NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Rain: The Only Thing That’s Stopping Keselowski

Apparently, the only thing that can stop Brad Keselowski these days is Mother Nature.

A broken ankle and a tender back didn’t slow him down. The crash in testing at Road Atlanta that left him with those injuries sped him up, in fact. He’s had four straight top-three finishes since that happened, including two victories.

He qualified for the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the 14th position, which gives him a bit of work to do before he can add a number to that top-three streak. Does anybody think he can’t add to it?

It’s just one of those runs that athletes get on every once in a blue moon. Something clicks, what was wrong is now right, or at least a whole lot better than it was, and the results show the talent that was in the team in the first place.

“Yeah, we’ve definitely kind of got things going for us right now, and it’s weird because it’s not really doing anything different,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe, who has been on the box all season. “It’s been a lot of small things over the past couple months just starting to add up. And we’ve got fast race cars, the driver is doing his part, the pit crew is doing their part, and we’re making good calls on pit road and adjustments.”

Sounds easy, right? Just get all that stuff headed in the right direction and it will all take care of itself. Right?

Sounds easy, but it might be harder than anything in NASCAR. Everything can go right, right up to the last lap, and then a part breaks, the car runs out of fuel, the driver misses a mark or a caution flag waves.

Poof! Advantage gone, and you wind up 12th when you should have been getting everyone stinky in Victory Lane with over-excited Dom Perignon.

Not Keselowski. Not this year.

Take a look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last three seasons for example. He was rockin’ it hard in 2008, winning at Michigan and seemingly ready to roll into the next level. How’s that worked out for him?

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Brad Keselowski has been on a tear in recent weeks that few drivers ever experience, with four consecutive top-3 results turning the No. 2 team into title contenders.

It’s all about the timing. This is Keselowski’s time, or so it seems. He and Wolfe have that thing…that ability to communicate and fix and adjust and be of one mind. That’s hard to catch, and when you get it, better grab on tight, because it can leave as fast as it showed up, with nary a word or notice that it’s on to somewhere else.

Wolfe, who came out of the driver stable at the old Ray Evernham team and onto the pit box a few years ago, is part of the reason, and Keselowski, a second-generation racer out of Michigan, is the other. Of course, you can’t ignore team owner Roger Penske’s contribution. He’s won too many races and championships to do that.

Wolfe raced in the NASCAR Nationwide and ARCA Series before hitting the pit box as a crew chief, so 500 miles wasn’t the norm for him. That he’s figured it out so quickly is a boon to both the Blue Deuce and its young driver.

“The biggest thing for me that I’ve noticed being in the Cup Series is these races are a lot longer obviously than the Nationwide races I’m used to, and you’ve got to be able to adjust on your car as the track changes,” Wolfe explained. “And as the race goes on, everybody seems to get better.”

“I feel like as a team we’ve done a good job adjusting on our cars and making them so they have adjustability in them. And we continue to bring good race cars to the race track every week and something that Brad can go out there and do his part.”

Is it really as simple as that? Yeah, it is. Sounds like it would be child’s play. Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli had it, as did Jeff Gordon and Evernham, Dale Jarrett and Todd Parrott, so on and so forth.

Speaking of Stewart, he’s next in line for Keselowski to pass, and it would be for 10th in the points. Since his crash at Road Atlanta, Keselowski has advanced 12 spots in the points, so it isn’t exactly an out-of-bounds assumption, and if he does get to 10th, he’ll get bonus points for his three victories. If he’s a wild-card, he doesn’t.

“Tony is pretty good,” Keselowski mused. “He’s pretty good at Atlanta and Richmond, where we really struggled at in the spring, so I’m really not sure what to expect going back. [21 points] is still a lot of points. That means you’ve got to beat the guy by over 10 positions over the course of two races. Beating Tony Stewart by an average of 10 positions over two races, that’s going to be pretty tough to be honest.

“I hate to look too far ahead, but yes, having those points for three wins would be huge in the Chase. But I don’t think we’ve seen a Chase yet where that’s mattered. So maybe this one will be different and maybe we’ll be kicking ourselves if we don’t get in the top 10 and it comes down to Homestead and we lose whatever points those are. But there’s no point in sitting and pouting about it. We’ve got to look forward and continue to do the best we can.”

For his part, Keselowski isn’t stressing it. He’s approaching it like he has all season: show up, race for victories and if he doesn’t win, finish the best he can. Period.

“I’d like to consistently win,” he said. “That’s what the sport is all about, right? You know, it’s been good. This sport in its simplest form is just about winning. Why make it any more complicated than that? If you’ve got cars to win, go out there and win. If you don’t, get the best finish you can.

“I look at Jimmie [Johnson] and the years of success he’s had for winning championships. He wins races in the Chase and you’ve got to be able to do that. I’m sure we could look at this all different kinds of ways and coast into it or however you want to look at it or just take all those stupid risks to win races, but you just do the best you can on any given week. You try to be smart at it and smart about it and try not to over-think it.

And you’ll have great weeks like we’re having here if you’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great team. I don’t think we’re over-thinking it.”

Maybe he and Wolfe aren’t, but there are a lot of folks in the garage area that are, and they’re mainly thinking about them.

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