A good argument can be made that Brad Keselowski is the most relaxed guy on the track as the Sprint Cup schedule approaches the start of the Chase.
Despite a last-lap loss to Marcos Ambrose in last Sunday’s wild finish at Watkins Glen, Keselowski was bouncing around pit road after the race, trading high-fives with members of Ambrose’s crew after the excitement of the race’s final moments.
He rolled on to Michigan International Speedway this week eyeing a seasonal fourth win and qualified 19th for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. It wasn’t all work and no play, however. After time trials Friday afternoon, he and members of his Truck team partied at Captain Chuck’s, a watering hole near the speedway.
A native of Michigan, Keselowski has a special attachment to the area and the track.
“You know, obviously this place is special to me, and I’d like to be able to bring home my first Cup win this weekend or as soon as possible at my home track,” Keselowski said. “I know we’re working toward that at Penske Racing, and, in general, we always seem to be stronger in August than in June here. Hopefully, that’ll be the case, and we’ll be strong enough to get a victory.”
With four races remaining to the start of the Chase, Keselowski sits in an interesting position. He’s fifth in points, and, with three victories, has a virtual lock on playoff participation. He, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart lead probable Chasers with three victories each, and a win by any of the three in the next four races could earn the top seeding spot in the Chase.
That incentive could open the door for more madcap late-race maneuvering by Keselowski Sunday if he’s in the top five near the end of the race. He said he’s looking at the standings not in their current form but as they will be adjusted for the start of the Chase – with the race winners on top.
“I’ve thought about [that] that whole last lap (at the Glen),” Keselowski said. “I thought about it going
off-course at the Glen and thought, ‘Damn, I just threw away the points lead.’
“I’m not looking at the points lead off the sheet that gets printed out. I’m looking at it off of wins, and I think that’s the common sense way to look at it. It doesn’t matter when the Chase starts what points you had. I would say the guys that are really digging hard and thinking about the Chase are probably thinking the same thing, or I would hope they are.
“Then, as far as I’m concerned, by those calculations, we are the points leader, maybe tied for it, but we are the points leader in that sense, and I think that’s great. I think that’s what this sport should be about. It should be about winning, and there is certainly a balance there, and I think this sport has found the best balance I’m aware of between consistency and wins in that fashion. It’s good, and it makes me think really hard about winning. I think we’ve got a great shot at it.”
The balance he must deal with, Keselowski said, is racing for wins while also avoiding going over the edge.
“It’s about balance because if you don’t want it enough you won’t be successful, and if you want it too badly it seems like you force things and they don’t come naturally,” he said. “And that’s hard to see sometimes. Sometimes you have to take a step back to know when you’re doing that, when you’re forcing something that’s just not ready to happen yet.
“For me, that’s something that I try not to do, but I would probably say that I’m guilty of it when I come here, at least on the Cup side, because when anything goes wrong I get madder than hell about it. You got to guard against it, for sure. You know, I’d rather be the guy that screwed up because I wanted it too badly than the guy that screwed up because he didn’t want it enough. … I’m going to strike out swinging. I’m not going to strike out staring at the ball. That’s just my style.”
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.