The Frontstretch: Fact or Fiction: A Look at the Chase, Team Red Bull, and Keselowski's Popularity by Mike Lovecchio -- Monday August 23, 2010

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The battle for the final Chase spot is now down to two

With a clutch effort Saturday night, Clint Bowyer holds a relatively comfortable 100-point lead over 13th place Jamie McMurray and 101 points over Mark Martin. What we saw at the bullring in Tennessee is what I expect to see over the final two races of the “regular season” performance-wise between the final three competitors. Martin was nowhere to be seen again this weekend, finishing 23rd and losing another spot in the standings. It wasn’t long ago the No. 5 team sat in the Chase, but disappointing efforts continue to pile up and it would be near impossible to turn the program around in just two races. McMurray on the other hand has been widely inconsistent all season, but is hitting his stride perhaps at the perfect time with four top 6 finishes in the last six races. While he struggled at both Atlanta and Richmond in each spring event this season, the two tracks are in Earnhardt Ganassi’s wheelhouse and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya had top 10s in both races.

The final two races will be approached completely differently by Bowyer. Atlanta is not one of his better tracks with just four top 10s in nine starts and an average finish a hair above 16th . The goal for Bowyer and the No. 33 team is to just be conservative, try and finish in the top 15 and head to Richmond – a track he’s won at in the past – in a one on one battle with McMurray. Whatever the outcome, however, it’s safe to say the final spot will come down to these two drivers.

Your comeback driver for 2011 is Brian Vickers

Brian Vickers is recovering from recent heart surgery but says he intends to return to the Sprint Cup Series in 2011.

Even if Brian Vickers doesn’t win a race next season – hell, even if he goes the year without a top 5 – he’ll still be the comeback driver of the year. When word first leaked that Vickers was suffering from blood clots earlier this season, fans and media were scratching their heads wondering how a driver can develop blood clots and how it could sideline him for the season. We got our answer this week and the revelation was scary. As reported by ESPN, Vickers not only had multiple clots, but also a hole between the right and left atrium of his heart and suffered from May-Thurner syndrome, a rare condition that could lead to stroke. He had heart surgery on July 12 and a stent was placed in a vein in his left leg. The struggles Vickers has had to go through since the announcement are stunning, but he now says he’s in the best shape of his life and will compete in 2011. The first time he is introduced at Daytona next season, every single fan should give him a standing ovation. It’s one that would certainly be well deserved.

Red Bull will field three cars next season

Speaking of Team Red Bull, Vickers’ return, Scott Speed and the addition of Kasey Kahne in 2011 has left three drivers under contract for next season. The team has two options: run two cars or put Kahne in the No. 82 and let Speed out of his contract. IF Speed and Red Bull can come to an agreement it makes much more sense for Kahne to take over the No. 82 for one season and a driver TBD in 2012 (Mark Martin?). There’s no sense from a competition standpoint starting a third team when your second isn’t even mildly competitive and you’re A team has been in flux all year. Kahne would give Red Bull its first proven driver a full year in the No. 82 and could help work out some of the kinks that may be keeping the team from consistent top 10s and top 15s. Then when the seat opens up in 2012 you have a number of options, including Mark Martin who would become a free agent if he chooses not to retire once Kahne takes over the No. 5. The seat would be much more desirable if Kahne can prove that Red Bull’s “B” team has potential.

Brad Keselowski is becoming more and more popular by the week

Perhaps the quote of the year came Saturday night when Brad Keselowski during his personal driver introduction at Bristol said, “I’m Brad Keselowski driver of the Penske Racing Dodge….Kyle Busch is an a**.” It drew one of the loudest ovations for a driver introduction for a driver not named Earnhardt and shows how much fans love an outspoken driver. Keselowski has had quite a few run-ins with the sport’s highest profile drivers, but has developed a popular reputation of a driver that will never give in, no matter who is pushing him around. The images of him in the fence at Atlanta, getting hit like a pinball at Gateway and now helplessly getting turned for the win at Bristol have put him in the national spotlight as a driver who has been more often the victim than the villain. Whether or not this is true isn’t the case, if every time a casual fan turns on ESPN Keselowski is in the wall or winning races he’s bound to draw a few fans. He has everything Kyle Busch has: talent, passion and a refuse to lose attitude, but while Busch taunts fans and irritates everyone without a No. 18 hat, that’s not Keselowski’s attitude and he’s got a great mentor in Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will make sure he doesn’t go the way of Shrub. Just wait and see how Keselowski’s popularity soars when he pilots the Miller Lite car next year and runs more consistently up front. Like Earnhardt said Friday night, “He’s going to be here a while.”

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Stephen HOOD
08/23/2010 09:07 AM

I’m glad someone has finally written something that makes sense about Keselowski. I’ve felt for a long time that the only reason he keeps having these scrapes with Hamlin, Edwards, and Busch is because he’s racing up front where they are and I think they get frustrated that he occasionally beats them to the checkered flag. I don’t know who was at fault on Friday night, but I wish NASCAR hadn’t put Keselowski in so tight of a box. It does seem that the other drivers now have an unfair advantage when racing him and know it. I also get frustrated that the main complaints of Busch/Hamlin/Edwards about Keselowski is that he drives like they’ve always driven. I know my dad and my sister have always bumped heads and its probably because they are a lot alike.

08/23/2010 09:21 AM

Kesolowski is going to be around for awhile. He is talented and hard nosed like the drivers who dislike him. But he doesn’t seem to whine as much as they do!! His introductory remark was too funny. Add Brad to my driver favorites.

08/23/2010 10:44 AM

People (press and fans) complain about Kyle Busch (not really a fan) but he is taking it to everyone. If not for him we would have to read what disappointing finish Dale Jr. had in every column. Kyle Busch may end up being much better than Dale Sr. ever was.

08/23/2010 11:15 AM

While Kyle is my driver, I also like Brad for his Hard nosed but clean driving(Old School). I believe he drives very hard and does not give an inch, which upsets many of the other drivers he is racing. I would say alot of this comes from watching his Dad race the short tracks and learning you can not let the other drivers BULLY you.

old farmer
08/23/2010 11:23 AM

Hey, Conelly:

Congrats for having the guts to say what you think, but expect some folks to hunt you down—those who think God sits to the right of Earnhardt.

08/23/2010 12:06 PM

I have never been a fan of Brad Keselowski. When he startesd in a few cup races he was a imature punk with lots to learn and thought he was the greatest driver to come along. Since then he has gotten a better attitude. I am not a Kyle Bush fan either but what Brad did to Bush Friday night was just racing. Bush came back and intentionally wrecked Brad and he should be fined and put on probation the remainder of the year. Bush wll get his payback sooner or later.

08/23/2010 12:26 PM

Brad, is going to be ok, when he learns when to race hard and when to back off. With Kyle loose, if Brad had just backed off and did a crossover he would have regained the lead. His other option would have been to stay low going into 3 and racing Kyle for the position through 3 and 4 and the best man coming out ahead. Kyle would have never punted him if he had done that. Kyle raced Brad clean and when it came time to return the favor Brad punted him. He will learn but this time he was taught a lesson. One he will learn as time goes by. Brad will eventually get his cup wins he has a lot of talent.

08/23/2010 01:19 PM

Brad Kesolowski is not popular, he is simply “the other guy” in racing skirmishes this season. Last year he instigated the carnage, this year he is getting payback. Next year he will likely just be another journeyman driver. All the talent of Kyle Bucsh? You’d have to be an arse to believe that one!

08/23/2010 06:06 PM

JJ has “instigated the carnage” threefold over BK. As a matter of fact most of said carnage I would not put down to being BK’s fault – just hard racing while the vets just want to ride.

08/24/2010 10:13 PM

It’s Racing,Things happen.

08/25/2010 04:52 PM

There is a reason Brad is on probation. He has brought all this on himself.

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