NASCAR & Auto Racing

Brad Keselowski considers second championship critical for legacy

tpalmer@kcstar.com

Brad Keselowski meets with reporters Wednesday after a morning NASCAR Sprint Cup race teams testing practice at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.
Brad Keselowski meets with reporters Wednesday after a morning NASCAR Sprint Cup race teams testing practice at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. AP

Brad Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in only his third full-time season, cementing his reputation as one of auto racing’s best young guns.

It might have been a case of too much too soon in some respects for Keselowski.

He has never lost the desire to be the best, to claim every checkered flag, to push the limits of how fast his car can go. It’s simply that winning a championship as a 28-year-old hotshot so early in his career, he lacked perspective in terms of how difficult and impressive his feat really was.

“It might mean something different to me now than what it may have meant earlier in my career,” Keselowski said at a September testing session at Kansas Speedway.

Keselowski returned to town this week for the Hollywood Casino 400, which is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Sunday on NBC.

He successfully navigated the Challenger Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and now is in eighth place in the Contender Round. He’s six points ahead of ninth-place Ryan Newman.

It’s a tenuous spot, because only the top eight drivers advance to the Eliminator Round after next week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Obviously, a win would simplify things for Keselowski. He has done it before on Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval, where he won the spring race in 2011.

He hasn’t returned to the winner’s circle there since, but Keselowski owns five top-10 finishes in his last nine races at Kansas Speedway. That includes a seventh-place finish last spring.

With one win and six top-five finishes this season, Keselowski hasn’t approached the dominance he enjoyed last season, when he won six races and cracked the top five in 17 of 36 Sprint Cup starts.

“We haven’t necessarily got the results that we’re looking for with respect to laps led, wins, top-5s, but our consistency this year has been as good if not better than any other year,” Keselowski said. “Our top-10 percentage is slightly better, so I think that’s probably where I’d generate that conclusion from.”

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team already has matched last season’s 20 top-10 finishes, which is three shy of the career-high Keselowski set during his championship season in 2012.

Keselowski — who became a father May 19 with the birth of his daughter, Scarlett — says he has a car and team capable of repeating that title run. It would be an important milestone in his career, perhaps even bigger than that breakthrough three years ago.

“I think that would perhaps more solidify, not just in other people’s minds, where our team is, but in my own. And that would be a tremendous feeling for me personally, considering where we’ve come from and how far we’ve come,” Keselowski said.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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