Keselowski looking to defend Kentucky victory
- Article by: GARY GRAVES
- AP Sports Writer
- June 26, 2013 - 10:10 PM
SPARTA, Ky. — Kentucky Speedway is hot and bumpy, and Brad Keselowski can't wait to race.
So much that he's competing in all three NASCAR national series events this weekend. Again.
Keselowski's eagerness is understandable. He's the defending champion in the Sprint Cup race Saturday night, one of five series victories that propelled the Michigan driver to last season's title.
Standing ninth in the hunt for a berth in the Chase, he aims to improve his standing with his first win this season. Keselowski believes there's no better place to get it than on the 1.5-mile oval that has served him well.
After all, he was second at the track last year in the Truck race and won the Nationwide event in 2011 before last year's Cup victory.
"Kentucky's been one of my best race tracks," said the Penske Racing driver, who will run in Thursday night's Truck race and Friday night's Nationwide event along with fellow Cup regular Kyle Busch.
"I won here on the Cup side last year and the Nationwide side two years ago, but haven't won here on the Truck level. I'd like to come here and win all three; that would really be something special."
However, Keselowski would especially welcome a Cup victory right now.
After running ninth or better in seven of his first eight starts this season, Keselowski's best finish since in the No. 2 Ford Fusion was fifth this month at Dover, the site of his last Cup victory in September. Over his past 12 starts he has led just 17 laps, a big falloff from 103 over the first four races.
Keselowski's season has also included two NASCAR penalties totaling 31 points for having an illegal part at Texas and being too low after the Dover race, respectively. And yet, he's still solidly in the running for his third consecutive appearance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That speaks volumes about the Penske team and its extremely confident driver, who expressed belief of returning to victory lane this season during a promotional appearance here earlier this month. Standing on a hill looking toward the first turn of the speedway, Keselowski sounded like someone with a lot to look forward to — and with good reason, given his track record at Kentucky.
"We came right here the first time and ran well, we tested here before coming a couple years back and that was advantageous as well," said Keselowski, whose driver rating of 128.2 at Kentucky is just behind leader Kyle Busch (133.0).
"What I like out of a race car and how I drive, it really fits this race track. That has led to my success here, but that doesn't mean we're guaranteed to win here or even run well. We still have to work hard and make it happen."
Keselowski definitely looks forward to the challenges Kentucky presents, such as triple-digit track temperatures — even after sundown — and bumpy asphalt.
"As drivers, we hate to see repaves," he said of the surface. "It makes the track almost too easy to drive, very unpredictable and hard to put on side-by-side racing. Kentucky's the exact opposite. It's rough, it's bumpy, it's actually a little bit predictable because of that."
On the bumps, Keselowski added, "they're everywhere, not one spot. Very noticeable. It's like running over a freeway that truck drivers have been on and they try to patch in some spots where they made divots."
The prospect of doing this on three consecutive nights has Keselowski even more excited. Then again, Kentucky has provided the 2010 Nationwide Series champion plenty of opportunities to get psyched up.
Last year's runner-up finish in the Truck race marked his first start in that series since 2005 and '06, finishing 18th and 30th respectively. Keselowski returned two years later in the Nationwide Series and posted an impressive record of top-seven runs highlighted by his dominant 2011 victory in which he started fifth and led 132 laps. In fact, his lowest Nationwide finish at Kentucky (seventh) came last year.
On the Cup side, Keselowski led more laps (79) finishing seventh in his debut here two years than in last year's win, when he led the final 55 circuits and 68 overall en route to his third win. Two more victories followed in the Chase at Chicago and Dover, and he credits Kentucky for providing the formula on intermediate tracks.
Keselowski's task right now is finding consistency in NASCAR's current-generation car. Fortunately for him he's coming to a track where his average finish is 4.0, and 925.5 scheduled miles across three series offer a lot of time and distance to find answers to his season.
"We've been really close," Keselowski said of winning. "There have been a set of circumstances, whether it's been our fault or not, that have kept that from happening. But we know if we keep knocking on that door, it will happen."
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