Keselowski has warmed to track
LOUDON, N.H. - The idea of the Sylvania 300 had Brad Keselowski shaking a little yesterday morning.
“I was really, really nervous about this one,’’ he said.
He had his reasons.
Tracks such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway - short, awkward ones, like Richmond and Martinsville - hadn’t treated him well. Loudon particularly had been a 1.058-mile nightmare.
In July, the last time he was here, he blew a right tire and finished 35th in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, and went home with his second-worst result of the season (behind a 36th in Richmond).
Keselowski left New Hampshire 23d in the points, and the door to the Chase for the Sprint Cup seemed virtually closed. He had to go on a late-season tear - in the five races before the cutoff he had two wins and a runner-up finish - to make the Cup as the wild card.
After opening the Chase with a sixth-place finish in Chicago, at Loudon yesterday he had his best run in five cracks at the course, pushing the No. 2 Dodge to a second-place finish. He now sits third in the points behind yesterday’s winner, Tony Stewart, and Kevin Harvick.
“It’s funny,’’ said Keselowski. “Ten races ago, we left out of here 23d in the points. Who would have ever thought we’d be third in 10 weeks? I’d like to see some kind of stat for that. That’s for sure.’’
He started the race 16th and fell back as far as 24th, but after making some adjustments with about 140 laps to go, he weaved his way to the front of the pack. At his lowest moments this season, Keselowski blamed lack of execution and poor speed for disappointing results. But in his hot stretch his crew has made tweaks and he’s reaped the benefits.
“We weren’t the fastest car,’’ he said. “I’d be lying if I tried to tell you we were. But we made good adjustments to our car to where it was a solid, top-10 car and drove up to fourth or fifth there with about 100 to go, 80 to go. That’s what you need to do, you need to make good adjustments to your car, and we were clicking on that.’’
“It’s been a turnaround because of hard work and focus. I’m very appreciative of my team for that. This particular weekend compared to the last time we were here is no different. We focused on what we needed to do better. I thought we could do a lot better job, hit on some things. I felt the car could be a lot better. We certainly made some adjustments in this race that made us a lot better.’’
Clint Bowyer lost the lead when he ran out of gas with two laps to go. Seemingly every driver on the lead lap slingshot past him. Keselowski was among those who capitalized.
“We did get a little bit of help from fuel mileage,’’ Keselowski said. “But we were going to have a fourth- or a fifth-place day and instead we had a second-place day. So I felt like we earned the majority of our good fortune.’’
Getting the breaks has been as much a part of Keselowski’s turnaround as the results. More than a month ago, the only break he got was a fractured ankle. It happened Aug. 3 and, four days later, he won at Pocono. Then, the hot streak started.
After finishing second at Watkins Glen, third in Michigan, winning in Bristol, and taking sixth in Atlanta, he jumped 12 spots in the points and became the biggest sleeper in the Chase, inching up in points from 23d to 11th when the Chase started.
Now he feels like he has some momentum.
“I feel like our best races in the Chase are going to be our last five or six races, to be quite honest - with the exception of Texas,’’ he said. “If we get through these first four or five, I think we have a really good shot at it. I just hope we can capitalize.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.