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Chase leader would rather be frontrunner at 'Dega

October 04, 2012, David Caraviello,

Keselowksi sees issues with running in the back at unpredictable Talladega

Every time Brad Keselowski has come to Talladega Superspeedway with a plan of how to approach the race, he's found himself changing it. So, this weekend, the Sprint Cup points leader might go to the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate venue with no real plan at all.

Well, except for one -- if Keselowski has his way, he'd prefer to not run around in the back for much of the race.

"That's really mean-spirited when you run in the back, but that's what you're thinking the whole time is -- 'Look at those crazy [guys]. I hope they all wreck.'"


"The part about laying back is, you can still get wrecked back there," he said. "That's the worst of all worlds, because then you've run like crap all day, you didn't lead laps, you didn't have any fun, and you're still wrecked. So that's not a lot of fun, but I'm sure there will be some people who do that."

No doubt, given that every trip to Talladega inspires the usual arguments over strategy, and where might be the best places to run to try to avoid the large-scale accidents that have become a hallmark of the Alabama track. Some try to hang out at the back for much of the event and then work their way forward at the end -- though as Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed in their poor finishes last fall, that approach is far from fool-proof. Keselowski would rather be up at the front. Others wonder if it really matters at all, given the often capricious nature of the Big One.

"I don't know how you even predict where you need to be to stay out of it. That's the hard thing," said reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart. "There are times when you're up front, you're ahead of it, and there's times when you're at the back, you can stay away from it. But I think different drivers will have different strategies on how they want to run the race and where they want to be track-position-wise to try to give themselves the best opportunity, and make sure they're there at the end."

Stewart's plan for Sunday? "Can't tell you that," the three-time champ deadpanned. Keselowski was a bit less coy. The Penske Racing driver has won twice at Talladega, including this spring when he snookered second-place Kyle Busch by purposefully breaking off from the No. 18 car on the final lap. The Chase leader by five points over Jimmie Johnson and 16 over Denny Hamlin, Keselowski would seem to have plenty at stake on a track that at best can produce surprise winners -- like his first Cup victory in 2009 -- and at worst can leave title-contending cars a wrecked mess.

No matter. To him, falling to the rear and playing it safe stands in contrast to trying to win the race. True to his aggressive self, he doesn't plan to play defense.

"It's a difficult situation to be put into as a competitor," Keselowski said. "You know your odds at any given Talladega [race], let's just throw out a number, you have a 50 percent chance of surviving the wreck if you race up front all day. And you have a 60 percent chance of avoiding the wrecks if you race in the back all day. So, you know as a competitor, that you maybe had like a 10 or 20 or whatever percentage better chance of surviving the day if you race in the back all day. But to do so is ... a slap in the face of those who make the sport possible, which are the fans. So you're left being forced into a decision of whether to take that percentage or to slap your fans in the face. And that's a very, very tough decision to make."

Of course, drivers can find themselves in the rear at Talladega for reasons other than strategy, given that the aerodynamic whims of the plate track often seem to have a mind of their own. Still, to the points leader, riding around back there seems no fun -- especially given what goes through his mind as he clicks off laps at the rear of the field.

"[You're] just hoping they wreck in front of you so your decision makes sense," Keselowski said. "That's really what you're doing. I guarantee you, everybody that runs in the back at Talladega is running around going, 'Man, I hope them [drivers] wreck.' That's what they're thinking. Because that's the only thing that makes sense.

"That's really mean-spirited when you run in the back, but that's what you're thinking the whole time is -- 'Look at those crazy [guys]. I hope they all wreck.'"