It might feel like 2012 all over again. That doesn’t sound right, does it? How could that be? Time is just an illusion after all.
In a world in which cars are life comes one man who has prospered with a team that people could only dream about being a part of. Driving for Roger Penske, one of the most successful men in all of racing, this man has blossomed into a championship caliber driver year-in and year-out.
Brad Keselowski made an incredible run at the finish of the Geico 500 at Talladega to win the race and lock himself into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But he has been under a lot of heat for the post-race drama created at Charlotte with Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.
In the midst of all the chaos, Keselowski has now re-emerged as a championship favorite.
“It all kind of matters where we go from here with it, but certainly very proud of this past Sunday’s win,” Keselowski said in a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday. We’ve got four critical races in front of us. We’re probably going to need to win at least one of them and our heads down and focused, certainly coming here to Texas in about a week and a half to start that race weekend.”
Keselowski leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories in 2014. His Team Penske teammate Joey Logano trails him by just one as the two have become a force to be reckon with on a weekly basis.
He might not be making friends in the process of winning all of these races, but it is what is rare about the 30-year-old driver. Remember, at the beginning of his career, Keselowski was racing for his family-run organization in the Camping World Truck Series. He struggled to find sponsorship, but a few decent runs helped him land a job for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s Nationwide Series team.
When Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. missed the race at Talladega, most people didn’t realize that some of the sport’s top drivers have not qualifying for a Sprint Cup Series event at one time or another. Jimmie Johnson even DNQ’d for a Nationwide Series race in 2000. Keselowski has missed a pair of events in the Nationwide Series and Truck Series, including one in 2012. But what might shock most people is that he’s missed three Cup Series events, and even did so while driving for Hendrick Motorsports at Dover in 2009.
That experience has made Keselowski the intimidating force that we now know.
“This season, and this point in time and probably throughout my career, it’s going to be racing as hard as I can race with a passion for winning,” Keselowski said on his demeanor. “It’s probably going to ruffle some feathers of people that have been in the sport longer than I have and kind of feel like this is their territory, but the alternative option of rolling over and playing dead just isn’t in my DNA and I don’t plan on ever allowing it to be.”
With a handful of races left in the season and Keselowski being on probation for a few more weeks, he’s going to be gunning for wins just as hard as ever. The intimidation factor that he brings to the sport on and off the track is one that has been missing for quite some time. There have been drivers that have intimidation in one of these two areas, yet Keselowski’s rare personality has helped breed him into a driver that is on the brink of winning his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
“Maybe sometimes I articulate it better than others, but I feel like I’m here to do one job and that’s to win races for my team. I’m not looking to make enemies, but certainly, priority number one is not making friends.”
Win or go home. Sounds simple, right? Well, maybe not.
Less than a week after being fined $50,000 for a post-race battle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 2 car is back in Victory Lane.
With some wild moves to block his competitors, Brad Keselowski charged to the front in an intense battle during a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway. Keselowski won his sixth race of the year with the victory in the Geico 500 over a hard-charging Matt Kenseth in what was arguably the most intense race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
“Obviously this win is huge,” Keselowski said. “We feel like we have been one of the strongest teams all year here, especially the second half of the season. This team has worked hard and I feel like they deserve a shot at a championship. The issues we had at Kansas put us behind and having to fight all the way back, everyone executed and did their job today.”
After receiving damage to his right side door panel from a wreck with Michael McDowell on Lap 59, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion faced adversity throughout the day. However, without any major repairs needed, he worked his way through the field and led five different times throughout the race for a total of 12 laps.
With eliminations on the line, Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 84 laps on Sunday afternoon. For the No. 48 team, that was not enough to send him onto the Eliminator Round of the Chase. Johnson used the low line throughout the day, and threw countless blocks to maintain the lead. However, prior to the final round of green-flag pit stops, Danica Patrick swerved around the six-time champion to take the lead. Johnson dropped back a few spots in the midst of the first green-white-checkered stint and had to save gas during the caution period as well. But on the final restart of the day, the pre-season favorite slipped back to finish 24th at Talladega – eliminating him from championship contention.
Besides Johnson, two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates did not advance to the next round of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran up front throughout the 500-mile event. Yet even with 31 laps led, the No. 88 Chevrolet could not survive the chaos at Talladega. On Lap 187, David Gilliland tapped Earnhardt on the backstretch; causing major damage to his vehicle. Entering Sunday, he had to win in order to advance to the next round of the title. After having his first multi-win year since 2004, he will not contend for the championship.
Kasey Kahne, who made the Chase with a win at Atlanta, was also eliminated from the Chase after Talladega. Although he was inside of the top-eight in points, with Keselowski’s win – he was sent back one position in the Chase Grid. Kahne finished 12th at Talladega, and was just three points behind teammate Jeff Gordon after the sixth race of the Chase.
Kyle Busch entered Talladega as the highest-ranked driver without a win in Round 2. For the majority of the day, he worked with Kenseth at the rear of the field – approximately four to five seconds behind the lead pack. The strategy was working, but then chaos erupted with “the big one.” On Lap 102, with cars wrecking in front of him, Busch checked up and was hit by rookie Austin Dillon. Busch’s car slammed into the wall and received major cosmetic damage and injured the toe of his race car. Although he was able to get back on track – 49 laps down – Busch was able to gain just three positions. He was four points behind Kahne and trailed Gordon by seven markers.
Team Penske drivers Keselowski and Joey Logano will advance to the next round of the Chase. Gordon will be the lone HMS driver in Round 3. Ryan Newman was just four points behind Logano after Talladega, and represents Richard Childress Racing as their only driver in the Chase. Kevin Harvick will advance to the next round along with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Carl Edwards will also advance for Roush Fenway Racing.
Here are some notables from the Geico 500:
-Terry Labonte finished 33rd in his final Sprint Cup Series start (890th total) for Go FAS Racing.
-Landon Cassill finished fourth on Sunday for Hillman Racing. Prior to this race, his best career-finish was 11th at Talladega earlier in the year.
-Travis Kvapil ended the day in the sixth position for Circle Sport Racing in the No. 33 car. The finish marks the first top-10 for Kvapil since an eighth-place finish at Talladega in 2012.
-Casey Mears earned his third top-10 of the year for Germain Racing with a 10th-place finish.
-Cole Whitt finished 15th for BK Racing. His previous best career-finish was 18th-place at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year.
-Martin Truex, Jr. led his first lap of the year for Furniture Row Racing, but finished in 27th.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.
After winning two races early in the year, Kevin Harvick has been on a winless streak for over six month. On Saturday evening, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet drove back into Victory Lane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Bank of America 500.
Leading a race-high 162 laps, Harvick was able to hold off Jeff Gordon on a restart with just a pair of laps remaining in the race to score his third victory of the season. With the triumph, he has now clinched his way into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“Everybody on our team has just continued to build better race cars and we know that we’ve had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things that we need to do,” said Harvick on his win. “Things just haven’t gone right and we’ve made some mistakes; things haven’t gone right ore than not. Oh, we came here and tested thinking that this was going to be the hardest round to get through because of Talladega. There’s so much that you can’t control there. We wanted to try to control the things that we could control. We felt like Kansas and here (Charlotte) were playing to our strengths; and just see where it fell after that once we get to the next round.”
Following the race, Brad Keselowski had an on-track altercation with Denny Hamlin on the cool down lap. The No. 2 car finished 16th, and was racing tightly with Hamlin through the final laps. However, Hamlin brake checked Keselowski on the cool down lap. Simultaneously, he spun Hamlin in Turn 3 and then hit Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet as he was waiting in line to go into the garage on pit road.
“Through the whole sequence of events – I think the 20 car got in back of me on one of the restarts, it was just a racing deal and I wasn’t mad at him,” said Keselowski following the incident. But when the last yellow came out he got the wave around and when he came by he swung at my car and tore the whole right-front off of it. That gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate, and then for some reason after the race the 11 stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don’t know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car, so I figured if we’re gonna play car wars under yellow and after the race I’ll join too.”
“I rubbed into the 20 and I think he gassed up and ran into Tony, and don’t think Tony knew what was going on so he’s probably upset and he has every right to be,” he continued. “His car got tore up, but there was a whole lot of other stuff going on and I’m sure when he sees the whole situation he’ll understand.”
Following a confrontation with Hamlin, Keselowski was walking back to his hauler when Matt Kenseth jumped on his back. The No. 20 and No. 2 crews began to have a brawl, but they were separated within a few seconds. However, several drivers are calling for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to have a fine for what they believe was a dangerous move in the garage area.
Jimmie Johnson was running inside of the top-10 after struggling early on in the 500-mile race. The No. 48 team finished 17th after pitting during the final caution. Leading up to Talladega, he unofficially sits 12th in points; 26 markers behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for the final position to advance to the Eliminator Round. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 20th after going a lap down with a shifter knob issue during the race. He was never able to get back on the lead lap and is tied with Johnson in the standings.
Kyle Larson was battling Harvick for the lead prior to the final round of green flag pit stops, but slipped back to the sixth position. The No. 42 Chevrolet led six laps prior to sliding into the wall, which made him drop back a few spots. Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammate Jamie McMurray came home in the third position after taking two tires on a late-race pit stop to gain track position and was able to contend for the win
Both Michael Waltrip Racing vehicles experienced engine issues on Saturday evening. Clint Bowyer’s engine let go on Lap 95 following a top-15 run. Meanwhile, Brian Vickers’ engine blew up with seven laps remaining in the race.
There were eight cautions that lasted 39 laps during the 334-lap event. During the race, there were 32 lead changes.
Heading into Talladega, Joey Logano and Harvick are automatically locked into the next round of the Chase with victories. However, there are 10 other drivers vying for six remaining spots. Kyle Busch is the highest ranked driver without a victory, but is just 26 points ahead of Kenseth, who is the first driver on the outside looking in. Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. are the four drivers that are currently outside of the top-eight.
Jeff Gordon scored his 92nd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win on Sunday afternoon. In the final race of the first round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Gordon drove his No. 24 Chevrolet to Victory Lane for the fourth time in the 2014 season with a win at Dover International Raceway.
In a race dominated by Kevin Harvick, Gordon took advantage of his bad luck to take away another win. The left inner valve stem of the No. 4 car was knocked out, which caused Harvick to have a tire go down after Lap 250. Earlier in the race, he had reported that there was something wrong with the left-front of his car. His splitter received major damage and the team worked extensively during the caution period to fix it.
Harvick ended the day in 13th-place after the chaos. Leading 223 laps – it was the fourth time this year he led 195 or more laps.
Gordon had to hold off Brad Keselowski late in the race. Just laps before the final set of green-flag pit stops, the two drivers had an intense side-by-side battle for the lead. The No. 24 car prevailed and set sail after that. Keselowski finished second, but was over three seconds behind Gordon.
Jimmie Johnson had his strongest race in several weeks. After dominating the Dover race in June, he finished in the third position in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five.
Dover marked the end of the Challenger Round to start the Chase Grid. Kasey Kahne went from four laps down at one point in the race following an unscheduled green-flag pit stop to finish 20th on Sunday. The top-20 result was barely enough to edge out AJ Allmendinger to make it into the Contender Round. Allmendinger’s No. 47 Chevrolet was just two points behind Kahne after being an underdog entering the Chase.
Greg Biffle was eliminated from the Chase along with fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola. The No. 16 car struggled throughout the day as he ran outside of the top-20. However, Biffle came back inside of the top-15 for approximately 150 laps, but fell back to 21st in the final stages of the race. He didn’t finish higher than 16th in any of the first three Chase races. Almirola struggled mightily at Dover after having a fast car throughout the practice sessions over the course of the week. He finished 28th – two laps down in the No. 43 car.
The Sprint Cup Series starts the Contender Round at Kansas Speedway next Sunday. With 12 drivers battling to keep their championship hopes alive, they will need to run well at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega in order to be one of just eight drivers to move onto the Eliminator Round at Martinsville.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week gets more exciting by the year. This year will be no exception to that.
Ford, Coca-Cola and Sprint have teamed up once again for the sixth-straight year to sponsor a one-of-a-kind event at the Pearl Palms Concert Theater inside the Palms Casino Hotel. On Thursday, Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. PT, each of the 16 contenders in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup will be at this event with ESPN reporter Marty Smith taking the reign as host once again.
Until Nov. 16, fans can enter the NASCAR After the Lap sweepstakes to win a 2015 Ford Mustang GT.
“Over the last six years as event sponsor, Ford has shared some incredible moments with our NASCAR drivers,” said Tim Duerr, motorsports marketing manager for Ford Racing. “The NASCAR After The Lap sweepstakes remains to be an effective way to engage NASCAR fans, giving them a chance to not only win a trip to Las Vegas but an opportunity to leave with a brand-new 2015 Ford Mustang GT.”
Within the final weeks of the contest, fans can enter to win a prize right on the spot. The three sponsors of the contest are giving away five pairs of tickets to go to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
For more information on the contest and the event, head over to www.NASCARafterthelap.com.