File Brad Keselowski’s decision to run Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway under "What was he thinking?"
Yes, if the defending Sprint Cup champion wins at Iowa and then returns to Pocono in the wee hours of the morning to earn his first win of the season Sunday, this discussion will be for naught.
But given the struggles the No. 2 Penske Racing team has endured this season it might have behooved Keselowski to take a more conservative approach. Just six races remain to determine the 2013 Chase field. Keselowski is 13th in the standings, six points outside of the top 10 and without a win. So it’s curious the defending champion would want this additional responsibility and stress added to his schedule.
“I get paid to be tough enough to do that,” Keselowski said. “That is my job.”
Plus, the 29-year-old driver likes the 0.875-mile track where he won the inaugural Nationwide Series race in 2009 and hasn’t finished worse than fourth in three starts. No, Keselowski never second-guessed the decision to do the double, particularly given his pit crew’s miscues throughout the year.
“I had committed, and Iowa is a special track to me, and the Nationwide program is important to me as well,” Keselowski said. “We have been having some struggles on pit road, and that has led to part of our struggles. We are using this as a weekend for the Cup pit crew to go out there and pit the Nationwide car and try to get better on pit road. Going to Iowa is a way for me to support that cause. I am trying to look at the positives that way.”
Keselowski started the season with his title team intact, minus front tire carrier Scott Reiniger, who retired and was replaced by Jeremy Ogles. But in Keselowski first 20 races, things didn’t quite jell to the team’s liking. Rear tire changer Colin Fambrough was benched after Daytona. Front tire changer Ben Brown moved to the rear, and Nick Krizmanich took over the front for New Hampshire the following week. But four laps into the race, Penske teammate Joey Logano wrecked, and the organization called an audible to move the No. 22’s jackman Ray Gallahan, rear tire carrier Trent Cherry and rear tire changer Travis Johnson to Keselowski’s car.
But after that experiment, crew chief Paul Wolfe opted to return to the original lineup.
“We are back to the point with our crew where basically all the guys, minus a rear carrier, where we started the season and feel like we were our best,” Wolfe said. “We moved guys around and brought in some different guys trying to make something happen and trying to find something and we just haven’t had any success at that, so now we are going back to what our best lineup was early in the year.
“Is that exactly where we want it? No, but for the next six weeks that is what we need to do. Long term, we might make more changes.”
Fambrough and rear tire carrier Larry Robinett are accompanying Keselowski to Iowa. It is Keselowski’s second trip in as many days. After qualifying 11th at Pocono on Friday, Keselowski took the 2-hour, 15-minute flight to Clinton, Iowa. He practiced the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford for 48 laps and posted the 21st-fastest lap of 132.114 mph – but had the second-best 10 consecutive lap average of 130.722 mph – before flying another thousand miles back to Pennsylvania only to have Cup practice rained out.
On Saturday, Keselowski kept his promise to race at Iowa, leaving Pocono just after 1 p.m. ET. He will qualify and race and likely sleep during the 1-hour, 45-minute return flight.
And despite the challenges the Brew Crew has faced this season – from pit stops to changing cars to race strategy to bad luck – Keselowski is confident that he, Wolfe and the team can turn things around, perhaps as early as Sunday. Two years ago, Keselowski used his victory at Pocono to propel him to his first Chase appearance.
“I know we are doing the right things,” Keselowski said. “I am panicked from that sense. I know when it clicks it is going to click really hard and heavy and we are going to rattle off some really strong finishes and potentially a lot of wins.”