Challenge Ahead for Keselowski

Brad Keselowski

“Certainly would like to qualify better and that’s at the forefront of my mind but I’d much rather race towards the front rather than qualify towards the front if I had to pick between the two." (Photo: Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski looks to have his hands full this weekend trying to hang on to his Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship point lead at Martinsville Speedway.

The Penske Racing driver carries a seven-point lead over Jimmie Johnson into Sunday’s Tums Fast Pain Relief 500. But Keselowski has not fared well at the half-mile track during his Sprint Cup career with just a 13.4 average finish in five starts.

He’ll now also have to deal with a poor qualifying effort that will see the Miller Lite Dodge take the green flag from the 32nd starting position.

“Certainly would like to qualify better and that’s at the forefront of my mind but I’d much rather race towards the front rather than qualify towards the front if I had to pick between the two,” said Keselowski. “I feel like we’ll be capable of pulling that off once the race gets started. Just ready to keep going, you know, feeling the season wind down and really feel good about our opportunities in front of us.”

There are only four races left in the regular season and Keselowski has a number of drivers within striking distance of his lead. Behind Johnson, Denny Hamlin sits 20 points behind with Clint Bowyer 25 out and Kasey Kahne 30 in arrears.

But Keselowski insists he’s not paying attention to those drivers in pursuit but rather staying focused on his own interests.

“I don’t know, I’m not in their shoes,” Keselowski said when asked what might be going through the other title contender’s minds. “I know in my shoes, I feel good about our situation. I love the way we performed over the last few weekends, really over the Chase.

“You want to win every race and obviously that hasn’t happened but that’s not realistic either. But we’ve been fortunate to win two races and be in contention for others. Even when we don’t win, we seem to be able to find a way to not have a disaster out of it. I’m proud of my team for that.”

The odds would seem to be in the favor of both Johnson, who will start from the pole Sunday, and Hamlin based on their past success at Martinsville.

Hamlin has an average finish of 4.0 over his last 10 Martinsville starts including four victories while Johnson has won three tines with an average finish of 4.8.

However, Keselowski insists he doesn’t dwell on those numbers and despite the successes of Hamlin and five-time series champion Johnson is ready to ascend to the next level of his career.

“I feel like the people that have all the odds in their favor have earned it because they have been here and achieved success,” he said. “Obviously we have not, so you know that justifies that in my mind. But you know, at some point the torch has to be passed. It’s just a question of when.”

And if Keselowski is able to reach that plateau this season as Sprint Cup Series champion, he’s ready.

But he’s very well aware there’s still along way to go in 2012 before it’s time to celebrate.

“I mean, yeah, you can’t help but think about it but I’ve thought about it since I was a little kid,” Keselowski said of winning the title. “Certainly, we’re closer to realizing it but it’s not realized that’s for sure.

“There’s a lot of work to be done and it would be a disservice to the work that we’ve done to date to let that get in your head and think so much about it that you don’t focus on the work still to be done.”

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