the team ethics and willing to share information to help one another.

“Brad has been a huge part of why I am here because we wanted to work together,’’ Logano said Friday. “We didn’t want to be teammates that didn’t talk to each other. We wanted to work together to improve each other’s race teams and each other as race car drivers.

“We know we are going to be racing each other to get into the Chase. …We have had that discussion already and we plan to keep doing what we are doing. That is the only way we will make it. If we start fighting against each other, we are never going to make this Chase.’’

For Keselowski, the partnership is highly personal. He recommended Logano for the No. 22 Ford seat and sees Logano’s success as a reflection on himself.
It doesn’t lessen his desire, however, to make sure he is in the championship mix when it’s all said and done.

“For me, I am committed to working with Joey and doing all I can do for him and we are kind of tied together sometimes whether we like it or not,’’ Keselowski said. “I wanted him to come to Penske and …the more success he has, the more credibility I have because I wanted him to come to Penske; the stronger I feel about the legacy I will have with Penske Racing when it is all said and done. I have a vested interest in seeing him be successful if for nothing more than my own reputation inside Penske racing.

“Either way, he is my teammate and he can help me and there are going to be times where he is going to be better than I am and there will be times I am better than he is. If we can prop each other up on both those situations and both those times, it is for the betterment of all.

“You would like to see us in a situation where we are both locked in. That is not what it is. I think as a whole, if we can get over this little hump that we are fighting through right now there is no reason both cars at Penske Racing can’t make the Chase.”



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