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Keselowski playing with house money at Dover

September 30, 2011, Joe Menzer,

DOVER, Del. -- Chase success would be a bonus to a season that's exceeded expectations

Perhaps for no other Sprint Cup driver, it's appropriate for Brad Keselowski that the Dover International Speedway complex includes a casino.

Keselowski, third in points heading into this Sunday's AAA 400 at the 1-mile track, is playing with house money in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. No one really expected him to be here -- and now that he's here and doing well, he's giving off the air of someone who knows anything he accomplishes, even a championship, is gravy on top of what already has been a season that has exceeded all expectations.

Asked if his unique situation could be an advantage with eight races left in the Chase, Keselowski admitted he believes that to be the case.

"The only way I'll be disappointed is if we make a mistake that's within our control that's uncharacteristic of us of late."



" He's matured 100 percent. I think he's showing his talent."



"He certainly has surprised me, but I'm looking at more of a whole team resurgence than just Brad."


"Absolutely," he said. "Right now I have expectations of our team to continue to run like we have. But you know, if something bad happens, it's not going to be a disappointment. It's not going to be a disappointment from an expectation standpoint, if it's out of control. The only way I'll be disappointed is if we make a mistake that's within our control that's uncharacteristic of us of late.

"This is probably not the perfect answer for that question, but I feel fortunate to be where we're at -- and I know at any time that can be taken away from you. But if we just keep doing what we're doing, we won't have to worry about any of those things."

After qualifying into the Chase as a wild card by virtue of three race victories earlier this season, Keselowski began the postseason seeded 11th and 12 points behind the points leader. After finishing fifth and second in the first two Chase races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, respectively, he's put nine of the other Chasers behind him in the standings even if he's still 11 points behind new leader Tony Stewart, the surprising winner of the first two Chase events.

Had he been able to climb to within the top 10 in points before the Chase cutoff -- he barely missed it -- Keselowski would be much closer to leading the pack. Those within the top 10 got to enter the Chase with three bonus points for each win registered over the first 26 races. As a wild-card entry, Keselowski's bonus simply was getting in and he had to forfeit what could have been nine valuable bonus points.

"I get reminded of that quite often, and I try not to think about it," said Keselowski, who entertained a throng of media behind his No. 2 Dodge hauler before Friday's Cup practice at Dover. "I'm sure that's a stat I'll get reminded of even more if we continue to run like we have. But there is nothing you can do about it, so it doesn't do much good to sit around and dwell on it."

Meanwhile, others in the Chase have taken notice of Keselowski's surge this season. Since he fell to 28th in points after the first nine races and Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch publicly challenged him and the No. 2 team to step it up, Keselowski has made a steady climb in the standings while winning at Kansas, Pocono and Bristol.

Denny Hamlin, who had problems with Keselowski's aggressive driving in the Nationwide Series earlier in Keselowski's career, told reporters during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame earlier in the week that the driver of the No. 2 car has earned his respect.

"Tell him I say so: I think he drives 100 percent better than he used to," Hamlin said. "He used to have the all-out speed and was very anxious in traffic, things like that. He's not like that now. He's matured 100 percent. I think he's showing his talent.

"He was showing his talent in a different way in 2009, in a defiant way where he thought he had to prove to people that he was good. I think he's gotten over that and realized he didn't need to do that to be successful -- and that has caused him to be ultra-successful because he's more relaxed."

Told of Hamlin's comment, Keselowski smiled. But he didn't totally agree with it.

"There certainly are things that you do to progress," Keselowski said. "And I think the best drivers in the sport progress every week, learn something every week. I certainly don't think I'm the same driver now that was last week. I don't know if I would say I'm 100 percent different from what I was in 2009 or 2010. But there certainly are things I look back on if I watch a tape from those years where I say, 'All right, I'm doing that different, or I'm doing this better, blah, blah, blah.'

"But I don't know if I'd say that much. I think a lot of it has to do with when your cars are better, you look a whole lot smarter. And then you're able to hedge your bets a little bit better and take lower risk moves, and still be successful."


Driver Performance
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In other words, Keselowski can't take all the credit -- and doesn't. Then again, that might just be another sign of his growing maturity as a driver after capturing the 2010 Nationwide Series championship with a record 26 top-five finishes.

"He certainly has surprised me, but I'm looking at more of a whole team resurgence than just Brad," Jimmie Johnson said. "With Brad's success in Nationwide and kind of the progression we've seen of Brad there, we've seen him race with the Cup guys and go toe-to-toe with them.

"As the year has developed, Penske has really come around with both cars [including Kurt Busch's No. 22 Dodge] and been strong. And then you see the growth between he and [No. 2 crew chief] Paul [Wolfe], and how they're working together. So I look at everything related to the 2 car and Penske, and say those guys have done an awesome job all year long. I'm impressed on all fronts with what they've done."

So heading into this Sunday's AAA 400, the 2 car might be a pretty smart bet. Keselowski entered the Chase saying he had no pressure at all on him because nothing was expected of his team. He said that hasn't yet changed.

"I feel like if we get toward the end of this deal and we're in position to win it, obviously then the pressure will ramp up," Keselowski said. "But we're still fairly early in this thing.

"There is something to be said for being a team that just comes in and does their work and doesn't think about it, doesn't have to worry about it. I'm glad to be one of those teams."