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Keselowski on outside looking in
Last Sunday at Kentucky Speedway, Brad Keselowski got caught up in Kurt Busch’s mistake and was wrecked. That relegated Brad to a 33rd-place finish. More importantly, it knocked the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion down the points ladder to 13th. With no wins so far this year, I know there are those who are wondering if our defending champion will even make the Chase.
Honestly, knowing Brad as well as I do and knowing the fierce determination of that young man, I think that No. 2 car will be fine. I think people forget that as our series champion, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with that when it comes to appearances, media opportunities, etc. Jimmie Johnson held the crown for five consecutive years and got into a rhythm of how to handle it. In 2011, Tony Stewart became a three-time champion, so he already had experience of what was expected of him.
Being our premier series champion is completely foreign ground for Brad and his team. I don’t think they fully realized or appreciated the time away from the team that it was going to have on Brad. Plus, there are two more sides to that triangle. You have the Penske Racing changeover from Dodge to Ford. Then, if that wasn’t enough to pull your hair out as a team, you had the introduction of a brand new Gen-6 car, and had to throw all your old notes away and start from scratch.
So, I think we cannot discount the added pressures this team has faced the early part of the year, as opposed to some of the other teams. Last Sunday at Kentucky, if Brad hadn’t had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with Kurt Busch, I really believe Brad would have been up front with his teammate Joey Logano, who had a great fourth-place finish.
I still have all the confidence that now that we are turning the corner into the second half of the season, they will turn it around and Brad will make it into the top 10 in points, and probably with a win or two, as well, to enter the Chase.
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One thing no one expected that we’ve seen this year is the strength and consistency out of Joey Logano. This is his first year with Penske Racing and his first year driving a Ford, but you could never tell it. Joey has had eight top-10 finishes in 17 events so far. Sunday’s fourth-place finish also vaulted him four spots in the points to that magical 10th position, which is the cutoff for an automatic berth in the Chase.
So now, across the board at Penske Racing, we are truly going to see the character of both teams. Joey is in right now. Can he run hard enough and be consistent enough to stay in the top 10 in points and make the Chase? Brad is on the outside looking in. Does he have what it takes to get him and his team into the Chase? Brad showed us all a couple years ago he can do it. Remember, in mid-season they caught fire and went from outside the top 20 in points to three wins and making the Chase. So they know they have the experience of doing it before, but do they have enough magic with only nine races left to do it again?