Happy Days Are Here for Keselowski

B.Keselowski

Keselowski is doing double duty in Michigan this weekend, chasing a third Nationwide Series win and pursuing a berth in the post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Brad Keselowski has plenty of reasons to smile with NASCAR returning to Michigan International Speedway this week.

First of all, it’s homecoming for the Penske Racing driver – who grew up in Rochester Hills, Michigan.  He’s also a two-time MIS winner in the Nationwide Series and will be going for victory No. 3 on Saturday.

But perhaps most importantly, Keselowski will arrive at his “home track” squarely in the middle of the fight for a post-season berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.  In 2011, Keselowski was mired in 22nd place at this point of the season.  Today, after 14 races, he’s 10th in the standings with two victories … and hungry for more.

“For the most part, I have not run well at Michigan on the Cup level,” said Keselowski, who did squeeze a third-place finish out of the Irish Hills oval last August.  “I’m hungry just to have a good, strong, consistent run where we can be a threat for the win; and showcase the strength of our team.  Michigan is extra-special.”

With just 12 races remaining in the regular season, Keselowski is presently clinging to the final automatic berth in the Chase – three points ahead of 2011 championship runner-up Carl Edwards.  But with two wins already to his credit, Keselowski would have the inside track on one of the two wild-card spots should he fall out of the top 10.

This is the second straight week where the Sprint Cup Series is visiting a newly paved track.  Last week, NASCAR gave teams two extra test days at Pocono.  They’ll get a full day of testing in today at MIS before the official weekend schedule kicks in Friday.

“It certainly is a workload and a bit of a distraction,” Keselowski said of the additional testing obligations.  “In fairness to NASCAR, it’s a distraction equal among all the teams.  I think it showcases the teams with the best combination of mental toughness and depth, to where you can work through it.”

As for the racing itself at MIS, Keselowski believes the new surface will make a good track even better.  He was one of five drivers who participated in a Goodyear Tire test on the new pavement in early April.  Will that give Keselowski an edge over the majority of his competitors this weekend?

“Look no further than last weekend,” Keselowski notes.  “Joey Logano was fortunate enough to get a tire test at Pocono a few months back and I don’t think there’s a coincidence to his success coming back from that.”

Logano drove to victory on the freshly paved surface at Pocono Raceway on Sunday after winning the pole at a track-record pace and leading a race-high 49 laps.

Following the Michigan tire test in April, Keselowski decided to also enter Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.

“With the design and layout at Michigan, where all three lanes – bottom, middle and top – are capable of the same speeds, you’ll be able to switch lanes based on what the car in front of you does; removing aero dependency in the corners,” Keselowski said.  “You’ll be able to capitalize on the air at Michigan in a way that’s not possible at other tracks.

“I think that’s really going to make a big difference with the Nationwide cars … so much of a difference that I felt inclined to run that race and hopefully learn something extra before the Cup race.  After the (tire) test, and what I saw, I felt like running the Saturday race would make a big difference.”

And Keselowski adds that the fans attending Saturday’s Alliance Truck Parts 250 Nationwide Series event are in for a treat.

“That has the potential to be one of the best races of the year,” he said, “from the front to the back to the middle of the pack; with incredible moves and lots of passing.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will get six hours of testing Thursday on the newly paved track surface at Michigan International Speedway.  There’ll be more practice Friday and qualifying Saturday to set the field for the Quicken Loans 400.  Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of the 15th Sprint Cup Series race of the season on Sunday at 12 p.m. (EDT) – with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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