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CUP: Talladega Touchstone For Keselowski

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The first time Brad Keselowski drove a Sprint Cup car at Talladega Superspeedway, he won the race.

The last time Keselowski drove at Talladega Superspeedway, he won the race.

From that first win – in the infamous finish with Carl Edwards – in April 2009 to this year’s May triumph at Talladega, Keselowski’s life has been transformed. He has gone from being a part-time driver for an underfunded team (Phoenix Racing) to the lead driver for Penske Racing, one of international motorsports’ most respected operations, and, more importantly, he returns to Talladega this weekend sitting atop the Chase point standings.

The May win was team owner Roger Penske’s first at Talladega in 89 races, and Keselowski now stands in firm position to be able to hand Penske his first Sprint Cup championship.

After winning two of the first three races in the Chase, Keselowski leads second-place Jimmie Johnson by five points. He used fuel mileage to win Sunday in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

“I had a great feeling about Dover all week,” Keselowski said. “I know a lot people expected us to struggle, just by looking on paper at our average finish. That’s not always the best way to judge this Miller Lite Dodge team.

“I really don’t feel like we have any weaknesses on our team. In our two Chase wins, we’ve won on pure speed and we won on fuel mileage. To me, that’s covering all of your bases.

“Now we get to the part of the schedule where I think our strengths will shine. I love racing at Talladega. We have a lot of confidence going back there as the winner of the spring race. There is still a lot of racing left to go in this Chase, but I like our position in the standings, for sure.”

Keselowski has five top-10 finishes in seven appearances at Talladega, a fine record considering the wild nature of racing there and the potential for accidents.

“Like Brad has said, there is a lot of racing left in this Chase, but we’re now getting to a part of the schedule where we feel like we can extend the points lead,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe. “It starts this weekend at Talladega. It’s obviously a great track for Brad. Penske Racing, as a group, has been very competitive on the restrictor-plate tracks this season. I think we’ve learned a few things since then that will make us even more competitive this weekend.”

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.