When the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs were set to begin, Brad Keselowski kept saying how he didn’t think he had the speed in his No. 2 Ford to contend for many race wins. While he was right, Keselowski has just one win over the nine races in the playoffs so far and that occurred on a restrictor plate track at Talladega. Also, Keselowski has just three wins all season, the others on a short track at Martinsville and on the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway in the second race of the season.
So, how does a driver without much speed end up in the Championship 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway?
After two wins and nine top seven finishes in the first 11 races of the 2017 season, Keselowski’s speed went away. Over the final 15 races of the regular season and first four playoff races, Keselowski had just six top seven finishes in a span of 21 races. He was carrying a 24 race winless streak before getting his third win of the season at Talladega.
Keselowski, 33, knew that they would have to be smart and calculated with every move in the playoffs. That’s why they didn’t take many risks. They knew if they didn’t have a car to win, they just needed stage points and a solid top 10 finish in the end. The Team Penske driver has six top 10 finishes in the nine playoff races and excelled when they needed to.
In the first round, Keselowski finished sixth, fourth and 10th respectively. They knew they’d easily make it onto the second round because of that. In the Round of 12, they knew they needed to put everything they had into Talladega. See, Keselowski is a great restrictor plate racer, arguably the best there is today. Mix that with Ford being the manufacturer to beat on plate tracks, it made it a no brainer to get a win at Talladega. They did just that, which bought them a spot in the third round. The Michigan native finished 15th and 13th in the other two races of the round, both 1.5-mile tracks. Without that Talladega win, Keselowski isn’t still alive in the playoffs right now.
Then, with him knowing Texas could be his demise, they went all-in at Martinsville. He went as far as to staying it was a “must-win” situation. Keselowski, won both stages of the race, racking up 20 stage points and finished fourth. That mixed with a championship saving day at Texas where he rebounded from a first lap incident to finish fifth, put him in an easy position to maintain at Phoenix.
Now, here he is in the Championship 4 trying to beat two Toyota’s and Kevin Harvick in a winner take all scenario in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN). A championship will be the ultimate redemption story for him. Keselowski, has said he’s heard people talking in the garage how he fluked his way into the 2012 title. The fact that he won only one championship had irked him. He’s been after himself to get a second championship and put those voices to bed.
Well, a win on Sunday certainly would do that. A championship winning season in 2017 would be one that we could compare to Jimmie Johnson’s. They maximized their strengths and salvaged bad days into solid ones.
Last year, Johnson only led three laps but won the race and championship at Homestead. Keselowski, is hoping to carry that some game plan. Also, Homestead is only one of two tracks that Penske has never won at, Indianapolis being the other.
If Keselowski could win, Team Penske would have won both the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season.