Don’t look now, but after the first two races of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski is your new points leader.
Keselowski opened the Chase with a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway and followed it up Sunday with a fine fourth-place run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Heading into Dover International Speedway and the third and final race in the Round of 16 of the Chase, Keselowski has a 35-point lead over 13th place. Although he isn’t guaranteed a slot in the next round as race winners Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are, Keselowski is all but certain to move on and contend for his second Sprint Cup championship.
If Keselowski finishes anywhere in the top 35 at Dover, he’ll advance, no matter what anyone else does.
The top fives at Chicagoland and New Hampshire have set him up well.
Sunday was an efficient day for Keselowski, but it did not come easy.
He didn’t qualify in the top 10 at New Hampshire, nor was he in the top 10 in any of the three pre-race practices. Halfway through the race, he was 15th and at the three-quarter mark Keselowski was mired in 13th.
But they only give out points at the end of the race, and when the checkered the flag fell, the No. 2 Penske Ford was in fourth place, which made for a great afternoon.
"It was just a really great finish to kind of just a so-so day," said Keselowski. "It takes a team effort to do that as well and that’s part of this sport and my guys did a great job."
While Keselowski couldn’t match the pace of race winner Kevin Harvick or the front-running Toyotas, being mistake-free made the difference at New Hampshire.
"We weren’t near as fast as we wanted to be, but great execution on pit road, great execution with the pit calls and then the last few restarts went our way with being in the right lane on the restarts, which is so, so important on these double-file restarts, but also just staying out of trouble," said Keselowski. "We’re not as fast as we want to be. We almost went a lap down at one point, but we kept our head down and got through it."
And so now, the 2012 champion heads to Dover knowing he’s almost certain to make the next round of the Chase.
"It feels good to go to Dover and be able to sleep easy knowing that if you have a part failure or get caught up in a wreck or any of those silly things that can happen that aren’t you fault, you don’t have to worry about them," he said. "So that’s good, but we still have some work to do to get a little faster."