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.
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).