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Keselowski Wants To Win His Way To Title No. 2

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2015
Brad Keselowski wants to burn tires all the way to the championship in the upcoming Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

Brad Keselowski wants to burn tires all the way to the championship in the upcoming Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As a highly-paid NASCAR driver, Brad Keselowski knows when to pound the gas pedal, when to tap the brakes and when to get diplomatic. During a break in testing at Kansas Speedway on Wednesday, a question about the current Chase format sent the former Sprint Cup champion into full diplomacy mode.

sprint-logo-08Keselowski, who will start the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship P9 in points at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, chose his words carefully when asked about the elimination format which was implemented a year ago.

The 2012 champion said he certainly understands the reasons for a playoff system – even a playoff system which pares down the field three times in 10 races and then features just four drivers eligible to win the championship in the final race of the season.

The format, the Team Penske Ford Fusion driver said, is what NASCAR officials believe is best for the sport. Best to develop and maintain the interest of its fan base and best to please NASCAR and NASCAR teams sponsors and partners.

So, Keselowski said, “That’s what I signed up for. So, I’ll defer to those metrics.”

But that was not exactly a high-volume shout out.

The problem for Keselowski appears to be the fact that winning races is still playing a subservient role to consistency.

“You can be consistent and make it all the way to the last round (of the Chase),” the Michigan native said. “But I don’t really care to participate in that manner.  I want to win races and that’s what it’s gonna take for me to be proud at the end of the day to be in Homestead and potentially raise a championship trophy is to win races, so that’s what I’m gonna try to do.”

Asked if – because of a format that massively penalizes a driver or team that makes a single mistake or, worse, gets caught up in another driver’s mistake – it would be wise to drive defensively, Bad Brad said; for some.

“There’s some merit to a conservative approach,” Keselowski said in a tone noticeably devoid of his characteristic enthusiasm, said. “It’s not one that I particularly enjoy or wish to play a role in, but I’m guessing someone will and they’ll probably get there – you know they will.  It’s simple math.  They’ll make their way to Homestead without winning, so that’s part of it, too.”

Keselowski is not the only driver who, from the sound of it, has at least a bit of philosophical difficulty with the new format.

Clint Bowyer, during his break at the Kansas test, was asked his opinion.

Bowyer, who failed to make last year’s Chase but is in this year’s field, said, “The fastest car (that of Kevin Harvick) wound up winning” in 2014.

But, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver said, if, say, Ryan Newman had won, even though he failed to win a race, then people would have to wonder.

Keselowski did have good things to say about the 16-driver, 10-race playoffs and especially about the pressure that comes with the whittle-down format.

“It gives you a feel like you are at a marquee event,” he said. “I’ve talked quite a bit to the extra pressure you feel with the marquee races like Daytona, with marquee races like the Southern 500 or the Coca-Cola 600 or whatever you want to call it.  So those races, I think, you do put a little bit of extra pressure on yourself and when you’re in that kind of elimination race and your neck has the noose around it, it certainly feels like those races all over again and that’s not a bad thing.”

Bowyer also said he thought the format featured some positives a year ago.

“It was to created excitement and did it ever,” he said. “Matt Kenseth tackling poeple? It can’t get more interesting than that.”

For Keselowski, the 2015 season has not been all that wonderful. It started with an engine failure and 41st-place finish at Daytona and then proceeded through a series of hot and cold spells.

He won at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California in the fifth race of the season but since then, no victories. Not what the racing world has come to expect from a guy who has won 17 times in 223 starts in Cup.

Keselowski was asked Wednesday if he still has the internal drive to win another championship.

His answer was the most expansive – and emphatic – of the day.

“We haven’t necessarily got the results that we’re looking for with respect to laps led, wins, top-5s,” the 31-year-old driver said. “But our consistency this year has been as good if not better than any other year, and our top-10 percentage is slightly better, so I think that’s probably where I’d generate that conclusion from.  As far as the drive to get it done, I probably feel like the format itself changed some of that for probably everyone, knowing you can get a win early in the season and kind of make it in.  I think it’s natural somewhat to take deep breaths in the middle of the year because you can.  But I wouldn’t mistake that for less drive to win the championship as much as it is more of a carefree attitude to enjoy what you do as a professional in sports.

“The drive to win the championship, though, to me, is higher than it’s ever been.  To win a second championship, to me, would be a huge career mark in the sense that I think Mark Martin probably summed it up the best as anyone, somewhere about a dozen years ago when I was reading a quote from him about winning your second race.  When you win your first race, there’s always someone that can stand up and say, ‘Anyone can win one race,’ but it’s when you win multiple races that you start to really grow confidence in who you are and happiness and I think find peace with what you’ve done and feeling justified in it.

“For me, I feel that way about winning a second championship.  I think that would perhaps more solidify, not just in other peoples’ minds, where our team is, but in my own and that would be a tremendous feeling for me personally, considering where we’ve come from and how far we’ve come.  So I think we have that opportunity and I’m very driven to make it happen.  I don’t want to miss this moment because we’re there and we have a great team.  We have fast cars.  We just need to execute and not have any bad luck.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2015
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