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Pedley: Keselowski Shows Guts, Maybe Not Smarts

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 13 2011

Brad Keselowski talks with Jeff Burton during Friday's practice day at Watkins Glen. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

You kind of have to admire Brad Keselowski’s unshakable determination to not let anybody drive his Sprint Cup car as he recuperates from the broken ankle he suffered two weeks ago. You do kind of have to question the wisdom of that determination. Especially this weekend.

Word is, there is no backup driver standing by to take Keselowski’s place should the ankle – or the equally painful sore back he has – give him fits in the cockpit.

“I’m not putting someone else in my car,” the 26-year-old Michigan native said. “I didn’t last week and I won’t this week. We’ll just figure it out.”

Yep, Keselowski is tough.

But should he not be thinking big picture?

Keselowski has two victories this season. He is pretty much a cinch to win one of the two Wild Card berths in the Chase, which is now five races away.

A cinch, that is, if he can stay in the top 20 in points. And that is no cinch.

Keselowski is 18th in points today, but just 19 points out of 21st. He cannot afford to have a bad day over the next five weeks.

Normally, a bad day at the Watkins Glen road course would not be a huge concern. He finished 20th in

Brad Keselowski was all smiles at The Glen on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

his one Cup start at The Glen but in Nationwide cars, he has an average finishing postion of about ninth in three starts.

But those who have seen the queaze-inducing photos of Keselowski’s ankle post-Road Atlanta-test wreck know that this weekend will not be normal for the Penske Racing driver.

Not on a rugged road course like that at the Glen.

After practice on Friday, Keselowski said, “Obviously you brake harder and more often.  It’s not that bad.  I can make it work.  It’s certainly not great.  It’s just hard to have the finesse like Marcos (Ambrose) and those guys have when you’re in pain.  I’ll just have to make it work.”

Then, when asked if the ankle has slowed him at The Glen, he said,  “I’m sure it’s holding me back somewhere.  I’m trying to minimize that.  The biggest thing for me is to not spend a lot of time dwelling on it because I don’t want to build in an excuse to not run good this weekend.  I want to work hard and find a way to do it.  I don’t want to make an excuse that it’s my foot.  I’ve made it a point to not put too much thought on it.”

The thing is, Keselowski does not have put himself through all the pain and/or the potential Chase-scuttling possibilities of a lousy finish.

NASCAR rules say that if he starts the race and then gets out in favor of a backup driver, Keselowski will get all the points.

So, why not have a road racing ace standing by to take over on the first caution? At the 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course, a driver switch would not put the No. 2 Penske car off the pace lap.

A top road racer like, say, Jacques Villeneuve or Scott Pruett, could come from the back of the field to nab a top-10 finish.

But for reasons of pride or fear or team unity or whatever, Keselowski will have none of that. He said he wouldn’t even consider it if he were solidly in Chase contention.

“No, absolutely not,” Keselowski said about that. “I don’t think that being in the Wild Card race is affected by whether I’m in or not in the car.  I think I owe it to the guys who work on my car to gut it out. I expect a lot out of them, they have every right to expect a lot out of me.”

Asked what he expects  of  himself on Sunday, Keselowski kind of sounded confident, but not granite-solid confident.

“I think to say that we’d win this week would be a little unrealistic expectation,” he said.  “I think if you look at my road course experience, we’ve shown improvement.  We got our first top 10 on a road course at Sears Point (Infineon) this year.  This is only like my 12th or 13th career road course race ever.  I’m slowly improving.  I’d like to get a good, solid finish out of it.  I finished 20th here last time and felt like we were a 15th-place car.  If we can just keep chipping away and just keep getting a little bit better, a top 15 or top 10, that would be a hell of a day.”

A day from hell, on the other hand, would be a finish of 35th or worse. And driving an extremely physical road course on a broken ankle and bad back certainly increases the chances for that kind of finish.

Good luck, Bad Brad. But while the heart here says go, the head says no.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 13 2011
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