Keselowski, Wolfe remain upbeat after frustrating Martinsville finish
Lost in all the drama surrounding Jeff Gordon’s immensely popular win and the controversial late-race dust-up between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway were the unpleasant fortunes of 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski, one of the eight remaining drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, was uncharacteristically stout for much of the afternoon at Martinsville, a .526-mile paperclip-shaped track where he’s enjoyed only modest success.
The Team Penske driver led four times for a total of 143 laps but finished a dismal 32nd after colliding with Kenseth, a non-Chase driver, on Lap 436 of 500.
The incident, which occurred at the front of the field, started when the cars of Keselowski and Kenseth came together, sending both crashing and collecting Chase driver Kurt Busch.
All three suffered significant damage but Keselowski, who arguably had the race’s strongest car, certainly had the most reason to be disappointed.
While Kenseth blamed Keselowski for causing the wreck, Keselowski and crew chief Paule Wolfe pointed the finger at Busch, who was running just behind the No. 2 Ford at the time of contact.
"I got hit from behind and that pushed me into the 20 (Kenseth) and my right-front wheel hit Kenseth’s left-rear and it just broke the right-front suspension off the car," Keselowski said. "The car wouldn’t turn and just kept going straight until I couldn’t do anything and I started wrecking everybody. I just didn’t have any steering wheel left."
Wolfe later corroborated his driver’s account of the how the incident played out.
"We got going down into Turn 1 and we got a big shove," the veteran crew chief told FOXSports.com after Sunday’s race. "The 41 (Busch) kind of shoved us, basically got us up where we bumped into the 20, and it broke our tie rod and that’s why coming off the corner Brad was like, ‘I couldn’t do anything.’
"You watch the replay and I think you can see … the tire just flopping on the right front, so basically the initial contact was when we got shoved from behind that got us into the 20, I guess, who was on the outside at that point."
Just a few laps later, Kenseth — still making laps despite heavy damage — wrecked Keselowski’s teammate, Logano, with a move that appeared to serve as payback for Logano wrecking him two weekends earlier at Kansas Speedway.
Asked to weigh in on Kenseth’s seemingly blatant act of retaliation, Keselowski turned testy and terse.
"It doesn’t matter what my thoughts are. It matters what Brian France’s thoughts are," he said, referring to NASCAR’s chairman and CEO. "He’s the one that runs the sport. I think that’s a good question for him."
For Keselowski and the team, the worst part about Sunday’s outcome is how it affects the big picture. After entering the race with equal points to the other seven title contenders, Keselowski heads to Texas Motor Speedway in sixth — a whopping 24 points behind fourth-place Kevin Harvick, who holds the final spot among the four drivers in position to transfer to the winner-take-all Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"It’s frustrating," Wolfe said of Sunday’s finish. "I hate to say it but it kind of seems like how our year’s been, especially of late. We can’t seem to put it all together right now for some reason, and get the finishes we deserve. It’s something to be proud of to have a car like we did — I feel like we probably had the best car at the end of the race in the spring (at Martinsville), and I feel like we came back and worked on it and made it a little bit better.
"That was a pretty impressive run there on the long run. We had an eight-second lead at one point, so the effort and what the guys have been able to do are something to be proud of. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but we try not to let it get us down. We’re not out of it."
After showing so much speed at Martinsville, Wolfe believes the team has reason to be upbeat heading into the two remaining races of the Eliminator Round.
"We’ve got to take the positive out of it, and that’s we had the best car here for sure, definitely, on the long run, and we had a great day on pit road which was a struggle for us earlier in the year," he said. "So all those things are positives, and we’re going to build off of that and go to Texas and hopefully put together another car like we had today."