Keselowski Heads To Wed. With A Plan At Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 27 2020

Brad Keselowski wants to make a point or two when racing resumes in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – After 24 winless NASCAR Cup Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski has planned a Team Penske-pragmatic approach for the weather-delayed 16th annual Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500.

“I’d like to go and score a lot of points,” said Keselowski, fourth in points and occupying the final transfer cutoff spot for advancing into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 8. “There’s three races left in the season and simple math _ if I win one of the next two and then the last one, we’ll win the championship. So, I’m trying to keep it that simple.”

Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang, was running ninth Sunday when the race was red-flagged to a halt due to weather-related, slippery track conditions.

That was the rinse-and-repeat case early Tuesday evening, when a cloudy mist rolled in and combined with temperatures in the high 30s to bring an end to a herculean drying effort. Resumption of the race has been pushed to Wednesday at 2 p.m. (CDT). Live TV coverage is scheduled for NBC Sports Network, as well as Performance Radio Network (PRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

There are 282 laps remaining in the 16th annual edition of the 501-miler.

Gate 4 will open for spectators at 1:30 p.m. All tickets for today’s race will be honored on Wednesday. Access to parking will be by Petty Place on the west side of the facility.

NASCAR’s official Track Drying Team diligently has recorded hundreds of laps with its Air Titans around the high-banked/1.5-mile oval since the Round of 8 Playoff race was red-flagged to a halt after 52 laps at 3:34 p.m. on Sunday. Those efforts proved futile Monday and most of Tuesday, basically keeping Cup’s premier drivers and teams under motorhome arrest.

But with track drying progressing Tuesday, NASCAR announced at 5:36 p.m. the cars would be pushed from the garage area to the grid at 7 p.m. and fire engines at 7:30. Instead, the official postponement was announced at 6:50 p.m.

Keselowski began the weekend here eight points in front of fifth-place Chase Elliott, of Hendrick Motorsports, going into the middle of three races comprising the Round of 8. Keselowski opened the Round of 8 with a fourth-place finish at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway on Oct. 18, a result that moved him ahead of Elliott. Joey Logano, Brad’s Penske teammate, secured the first spot in the Championship 4 with his win over fellow-Ford Racing driver Kevin Harvick at Kansas. Logano’s margin of victory was just 0.312-seconds, and prevented the Stewart-Haas Racing ace from logging his series-best 10th victory of 2020.

Keselowski said Logano did “an awesome job” en route to his third win of the season.

“The track really came in the last run at Kansas, for whatever reason,” Keselowski said during a NASCAR Zoom conference previewing this event. “I don’t know if it cooled off some more or what not, but it gained a ton of grip, which was enough for the leader to be able to run wide-open pretty easily. When that happened it almost turned into like a mini-Daytona and you could really hold the lanes. To Joey’s credit he did an awesome job of making that happen. He and his spotter, T.J. Majers, are pretty strong and really good at that kind of stuff and he pulled it off flawlessly. It’s certainly not easy, but it was made possible by the high amount of grip that the track had and the low amount of horsepower.

We had a solid race in Kansas, just came up a few spots short and a great performance overall. Obviously, sitting on the cutoff line is not ideal because I could have a great race and still get knocked out because somebody else wins, so the best thing for us to do is to go win that thing.”

Given his 0-for-24 TMS resume, Keselowski could claim he is overdue for that first win at “The Great American Speedway.” Keselowski finished ninth in the COVID-19 rescheduled Cup race here on July 19, when he paced 15 of his career total 654 laps-led in an event won by Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing.

That result represented a marked improvement from Keselowski’s two starts here in 2019, when he finished 36th and 39th and failed to lead a lap in either race. Keselowski has a career-best pair of second-place finishes at TMS, the first in the 2012 fall event en route to the first Cup championship for iconic team-owner Roger Penske.

“Bad Brad” also finished second the fall 2015 event after leading a single-race record 312 of 334 laps. Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports overtook Keselowski with four laps remaining in the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 8, 2015 to score his fourth consecutive victory in the event.

“It’s pretty easy to overthink,” said Keselowski, a 36-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich.  “I’m trying not to read too much into it and just go out and do my job.”

Keselowski is completing his first season working with crew chief Jeremy Bullins after a major pre-season shuffling of those leadership duties among Penske teammates Logano and Ryan Blaney. Keselowski has scored four wins during this pandemic-impacted season with Bullins perched atop his pit box.

“It wasn’t the way I thought it was gonna go,” Keselowski said. “I thought, obviously, it would be normal and we would have meetings every week and we’d go through all these things and then COVID happened and God laughed at our plans. That said, we’ve been trying to make the most of it and I feel like we’ve done a really good job. You expect to be better the second time you go to racetracks. I think for the most case that’s been spot-on for us, and there’s a little bit of a honeymoon phase that we’re certainly in and trying to enjoy. Hopefully, we can ride that momentum to a championship.”

Asked if he feeds-off the pressure of the Cup Playoffs format, Keselowski said, “^’Feed-off’ it is an interesting way to put it,” Keselowski said. “I think I feed-off having fast race cars.  As far as the actual playoff atmosphere, there are things I like and things I dislike about it.  The reality is it is what it is and I have to make the most of it and I try to focus on that.”

The final race of the Round of 8 is scheduled for Martinsville Speedway’s half-mile, paperclip-shaped oval on Sunday. “Fourth in the playoff standings…sitting there you obviously feel very vulnerable that one of those guys that’s not in can win,” Keselowski said. “You look at the cars that aren’t in right now it’s Chase Elliott and Martin Truex (of Joe Gibbs Racing/seventh in points) that probably stand out the most, and I could definitely see one of those two going to Martinsville and winning. It’s shaping up to be quite a firestorm when we go to Martinsville.

“It’s a special track. First off, as far as I’m aware it’s 1948, the oldest track on the circuit. That’s pretty cool. There’s only one track that can be the oldest and have the most history and pedigree and Martinsville is that. That brings a special allure to it, an allure that I think everybody likes, and then the other piece I would add is it’s a really special trophy with that (grandfather) clock. I know it means a lot to me. I’ve won twice there and I’ve got one clock at my house and one clock in my office. They’re very special and it serves as a constant reminder of how big that day was to me personally.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 27 2020
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