Keselowski quietly enjoying fast start to ’17 season – Nascar
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — After finishing outside the top 10 in the season-opening Daytona 500, he will be going for his second win of the season and his fifth consecutive top-five finish when Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) gets underway.
He is not Kyle Larson.
Larson, driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing has certainly gained his share of attention in recent weeks, finishing second in three consecutive races before winning last weekend at Auto Club Speedway for just the second time in his still young career. So he has a top-five streak of his own to try and keep alive.
But the efforts of Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, have been equally impressive if not quite as headline grabbing.
Keselowski, 33, won for the 22nd time in his career when he won at Atlanta earlier this season, and he finished in the top five in the three races following that victory. Sunday at Martinsville, he’ll be going for a personal best fifth consecutive top-five finish.
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Last season, Keselowski finished fifth in the spring race on the flat .526-mile layout, and second when the series returned in October. It’s a track where he’s yet to win, but one where he’s rarely been out of contention.
Because weather delays forced the cancellation of qualifying Friday, March 31, 2017, Keselowski will line up his white with blue trim Team Penske No. 2 Ford fourth.
Larson, who finished third and 14th here last year, will start on the pole — the starting lineup was determined based on current owner points.
“There are always a lot of unknowns going into the year for everybody,” Keselowski told NASCAR.com Friday shortly after the end of the day’s lone practice. “And I think what you get into, you kind of look at trends. I think our team in the last two or three years has had a trend of coming out of the box very strong. The key to that is trying to keep that momentum. Which is tough. It’s a tough thing to do. It’s a long grueling season.”
Keselowski and the No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe, finished fifth at Las Vegas and fifth at Phoenix on the heels of the Atlanta victory. The string of top-five finishes seemed doomed last week at Auto Club Speedway, however, when an incident on the very first lap of the race left his Ford with damage and contact a short time later sent Keselowski spinning off the track.
But the team persevered and while Larson was there to take the checkered flag, Keselowski had raced his way to a second-place finish.
Quick, efficient pit work throughout the day, and a solid final stop “put us in position to achieve the finish we did,” Keselowski said.
“The biggest takeaway there was that in those clutch moments we have the capability of performing on pit road.”
Keselowski has put together four consecutive top-five finishes four times in his career in the series — in 2011, ’13, ’16 and now this season.
Getting on a roll such as that, he said, builds confidence for both the driver and team. There are other unseen benefits as well.
“Beyond that,” he said, “is just having a sense of direction, which is really helpful,” Keselowski said. “Being slow sucks. The only thing worse than being slow is being slow and not having any direction, not knowing why. …
“When you’re slow and have no sense of why, that’s tough. Sometimes you can be fast and not know why. Usually when you’re fast and you don’t know why, it’s not sustainable. So when you’re on a streak, that’s a sign that you’re fast and you know why. You know what’s working, you know what shocks and springs you need to tune with on a week to week basis and that’s a really good feeling.”
That success and competitiveness doesn’t delay the constant search for speed, Keselowski said, but enables teams to continue to work to get better and go faster.
“It seems like when you’re running up front whatever new part comes out that the guys think is just a little bit faster but they’re just not quite so sure about the reliability of it, makes its way on your car,” he said. “And speed becomes self-fulfilling.
“Because you’ve had it before, the team seems more willing to push the boundaries of reliability to get even more. Because they feel like it will pay off.
“Teams don’t like to push reliability boundaries to go from 15th to 10th, but they’re not afraid to push reliability boundaries to go from fifth to first.”
It may not explain why successful teams continue to contend for wins while others are more slow to show improvement, but Keselowski said it “explains momentum in this sport. I feel strongly about that.”