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Final restart costly to Keselowski's title hopes

October 31, 2011, David Caraviello,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- No. 2 was in top 10 until spin on the final restart dropped him to 17th

He's always been the outsider in this Sprint Cup championship hunt, the one driver who despite his points standing gets overlooked when conversation turns to who might win the title. Sunday, Brad Keselowski once again felt like an outsider -- except this time, literally.

Stuck in the slower outside lane during the last series of restarts on a caution-filled day at Martinsville Speedway, the Penske Racing driver had a strong effort come apart in the end, when he spun on the final restart and saw his hopes of winning this Chase take a serious blow. Keselowski seemed in position to score a top-10 finish until he slid back to 17th, a result that leaves him 27 points behind leader Carl Edwards with just three races remaining in the season.

"That's racing on these short tracks. It will come back around for [our] team."


"That's racing on these short tracks," said Keselowski, who entered the race 18 points out of the lead. "It will come back around for [our] team. We got some good racing in the middle section of the race, got good lanes that we needed, but at the end we just didn't catch a break. That's just this style of racing. You can't control your own fate. The car came to us, the track came to us. The guys had a good plan. Our [car] was a top-10 car. We came up a few laps short."

Indeed, Keselowski rallied impressively after falling deep in the field early in the race. With 50 laps to go, Keselowski had worked his way up to fifth. On the final restart, he was eighth, but up in that dreaded outside lane, which was the worst place to be when Dale Earnhardt Jr. tapped Denny Hamlin, who in turn gave Keselowski a nudge that sent him spinning up the race track. Keselowski straightened out his No. 2 car, but not before much of the field had rushed by.

"It was definitely a tough day," crew chief Paul Wolfe said. "We weren't where we needed to be at the beginning. Everybody worked really hard. I was proud of the effort. We kept adjusting on the car. Brad stayed out of trouble and we put ourselves in a position to do what we needed to do, and that's gain points on [Edwards]. Frustrating day for us for sure, as hard as we worked to be able to get our car to be able to run up front."

In the end, Keselowski slid back one position to fourth in points, and saw his chances of catching the leader diminish. With so little time left to try and close the gap, his crew chief might be willing to gamble a little more.

"Obviously, it's tough now,' Wolfe said. "Carl has got such a lead on everybody, but you know, we just might have to roll the dice a little more. He's kind of had everything go his way, and it just might be that year, you know? Everybody has those years when things seem to go their way. It's definitely going his way now, but the best thing we can do is try to find speed in our cars and get good finishes."

Next comes Texas, where Keselowski clinched his Nationwide Series championship last year, but has never finished better than 14th at the Sprint Cup level, Even so, it's a big, fast track, and a team that's won races at Kansas, Pocono and Michigan seemed ready to leave tiny Martinsville behind.

"It was a tough day for us," Wolfe said. "We made gains on our car. We brought a new race car here, and we felt like we had a car that could run top-five, which is our goal here. Just things didn't go our way. That's a part of it. We'll go on to Texas."

Watch Keselowski's late-race spin and all of his highlights from Martinsville: