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

1 Comment

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).

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

1 Comment

The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

Leave a comment

NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

Getty Images
1 Comment

Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.