Brad Keselowski matches best finish of year, ‘not where we need to be’ vs ‘Big 3’

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Brad Keselowski was close to earning his first Cup win of the season on Sunday.

Well, sort of.

“It’s hard to really show any aggression when the guy that won the race was three-and-a-half seconds ahead of you,” Keselowski said after placing second in the Consumers Energy 400 to Kevin Harvick.

Keselowski earned his sixth top five of the season, matching his season-best result from February’s race at Atlanta, where he was also runner-up to Harvick as he won his first of a series-best seven races.

The Team Penske driver only assumed second place when Austin Dillon pulled out of Keselowski’s way with two laps to go due to a vibration. Dillon finished fourth.

Keselowski, a Michigan native, started the day in 18th but managed to put his No. 2 Ford in the top 10 at the end of the first two stages, placing ninth each time.

That Stage 2 finish and his eventual second-place result came after he had to pit for a loose wheel on Lap 76 under caution and restart 21st.

Keselowski’s impressive come back followed a stretch where he finished 17th or worse in four of the previous five races, including two DNFs for wrecks at Daytona and Pocono.

“The last few weeks we’ve had some pretty big struggles, finishing out races with breakdowns and letdowns and all of the above,” Keselowski said. “It’s nice to just be able to have a clean race, or mostly clean … To be able to kind of get the finish we deserve, that’s important.  It’s important to get what you have out of your car, and although we might not have race‑winning speed, you still need to execute.

“So with that in mind, that’s good for everybody’s morale at Team Penske and on the 2 team, as well, but of course we want to break through and win, as well, and kind of like you indicated, we’re not where we need to be to just win on pure speed against those guys week in and week out.”

Harvick’s win was the 17th for the “Big 3” this season, which also includes Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. It was also the 10th win for Ford this season, but Team Penske owns only one of those. That came via Joey Logano in April at Talladega.

Keselowski’s own last win came last October at Talladega. He is seventh in the standings, inbetween Logano and fellow teammate Ryan Blaney

Keselowski was asked if he can only finish three seconds behind Harvick all the way to Miami, how will he know if has a shot to compete with Harvick come the season finale.

“I don’t know if there’s a great answer to that,” Keselowski said. “I could throw you something out there, but it would just be a lob, right? With the way the points format obviously is … you have to get to Homestead.  You have to make it through those playoff rounds.  To that end, I don’t think you can guarantee on being able to point your way through.  You can really only point your way through to the third round.  You really can’t count on pointing your way through to the fourth round, unless you have all the bonus points, which we don’t.”

Keselowski has only four playoff points from his four stage wins.

“With that in mind, we’re going to have to deliver and make results and win races, and I think that’s what the sport is about at the end of the day,” Keselowski said.

As for having the speed to compete each weekend with the “Big 3,” Keselowski said “I don’t know if I’ve really put a lot of thought into that.”

He treats “each weekend as a reset point,” going into as “though this could be the weekend where we have the speed to win that way or could execute that way.

“Then when you start to get through the weekend, you have to get the most out of what you have.  We’ve had some races where I feel like we’ve been equal to or better than those guys where we haven’t put it all together, mostly the plate tracks I would say.  So that’s kind of on us to get a result.

“But on these types of tracks, the mile‑and‑a‑half, intermediate, whatever you want to call them, 2‑mile tracks, we haven’t had that yet, but we’ve been closer some places than others.”

The series heads to Bristol next, where Keselowski has two wins but has failed to finished better than 18th in the last five races.

Then comes Darlington, where Keselowski has two top fives in nine starts. He placed 15th last year and ninth in 2016.

The regular season final arrives the next week, with it being held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.

Keselowski led 23 laps there last year before placing second, his only top five in Indy in eighth starts.