While Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been the so called “Top Two” all season long, there are other drivers who have stolen the spotlight at times, one of them being Brad Keselowski. He has three wins to his name for this year, and if he continues with the speed he has every week, that number will grow. Quietly, the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion has had an excellent season, maybe the best of his Cup career.
Will Keselowski be the one to challenge Harvick and Hamlin come playoff time? Can he overtake those two as a favorite soon? What do you see out of him the rest of the season?
2020 started off very strong for Team Chevy, with all of their teams showing speed to win races. Alex Bowman was the lone Chevy to capture a win before the pandemic, but everyone in that camp proved they could compete. Since the return to racing, they have been somewhat lackluster. Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon have been the two drivers to win for the manufacturer since, but the camp has overall struggled to get back to that winning form they seemed to have at the start of the season.
What happened to the manufacture as a whole? Did the pandemic hurt them that bad, or did the entire field catch up?
Q: Do you think Brad Keselowski will make a legitimate run at the title this season while up against Harvick and Hamlin? Bruce S., Dallas, TX
A: Keselowski is having one of his best seasons in his career, so the short answer to this is yes. He will not only make a run, but he has a legitimate shot to win the title, especially based on how he ran at Phoenix Raceway back in March.
When he won the championship eight years ago, he was kind of an underdog. It was only his third full-time season in the Cup Series with Team Penske, but he was having a very consistent season. It was also back when winning wasn’t rewarded as much as it is today with the points system. What was more impressive at the time was Keselowski beat Jimmie Johnson, who was just two years removed from winning his fifth straight title.
Since then, he has made the Championship 4 only once (2017) but has had seasons that he could have won it all. This is a season that he can make it back there and has an excellent shot to win another championship. There are a few reasons why he might be one to defeat Harvick and Hamlin this year.
Number one is the contract extension he recently signed. For the entire season, the Silly Season talk has involved Keselowski and whether Penske was going to re-sign him or let him go. Now that we know where he will be, the distraction is gone and he can focus solely on performance. To have three wins with that distraction is extremely impressive.
Second is his consistency every week. This is an obvious answer, but the No. 2 team has shown every week that they can run with Hamlin and Harvick, who’ve been the fastest cars this season. In the 22 races, Keselowski has 16 top 10’s. That is on pace for a personal record amount of top 10s for him in one season, which, entering the season, was 25. While consistency does not seem to win championships these days, he has the speed to win, which is what he will need come playoff time in a few weeks.
Lastly is his experience. Having won a championship, experience is everything. Even though he has not won a title under this format, he knows what he has to do. And now with playoff points and the speed he has shown, this feels like a year he could surprise some. Of course Hamlin and Harvick are going to be the two favorites, but Keselowski will not be far behind at all.
His crew chief Jeremy Bullins has been a great addition for this team as well. While Paul Wolfe gave Keselowski some of the best years of his career, Bullins seems to have picked up right where they left off … and more. I expect Keselowski to be a part of the championship battle at Phoenix come November. He will give everyone a good fight until the end because that is the racer he is. Expect big things from the No. 2 team. They will make some noise.
Q: What do you think happened to Team Chevy and the early success they were having? Mike R., Orlando, FL
A: The one thing I can say about Team Chevy is that the pandemic break hurt them a lot. If we look back to the first four races of 2020, Chevy had elite speed with all of its teams showing they had a chance to win every week. Bowman was the only Chevy driver to win in those races, taking the victory at Auto Club Speedway, but even he showed that he could compete every single week.
What happened to that? Over the break, teams caught up. Ford and Toyota both went to work while they were not racing, and they caught up to the competition. While Joey Logano and Hamlin both won races before the break, they did not seem to be the best cars. They definitely had top-five speed, but it seemed like Chevy had the edge overall. When racing resumed, Harvick showed his muscle and Ford seemed to take that advantage with both Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske. Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing have also had a lot of success over the past two and a half months.
Chevy has only had two points-paying wins since March, with Elliott getting the checkered flag in the second race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while Dillon upset the field at Texas Motor Speedway. While Elliott has had the speed to win recently, the other teams have just been down. Bowman has not been as strong as he was at the beginning, Johnson has struggled to find winning speed like he had at times and the entire manufacturer as a whole seems to struggle more than others.
Chevy have shown flashes of winning pace. They could be saving something for later, we might not know that until the playoffs arrive. Let us not forget who Chevy has on their team with Johnson and both Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth for Chip Ganassi Racing, all of which are champions.
While many of the Chevy drivers have not had the season they’ve been looking for, I look for them to bounce back soon. They are finding some of that pace slowly but surely as a whole. The next few races may not be a good reading with the wild cards we have coming up at the Daytona International Speedway road course this weekend, a doubleheader at Dover International Speedway and the superspeedway race at Daytona, but look for the playoffs to be a sign of where they are. I expect bigger things from the camp, and nobody should be surprised if they are strong come the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway.