Homestead, Fla – Brad Keselowski showed that it doesn’t mean that you have to have the most speed to win vie for a championship anymore. But, he did have to have the speed to win the championship on Sunday. Jimmie Johnson showed us that last year that without the right speed, you can still contend, in winning his record-tying seven Cup title. Keselowski, further staked that claim as he was no where near the best car/driver this season. That distinction went to Toyota and Martin Truex Jr. He and Kyle Busch combined to win 13 races in 2017.
Keselowski, won just three.
That’s why it wasn’t shocking to see Truex and Busch finish 1-2 on Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Keselowski, well he finished seventh, fourth out of the four championship eligible drivers.
But, despite not winning the championship, the Michigan native showed that they’ve perfected the new format that NASCAR offers. All they ask is to win a race in the regular season and you are playoff eligible. Keselowski, did just that at Atlanta and Martinsville. He had both wins by race No. 6 of the season. But, he’d go 24 races before winning another one. After six top six finishes in the first seven races to the season, including nine top seven results in the first 11, he struggled.
From Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend to Kentucky in July, Keselowski had four finishes of 30th or worse and just two top 10 finishes in a span of seven races. Furthermore, if you go from Charlotte in May to Richmond in September, Keselowski had five top 10 finishes in 15 tries. But, once the playoffs started, everything went out the window. The speed wasn’t fully back, but Keselowski worked the system to perfection.
He knew he just had to survive to get out of the first round. He did just that finishing sixth, fourth and 10th respectively. In the Round of 12, he knew he had to win at Talladega. He did just that which automatically advanced him to the third round. The other two races in the Round of 12 saw him finish 15th (Charlotte) and 13th (Kansas) respectively. Likely wasn’t going to be enough to move him on. His win did though.
Then, in the Round of 8, Keselowski lucked out. He called Martinsville “must-win” and while he finished fourth, he won both stages that day and scored 20 stage points. At Texas, he had contact with Kyle Busch on the opening lap and spend most of his day a lap down. He’d luck out and get his lap back and despite zero stage points, he’d finish fifth. Then, at Phoenix, he had to maintain a 19 point advantage in the standings. His car was junk all day and Denny Hamlin closed that gap to zero heading into the final stage. While it looked like Hamlin or even Chase Elliott would win and take that fourth and final spot to Homestead, their drama from Martinsville carried over and neither won. Keselowski, with a 16th place finish lucked out and advanced to his first Championship 4.
While the other three challengers had all been in this situation before, Keselowski hasn’t. His championship in 2012 was under a different format.
Unfortunately, they knew early on that they didn’t have the speed. They gambled on a very early race caution and pitted for new tires on just the fifth lap. He’d show how valuable tires were though. He’d improve from 13th to second in just five laps. But, they’d never get cautions or pit strategy to fall their way the rest of the race, as the event was run on pure speed.
Keselowski, didn’t have it.