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Keselowski used to slow starts, fast finishes

January 11, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

Defending champ says improvements will come after Daytona testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski wasn’t fast, but he was first. And there’s a bit of an advantage in that, the Penske Racing driver said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was the first to roll off pit road when practice officially got under way for the three-day Preseason Thunder test session. It’s something that won’t mean anything by the time the season begins a month from now, but it’s an opportunity Keselowski wasn’t about to squander.

It’s a subtle message of sorts, Keselowski, 28, later explained. “Being first on the track, that is something Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) really prides himself and that is our little way of needling the competition to say that even if we aren’t fastest we are going to be the first ones on it. I have a group of committed guys that want to do that.”

While it may be a bit of a psychological plus, the reality of NASCAR competition is that it’s more important to go fast on the track, something that isn’t lost on Keselowski or his team. And on Thursday, that wasn’t the case. By the time the opening day’s on-track activities had subsided, Keselowski had mustered only the 31st fastest time.

That might have raised an eyebrow or two from some, but most know that this week’s test is about gathering information. With the new Generation-6 car making its debut, teams are working through the processes that they hope will unearth not only speed but drivability as well. At this point in the season, the reams of information flowing through tables filled with laptop computers in each of the garage bays at DIS likely paint a clearer picture of which teams are making the advances that will pay off when it matters most.

Still, Keselowski admitted he wasn’t thrilled with his car’s position on the scoreboard through the morning session, which was also 31st out of 34 cars making runs.

“I am not happy not being fast, I can tell you that, but you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month or month-and-a-half,” he said.
Taking into consideration the arrival of the new car, Penske Racing’s switch from Dodge (which departed the sport at the close of the 2012 season) and Keselowski’s previous history –- he admittedly has been a notoriously slow starter once the season begins –- he sees little reason for concern. He doesn’t want to use the latter, he said, as a crutch for explaining away any shortcomings early in the year.

“If you win a championship, you are going to come in the next year with extremely high expectations,” he said. “For me, you have to look at our history, and we have been a second-half team the last two or three seasons and I would expect nothing different this year.”

In last year’s title-winning campaign, Keselowski didn’t crack the top 10 in points until the season’s 12th race had been completed. The year before, it took 26 races.

“I don’t want to build in an excuse for our team so I am not going to say that if we don’t run well at the start of the year we have nothing to worry about,” he said. ... “But I think you can apply things logistically and know we are the type of team that gets stronger throughout the year.

“That is probably the best way to be."