Brad Keselowski probably will look back on Sunday as a sort of average day, but, in the end, it was a positive experience.
Despite not having the consistent strength to challenge at the front, Keselowski rode his Penske Racing Dodge to a fifth-place finish Sunday in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and stayed firmly in the race for the Chase.
Although a third-place run by Clint Bowyer lifted him above Keselowski in the point standings to ninth, dropping Keselowski to 10th, the Penske driver is solidly in the top 10. Carl Edwards is 46 points behind Keselowski in 11th – basically a full race behind.
“Certainly proud of the fact that we were able to get from a 20-something starting position all the way up to the top five,” Keselowski said. “It was a good effort all day long, and we were solid on pit road. Obviously, we want to win, but it’s still a good day.”
Keselowski ran in the top 10 for the last two-thirds of the race but couldn’t move to the front to challenge Denny Hamlin and winner Kasey Kahne. Two-tire changes were especially difficult for Keselowski.
“Any time you can finish top five in the Cup series, that’s a pretty strong day, especially how we had to fight back on a couple of those restarts,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe. “The car just didn’t seem to go real well on two tires, and we got stuck on the bottom as well on both of those restarts. So, both times we went from fifth to 10th.
“Our car was really good 15-20 laps into the run, but this place is so tough to pass. We were able to fight our way back. Brad did a great job saving a little bit there at the end and was able to get a few of those spots back.
“Overall, I’m pleased. We want to be better, and we know we need to be better, but at least we feel like we’ve got a decent baseline if they don’t change the tire when we come back here for the second race in the Chase, so that’s encouraging.”
Keselowski advanced significantly over the closing miles, jumping from 10th at lap 225 to fifth at the finish.
“At the end, we were coming pretty hard,” he said. “I think we were probably a second- or third-place car but just didn’t have the track position that we needed.”
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.