[media-credit id=18 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]A year removed from finishing 25th in points with just two top 10s, Brad Keselowski qualified for the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup on Saturday night in Richmond. Call him this season’s Cinderella story, or breakthrough driver of the year, either way Keselowski has stolen the show.
“I’m viewing it like a one-year-old that got his first box of crayons,” Keselowski said of making his first Chase in only his second attempt. “It’s great, everything is fresh, new, and a lot of positive momentum. No matter what happens in the Chase, it’s still an honor to be in it, and that doesn’t mean I’m making excuses if we don’t run well.”
With good reason, Keselowski said he’s going to enjoy the Chase. With an open mind and by running hard every week, he has every reason to be excited about what he could do next.
Entering the mid-summer stretch Keselowski sat 22nd in points with one win, two top fives and two top 10s. In order to take advantage of that win to make the Chase’s wildcard, Keselowski would have had to get into the top 20 in points. After breaking his ankle testing in Road Atlanta the first week of August before the Cup race in Pocono, it didn’t seem possible.
But who knew that a broken ankle would be exactly what the team needed. August became the month of Keselowski as he won two out of four races while he finished second and third in the other two races.
Suddenly Keselowski was the championship favorite. He catapulted to 11th in points entering Atlanta with just two races left in the regular season. His three wins though clinched his Chase birth in at least a wildcard position. Richmond would be icing on the cake depending on his finish.
“I felt like superman when we came in and put new tires on,” Keselowski said after his 12th place finish. “There was a couple of other guys that came in with us and we were able to drive up to the pack even much faster than I anticipated.”
Struggling early in the event, Keselowski only had a brief moment of greatness as the No. 2 Miller Lite team struggled with speed. But as Keselowski revealed, he was superman on new tires as he drove into the top five during a portion of the race and moved within two points of the top 10 in the championship standings.
Even though already clinched in the Chase, had Keselowski been able to finish the regular season in the top 10 in points it would have allowed him to use the bonus points from his wins for Chase reseeding. Instead, Keselowski remained 11th in points, wondering what could have been.
“We would have much rather preferred to have capitalized on the wins and get in the top 10 obviously,” Keselowski said, “but we gave it a good effort. It was going to take a lot to get it done, but certainly going to look back at the first half of the year and wish that we’d have been able to find those 20 some points or whatever t was we were off.”
Rightly proud, is Keselowski of the season that he and his team have had thus far. Not many would have put Keselowski in their predicted Chase field lineup before the season started and others wouldn’t have thought he’d win a race, let alone three. He’s done both and knows those are great accomplishments in themselves, regardless of how the Chase plays out.
“I think most people would tell you having won three races is a good year and making the Chase,” said Keselowski. “Trying not to get too greedy about having the three wins and the bonus points. Just thankful for the year we’ve had and going to keep working, got some momentum and a lot of things to be proud of this year.”
Just as it was Saturday night, Keselowski feels that speed will be a factor in the Chase. Keselowski wants to be a factor in the championship and keep the amazing run that he’s been on leading up to it going. Going to Chicago this weekend he’s 12 points out of the lead and 10 races from shocking the NASCAR world more than he already has.
Of those 10 weeks, Keselowski doesn’t feel there will be a bad track for him. He’s won at Kansas and Talladega; he captured the pole earlier this year at Charlotte. Most importantly, he’s proven that past statistics don’t mean a thing. No one saw him coming this year and his competitors shouldn’t overlook him going into the Chase.
“We’ve got what I feel like are some good races for us coming up in the Chase,” said Keselowski. “Going back to Kansas, which we had run good at even before we won, and I think of tracks like Martinsville, I think we were really there as well. I think we’re going to come back to those races and be really strong.
“I think there’s not really a bad track coming up for us in the Chase and I feel like we we’re really on a high note and I feel like we’ve got as good as shot as anyone else. I really believe that.”