Can Brad Keselowski go from Miami underdog to top dog of 2017?

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Brad Keselowski doesn’t have delusions of grandeur. He knows he managed to reach the Championship 4 race in not exactly the way he would have wanted to.

Keselowski made it on points, not third-round wins. Had the driver of the No. 2 Ford won Sunday at Phoenix instead of Matt Kenseth, he might have entered Miami with a bit higher standing.

Martin Truex Jr. has a series-leading seven wins this season, including six on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead-Miami, so it’s fair to say he’s the likely favorite there next Sunday.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won in the Round of 8 and are also strongly considered as potential champs.

But because he reached the Miami showdown on points in the last race possible, Keselowski is essentially the underdog heading there.

On one hand, that’s a lot of pressure for Keselowski to outperform his other three championship contenders.

But at the same time, even without a win, the highest-finishing driver points-wise leaves Miami as champion.

While a win would clinch it for Keselowski, just finishing higher than the other three is the key motivation for the 2012 champion.

And that’s one key thing in Keselowski’s 2017 title bid. He IS a past NASCAR Cup champion. But so, too, are Harvick (2014) and Busch (2015). Only Truex has yet to win a Cup title.

But Keselowski will have to do much better at Homestead than the 16th-place showing he had at Phoenix. It was by fate and happenstance that he hung on with enough points to advance to the final round of the playoffs — and Keselowski will be the first to admit it.

“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today,” Keselowski said after Sunday’s race. “I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure.

“I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today, we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Because Homestead is the end-all and be-all of 2017, Keselowski understands his focus only has to be on getting to the front — or at least ahead of his three Championship 4 peers — and staying there.

The big problem — and which has plagued both Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano, who failed to make the playoffs — is speed. Or in their case, lack thereof.

Somehow, some way, Keselowski’s team needs to find more horsepower in the next seven days if he hopes to leave Miami with the championship. Right now, it would appear his other three counterparts have more speed than he does — and that’s job No. 1 for the No. 2 team. 

“Homestead is a lot different than Phoenix,” Keselowski said. “Hopefully, we can find what we need to run up front there and catch some breaks and win it.

“I am very hopeful for that. I am proud of the whole team. We had a solid day of not making any mistakes and that put us in position here. It was a great team effort.”

Added crew chief Paul Wolfe, “That (qualifying for Homestead) is the key takeaway for me. We have been strong in these playoffs and scored a lot of points and bonus points and that is ultimately what put us in a great position to be off a little today and still have an opportunity.”

An interesting side note is that Chevrolet will not have a representative in Championship 4. It will be two Toyotas vs. two Fords.

“It is great (and) exciting to have the two Fords in there,” Wolfe said. “The 4 (Harvick) has been really good and come on strong and I feel like we have put in a good effort here over the last few weeks to make sure we had a little more speed in our cars going to Homestead.

“We get in these types of situations and I think Brad will be able to find a little more and we just need to go down there and do what we do all year, give it our best. I think we will have a shot at this.”

Speaking of Fords, here’s some interesting stats heading into Miami that could potentially involve Keselowski and Harvick:

  • A Ford driver has not won the NASCAR Cup championship since Kurt Busch in 2004.
  • Ford has sponsored the season-ending NASCAR Cup race since 2002. Even though Busch is the only driver to win the championship in a Ford during that time, a Ford driver has won the season-ending race seven times since 2002: Kurt Busch (2002), Greg Biffle (2004-2006), Matt Kenseth (2007) and Carl Edwards (2008, 2010).
  • Technically, Edwards also tied for the championship in 2011, tying Tony Stewart, who was awarded the title by virtue of the tie-breaker: more season wins (Stewart had five, Edwards just one).

Kevin Harvick penalized time in final Cup practice

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Title contender Kevin Harvick will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice because of inspection issues last weekend at Phoenix.

Harvick is the only one among the four title contenders who will miss practice time Saturday.

Final practice is from 1 – 1:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

David Starr is the only driver who missed time in Saturday’s first practice. He missed 15 minutes because his team was late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan and Michael McDowell will each miss 30 minutes of final practice because their cars failed qualifying inspection three times Friday.

Harvick, Chase Elliott, Cole Whitt and Starr each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s Phoenix race.

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection before qualifying twice Friday.

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Justin Allgaier ‘in the best place mentally’ a year after disappointing title finish

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The biggest disappointment of Justin Allgaier‘s NASCAR career has turned into “the best thing that’s ever happened” to it.

It only took “about a week” for the 31-year-old driver to accept that.

The JR Motorsports’ driver is one of the four competing for the Xfinity Series title in today’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It was in this race a year ago that Allgaier was within arm’s reach of a possible championship, his first in NASCAR.

But it was snatched away on the final restart.

With three laps to go, Allgaier restarted in the third row on the outside. In front of him was fellow championship driver Erik Jones. In front of Jones was Cole Whitt in a car normally found toward the back of the pack. Whitt had not pit under the caution because his team had used up its tire allotment.

Elliott Sadler (far right) and Daniel Suarez pull away on the final restart of last year’s Xfinity race at Homestead as Justin Allgaier (red car, middle) boxed in. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

At the green flag, Whitt spun his tires and backed-up the outside lane. That allowed Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez to get separation from Allgaier and Jones and race each other for the win and championship, which Suarez claimed.

“We’re sitting here and not standing on that (championship) stage over there like I think all of us would have liked to have been,” Allgaier said after he finished sixth.

Before Allgaier could come to terms with anything positive from the experience, he spent the following week just wanting to be left alone.

“If I could have locked myself in a dark room and not talk(ed) to anyone, I’d have been perfectly okay with that,” Allgaier said Thursday during the NASCAR championship media day in Miami Beach, Florida.

Allgaier got back in touch with those year-old feelings this week when he watched a replay of the race while flying to Florida.

“It still bugs me that we didn’t have a shot because of somebody else’s decision,” Allgaier said.

But Allgaier views the end of the 2016 race through a wiser lens. One where he accepts there’s only so much he can do in a 200-lap race against 39 other drivers.

“What if I had broken a transmission or run into the wall a little bit too hard on one of those times that I got (into) the wall like 37 times in the race last year and cut a tire?” Allgaier said. “What if a meteor fell out of the sky? … There’s so many things that, when you have 40 competitors on the racetrack every week, there’s so many things that can happen that are out of your control.”

His attitude has been helped by the best year of his career. Allgaier enters the championship race with a career-best two wins – including at his home track Chicagoland Speedway.

Allgaier also leads all Xfinity regulars with 497 laps led.

 “I look at 2017 as we have done everything we can do up to this point,” Allgaier said. “We’ve had the best race cars I’ve ever had. We’ve had great pit stops. We’ve got guys that work together on the race team that are incredible. I feel like for me personally I’m in the best shape of my life, on and off the track. I’m in the best place mentally.

“And at the end of the day, no matter what happens on Saturday night, I know that we have the best product on the racetrack and we’re in the best position we can be. And if it doesn’t work, it’s not because we weren’t in the right spot or because we didn’t do things right. It’s because circumstances are out of our control. And that’s taken so much pressure off of me this year.”

MORE: Previewing the Xfinity championship drivers

 

Goodyear signs extension with NASCAR

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — NASCAR announced Saturday a multi-year renewal with Goodyear for the company to be the series’ sole tire supplier. The deal goes through the 2022 season.

The move wasn’t in doubt with NASCAR and Goodyear having previously done tests for the 2018 season. Goodyear has been the exclusive tire supplier for all three of NASCAR’s top series since 1997. Goodyear has been a race tire supplier for NASCAR since 1954.

“We proudly join Goodyear in celebrating our renewed and longstanding partnership,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR president, in a statement. “For more than half a century, NASCAR and our teams have trusted Goodyear tires. Our partners’ commitment to innovation and excellence plays a key role in our unyielding pursuit to deliver the best racing product in the world.”

Goodyear’s current five-year deal was set to expire after this season.

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Today’s Xfinity race at Miami: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The Xfinity season comes to an end this afternoon with the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and William Byron will race for title in the 200-lap race, which concludes the 33-race season that began in February at Daytona.

Below is all the vital info you need prior to the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Wild Bill Wichrowski from Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is slated for 11:15 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is 12:45 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jacqie Rivers wil perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO:  Countdown to Green begins at 3 p.m. on NBCSN. NBCSN will air the race at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 79 degrees and a four percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Daniel Suarez won the race and clinched the series title, beating Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler. Suarez led 133 laps from the pole to become the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.