Brad Keselowski sits in a sort of wacky position as the Sprint Cup season moves into the final weeks of decision time regarding the drivers who will compete for the championship.
Keselowski is virtually certain to be in that group of 12. That’s not the issue.
The interesting part for the Penske Racing driver comes in HOW he makes the Chase.
The preferred route is making the top 10 in points because that way of entry carries with it bonus points for regular-season race wins. Once the Chase field is set, each driver in the top 10 receives 2,000 points, plus three points for each victory.
Through 18 races, leading into Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Keselowski and Tony Stewart lead the wins column with three victories each.
Keselowski’s regular season has been tainted, however, by three finishes outside the top 30 in the season’s first seven races, and those finishes contributed to his current placement of ninth in points.
He’s 32 points to the positive as far as staying in the top 10.
Should Keselowski trip and fall out of the top 10 in points, his three race victories are almost certain to earn him entry into the Chase through the wild-card route, but he’d race for the championship minus the bonus points.
“The three wins are nice, and it means that we are pretty safe in regard to making the Chase, but we are focused on staying in the top 10 so that we can use the bonus points,” Keselowski said. “That’s the way I look at the points right now. To me, we are leading the points because we are in the top 10 with the most wins.
“I want to be the guy with the most wins and inside the top 10, and I want to make sure that we stay there. Hopefully, we can climb up a few more spots to be safe. But wins and being in the top 10, that’s all that matters.”
Of the drivers currently in the top 10 in points, Keselowski has the least experience at NHMS. In five races, he has a top five and two top 10s. He finished second at the track last September.
The key at the relatively flat one-mile track, crew chief Paul Wolfe said, is creating acceleration through and off the corners.
“Loudon is a unique racetrack,” Wolfe said. “It has aspects of both Richmond and Phoenix all rolled into one. We work really hard to get the car to turn in the center (of the corners) and maintain forward drive for late into a run.
“It’s a very flat layout, which presents a lot of different challenges. With no banking to catch the car, it can be very hard on brakes because the straightaways are long and you can build up a lot of speed before you get to the corner. It is so hard to pass. You really need the complete package to win there – good brakes, handling and pit stops.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.