Heading into Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, it had been an almost perfect weekend for Brad Keselowski.
He won the pole.
More from FoxSports
He led two out of three practices.
He was even able to make a joke about having to give up the No. 1 pit selection -- which normally belongs to the pole winner -- because of a penalty earlier in the week.
But an up-and-down day that culminated in an unspectacular ninth-place finish did little to put Keselowski in a better position heading into next weekend's Chase elimination race at Talladega.
After arriving at Kansas eighth in the Chase standings -- the last transfer spot for the upcoming Eliminator Round -- Keselowski left in seventh, just one point ahead of eighth-place Martin Truex Jr. and seven ahead of ninth-place Kyle Busch.
Although the Team Penske driver has only slightly more breathing room heading to one of the most unpredictable races on the schedule, he tried to put a positive spin on where Sunday's finish left him in the championship picture.
"It was kind of a rough day for us," said Keselowski, who led the opening 28 laps but never led again. "We were not as fast today as what we hoped to be, but the 2 crew and my Miller Lite Ford team stayed with it and got a decent finish out of it to where we can go to Talladega and have a real shot at this."
Asked to elaborate on his feelings about going to Talladega where the field of title contenders will be whittled from 12 drivers to eight, Keselowski demurred.
"I haven't really thought about it," the 2012 Sprint Cup champion said. "I'm still thinking about Kansas, but I'll have a whole week to prepare."
Crew chief Paul Wolfe wasn't surprised with the No. 2 team's struggles on Sunday despite the car showing a lot of strength earlier in the weekend.
"Going into the race there were some unknowns," he said. "Obviously we were very fast on Friday in qualifying trim and were able to back that up in qualifying, so that was a great effort. From there, we had good speed in practice, but we didn't really have the car where we wanted it on the longer run. I think that's kind of what showed up today. We knew it was a little bit of an unknown for us from where we ended (final practice) yesterday."
Despite enjoying a solid season, Keselowski has not won since March at Auto Club Speedway, so there is clearly room for improvement down the stretch.
"We're always trying to be better and try new things, and definitely showed some potential this weekend, and got another pole and had a fast car but it's still just not exactly where we want to be on the longer runs, and that's what we need to look at," Wolfe said.
Keselowski's teammate, Joey Logano, meanwhile, has won the past two races -- including Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas, where he stood in the way of a second driver punching his ticket to the next round.
"That's certainly not a bad thing for teams that are in a position like mine, where we're gonna have to race with points or win Talladega," Keselowski said. "It could be worse. I'm happy for Joey."